William Gibson’s first attempt at writing a graphic novel, “Archangel,” is brilliant. It packs Gibson’s usual punch. He puts a surprising amount of depth into a 5-chapter science fiction story that moves quickly and is over far too soon.
Gibson’s last novel, “The Peripheral,” still feels like the most important science fiction novel I’ve read in the last several years. Gibson famously coined the term “cyberspace” in his earlier novels. Lately he’s been writing about time travel, “stubs,” alternate timelines and the scary proposition of a slow-motion armageddon called “The Jackpot.” He continues to explore time travel in “Archangel.”
The panels on the first page show us scenes from an alternate history 2016, where major cities such as Tokyo and Moscow are now nuclear ruins. What has happened? A major nuclear catastrophe, not quite explained, has poisoned Earth. One character memorializes the catastrophe in the form of a tattoo of a nuclear plume with the words, “Recuerda Baltimore!” Nuclear disaster has created an opportunity for the malevolent President Henderson to seize power along with his odious son, the Vice President.
With the Earth becoming uninhabitable due to nuclear poisoning, the Vice President hatches a plan. He uses a time travel machine called “The Splitter” to travel back in time to 1945 and change history by averting the course of World War II and prevent a scenario where the United States becomes the world’s only nuclear superpower.
Major Guadalupe Torres is “hellbent on stopping” the vice president’s plans. She sabotages the time-travelling facility in 2016 and uses the Splitter to send two men back in time in an airplane. They arrive six months after the vice president, with their own orders. Unfortunately, their drop into 1945 goes wrong and only one person survives. Gibson spins a dizzying tale where people living in an alternate history use time travel to create another alternate history.
I was quite excited to get my hands on Gibson’s first attempt at writing a graphic novel. It doesn’t disappoint. Gibson has always dropped you into the worlds he creates without much exposition. You figure out what’s going on gradually, as the story unfolds. The story is layered and complex, spreading its plot across three different time periods that eventually ties into events happening in today’s world.
The moody artwork by Butch Guice, Alejandro Barrionuevo and Wagner Reis is full of shadows and dark tones. It matches the darkness of Gibson’s plot.
“Archangel” was originally developed as a movie screenplay, but Gibson decided it didn’t quite work as a movie. He eventually used the material for this graphic novel instead. This book rekindles my enthusiasm for his next book, “Agency,” coming in 2018.