Well that was unexpected. Novelists experimenting with writing comics have a very mixed track record as do IDW originals, so despite sharing the fondness for William Gibson that all sci-fi fans have, I didn't expect a lot from Archangel. But pleasantly, it's a high concept, propulsive first issue that manages to lay out its story and characters succinctly without relying too heavily on exposition. Keep that in mind when I try to explain the concept as it's going to sound too complex for its own good when in practice it works quite well. When a story is built around a high-concept sci-fi hook, nine times out of ten, I think its more successful to just launch into your story and let the audience play catch up than it is to try to dump a lot of information at the start. That is the approach Gibson takes, opening up with some shots of a subtly altered version of modern day earth before introducing an odd mix of time travel, alternate realities, and military drama. I found that by the halfway point of the issue I had a good handle on what was going on and at the end I was fully caught up, so no summary is really necessary. However, for the purposes of this review, I'll lay out a quick sketch of the plot.
In some reality, mankind built a machine called the splitter which creates visitable copies of our reality, meaning that teams of people can travel to another identical timeline without affecting their original world. It would seem some of the greedier, nastier elements of the government have coopted this technology to gain new power of some sort (it's not clear quite yet) by manipulating these alternate timelines. As the book opens a team is sent to an alternate 1945. Meanwhile a rival group has sent two marine to 1945 occupied Berlin to stop them and bring an end to the manipulation.
It's a lot to take in, but in practice it feels like an intuitive mix of Terminator and Doctor Who. The splitter concept allows Gibson to play with time-travel and alternate histories without having to deal with the maddening knots of paradox and causality that so many stories get bogged down in. The other factor that makes the book work so well is its narrow focus in terms of characters. While it introduces a number of cast members who will likely become important later, the first issue carefully fleshes out two female leads.
The first is Dr. Torres, a wheelchair bound army officer who masterminds the sabotage attempt. We don't get all the details of her motivation, but her weary cynicism about humanity is a nice ay of indicating that the past experiments with the splitter have gone poorly. The other main character is Naomi Givens, a British intelligence officer station in Berlin and native to the alternate timeline who is thrust in to the center of the story by the arrival of a futuristic aircraft. There's a pleasant specificity to Givens who strikes a balance between steely military toughness and a feminine gentleness that distinguishes her from the legion of generic 'strong female leads'.
Gibson has built a world with a number of intriguing plot threads open for exploration (I wonder, for example, whether the world of Torres and the others is even their original timeline), and it will be exciting to see where things go. You might have noticed that I didn't talk a lot about Gibson's writing style or Guice's art, and I intend it as a compliment when I say both were very good but didn't draw attention to themselves. Instead of having a showily verbose style of writing or a spectacularly stylish art style, the creators choose to subtly build on each other to build a fully functioning story. I wish I could say this wasn't uncommon, but Archangel stands out as one of 2016's best debuts simply by telling a good story. I can't wait for more.
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Archangel #1 Writers: William Gibson Artist: Butch Guice Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $4.99 Release Date: 5/18/16 Format: Print/Digital