Archangel

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I caught up with William Gibson’s new graphic novel Archangel a few days late. Knew it was coming out but missed the Great Unveiling until people were raving about it on twitter. Gibson’s been an interest of mine for roughly two decades now and this new collaboration with Michael St. John Smith, Butch Guice, and Tula Lotay on covers promises to be no less fascinating. This post contains a few images and some storyline from the first issue, of course, so if you haven’t read it yet and want to go in fresh you should stop reading.

My content consumption is almost all digital now, so it struck me somewhat fun that I grabbed Archangel by way of a system that allows me to pay with certain magic numbers and beams the comic to my tablet after innumerable digital handshakes. I love digital platforms and it’s one of the reasons I’m so willing to pay even with a pretty low disposable income level – I want to see creators and digital platforms both thrive like hell.

I grabbed the comic and it immediately struck me as interesting. Tula Lotay’s cover hit high notes across a discordant noir theme, injecting a mass of color into what was about to be an absolutely bleak landscape in both timelines. Archangel’s beginning contrasts interestingly with a lot of Gibson’s literary work; his novels often begin with a coming-together, and Archangel kicks off with several comings-apart, from the material sense to the societal and interpersonal. Gibson’s a trickster of a deep and joyous sort who loves fucking with the baseline, so it’ll be interesting to see how this affects the story. But in typical Gibsonian fashion it also comes into focus in equal parts grit and technology but not a lot of flash.

Watching Gibson collaborate in a visual medium should be fascinating thanks to little visual cues he enjoys, bits of tangential errata accessible only by keen rememberers or re-readers. One of the first of these is a drop pistol in a drawer, trigger guard removed, grip wrapped in tape to prevent fingerprints:

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One wonders in which act it’ll be fired. Another instance of these interesting little artifacts is the mechanized, electronic insects buzzing around in the pilot’s cell – in 1945:

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Gibson also treats the story itself in interesting ways. He performs a thorough split of resources with fun implications: a crashed stealth plane from the future goes to the Brits (how will that affect the timeline?), the pilot and copilot (one alive, one dead) go to the Americans. But both sets are in a passive mode so far – British studying this new plane, Americans studying the mysterious tattooed soldiers with implanted gadgetry. But the only group native to that timeline with any agency so far are the Brits, as their intelligence officer works what lines she can to get access to the future pilots and takes some stuff for testing as the Americans don’t have the capability.

Meanwhile Junior and crew arrive on scene with agency, but they’re very visibly portrayed as alien – a smirking alien face on Junior as he’s flanked by two conspicuously massive guards. The three are imposed on that last scene as if it’s a background, rather than them being a natural part of it.

Gibson’s Peripheral involved some interesting timeline stuff but that was an open system with continuous manipulation of the target timeline. If we take things at face value the target timeline in Archangel is now a closed system. That certainly changes the game.

And to please me even further, the comic includes a damn fair amount of backmatter. I’m a process voyeur and seeing Gibson talk about the process so far, both in writing collaboration and in art, is like manna from heaven. I’d read a whole book that’s just about the process, I think. But luckily we’re getting it for free.

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So far Archangel is Gibson at his best: wrapping multiple plots around objects or visuals and letting things play out in the foreground while you’re still staring at something specific and wondering about it.

I want to know when Givens’ dodgy little revolver fires. I want to know what put Torres in a wheelchair. I want to know how a Montana research facility survived whatever everything else didn’t, and why the hell there’s a copy of the White House on-site.

Intensely looking forward to the next issue.