William Gibson, the father of Cyberpunk has entered the ranks of other respected authors by writing a comic book. Archangel, was written in collaboration with actor Michael St. John originally as a screenplay for German television. The Germans passed on it, and when IDW approached Gibson about doing a comic, he had this script ready.
To many of us hardcore Science Fiction fans, Gibson is a legendary figure, who towers above the field. Although, he has only ten novels to his name, his influence is massive. In his 1982 story, “Burning Chrome”, he created the term “Cyberspace”, and in Neuromancer, he showed us the dark side of the internet before it had even been invented. In spirit he is more the heir to Philp K. Dick and Samuel “Chip” Delany than to Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.
The Golden Age Science Fiction writers celebrated technology, seeing its advance intertwined with upward human progression. High technology was the logical progression of the taming of fire, and with it, Man would create a paradise.
With the advent of the New Wave Writers of the 1960’s we saw a shift in this belief. Harlan Ellison’s dystopic horror story “I have No Mouth and I Must Scream” (Winner of the 1968 Hugo Award) exemplified this new mood, that technology was not the miracle that would lead Man to godhood.
The works of Dick were particularly cynical and disturbing, setting the stage for 1984 when Gibson unleashed Neuromancer. I remember reading it during my second year of Law School. When I should have been spending time reading a couple of hundred pages from casebooks, I played hooky and read Neuromancer in one sitting. It was as seismic as the jump from Bob Kane’s Batman to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight.
Although only one issue of Archangel has appeared it’s too early to tell where Gibson is going. One thing is clear, he is not going to waste our time revisiting his old haunts. The story starts with a shattered 2016, where American democracy is dead and the country is run by a Father-Son team of despots. At a secret facility the Veep, Junior, has just undergone surgery to look like his grandfather did in 1945. He then enters “the Splitter” a device which splits and creates alternate universes, to go to a parallel 1945 to kill the grandfather and take his place.
A resistance group sends two marines after him, but their aircraft unfortunately appears in the middle of a B-52 formation flying over post-War Germany. The Americans got the Pilot, and the Soviets got the Plane. The Brits are trying to get a piece of the action.
The several characters are described in the book’s endnotes: Junior, Major Guadalupe Torres, Naomi Givens, Captain Vince Matthews and Pilot.
Junior, “ and his father are horrible assholes. They are cruel, smug, narcissistic uber-thugs, wrapped sanctimoniously in what’s left of the flag.”
Major Guadalupe Torres: “Face a study in determination, she pilots a noisy electric wheelchair and wears a brace on her leg… She’s hellbent on stopping Junior’s plans for 1945.”
Naomi Givens is British RAF who believes in the supernatural and unusual. “Difficult enough being a woman in British Intelligence. Being a smart one is quite unforgiveable.” According to Gibson, “I have a certain kind of over the top female character who never gets killed. They may not be realistic but I love them, and a lot of people evidently do.”
Captain Vince Matthews is Naomi’s American counterpart. He is torn by his position in the military and helping Naomi, whom he still loves. “He’s tough and doesn’t believe Pilot at first, but ultimately we like and root for him.”
Pilot, is a dark and mysterious marine.
Gibson has acknowledged that time travel and alternate universes are a standard science fiction trope. But, so were computers until “Burning Chrome” and Neuromancer. This is Gibson, he is unlikely to stray into stereotypes. The story runs smoothly, the characters well drawn and the dialog snaps.
The art work is done by Butch Guice, with Tom Palmer giving an assist on the inks. They go for the realistic school of drawing, which thankfully is crowding out the Super Hero school. The clothing is natural and wears appropriately on the character’s bodies. This is important for the realism of Naomi, on whom the uniform is definitely unflattering. Naomi is not drawn as an adolescent fantasy, but as a believable person. Diego Rodriquez’s masterful colors evokes the depressing atmosphere of post-War Germany.
There are just two gripes about this comic. One is the price of $4.99 for 20 pages, and second having to wait at 30 day intervals to watch the story unfold.