Writer: William Gibson
Artist: Butch Guice
Colorist: Diego Rodriguez
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Release Date: May 18, 2016
You’ve likely heard of William Gibson before, revered in prophetic shorthand as the “father of cyberpunk” or “the sage of the information age.” His critically acclaimed breakthrough, Neuromancer, and his 1990 collaborative novel with Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine, can be seen as companion case studies in the mutability of human history; the first a forecast of attractions to come as told from 1984, and the latter a speculative crash course in “the future of what might’ve been.” It goes without saying that Gibson is savvy to the conventions of contemporary sci-fi, evidenced by how he lampshades the temporal ramifications of the Grandfather paradox in the opening pages of his first original comic, Archangel.
Originally envisioned as a screenplay written alongside Gibson’s friend, actor and writer Michael St. John Smith, the premise of Archangel has been given a second chance by IDW Publishing and industry veteran Butch Guice. Described by its author as a “Band of Brothers [meets] Blackwater” sci-fi conspiracy thriller, Archangel follows two clashing groups vying for the control/survival of the future through the conquest/alteration of the past.
The year is a (thankfully alternate) 2016, a world ravaged by unseen nuclear devastation, with the human race hanging on the edge of survival. Junior Henderson, the power-hungry vice president to his despotic father, has just undergone facial reconstructive surgery. He and an expedition team of private military contractors travel to 1945 via The Splitter, a quantum teleportation device capable of creating tangent alternate timelines, to stop this reality—and ultimately shape the future in his own image.
Following their departure, an armed coup of dissidents seize Henderson’s clandestine facility and send a second expedition to follow suit, tasked with preempting Henderson’s machinations and setting the present right. But when the rebels crash-land in the dead center of occupied Berlin six months after Henderson’s arrival, they’re captured and interrogated by this timeline’s protagonists, British intelligence agent Naomi Givens and her U.S. liaison.
Archangel Interior Art by Butch Guice
As one would expect from a 40-page inaugural issue, Archangel #1 covers a hefty chunk of narrative groundwork, while teasing far more enticing developments to come. Knowing that neither Gibson nor John Smith (credited as a co-creator but not as a writer) have ever worked in comics before, it’s impressive how well their respective talents translate to the medium, likely shaped in no small part by Michael Benedetto’s editing. Guice’s artwork is a strong selling point, capturing all the coy smirks, sullen glares and quiet expressions of stern aloofness that distinguish each of the main characters’ moods and modus operandi. The conscious interplay of shadows and silhouettes within the busy, at times frantic, overlay of panel compositions creates a thrilling combination of uncertainty, dynamism and intrigue; all qualities indispensable to spy thrillers or time-hopping existential trips.
Gibson has been quoted that the genesis of Archangel’s concept was born out of a fascination with the foo fighters and Nazi Germany’s occult obsession, as well as the Third Reich’s own supposed attempts to manufacture such bizarre aircrafts. This first installment sets those phenomenon at the center of the series’ attention, as well as coyly injecting thematic artifacts like an issue of Astounding Science Fiction featuring Robert Heinlein’s “If This Goes On….” As an introductory issue, Archangel #1 sets the clock ticking, creating a grocery list of questions just begging to be answered: What are Junior Henderson’s plans? How exactly do the events of 1945 tie directly to the tragic consequences of 2016? Just what, exactly, is Archangel? Gibson and Guice have set an intriguing stage on which to see these answers play out. The next issue can’t come soon enough.
Archangel Interior Art by Butch Guice