One of the most tantalizing things in life is to get a look at a never-produced piece of media by a favorite author. Fans of Jack Kirby have been teased for years with pages from never-published comic books. Fans of Bob Dylan and Prince have gotten used to having new or alternate works by them appear on music services with hype about lost creations. For fans of smart science fiction, William Gibson’s never-produced screenplay for the film Archangel is such a work.
Thankfully, the good people at IDW Publishing have filled in that gap – and the graphic novel adaptation of Archangel is as exciting and delightful as the film would have been.
Adapted by Michael St. John Smith, with art by the legendary Butch Guice and Tom Palmer, this thrilling five-act story offers an intriguingly different time travel story, one that offers some thoughtful philosophical questions about responsibility in the midst of war while delivering an exhilarating action story at the same time.
The early pages place the reader in the dystopian world of February 2016 – an idea that grabs us from the first page. We soon learn that most of the world capitals have been destroyed in a holocaust and that the surviving American government, cloistered in an emergency facility in Montana, is headed by a madman and his equally insane vice president. The VP undergoes surgery and travels back to war-torn 1945 in an attempt to change history. Meanwhile, the only person in the present day who has a prayer of preventing this holocaust is a very intelligent wheelchair-bound woman.
As the story glides along it adds intriguing elements along the way: a brave and strong female member of British intelligence; her forced alliance with her American former lover; a turncoat time traveler who repents of the events he’s causing; the mysterious way the time travelers are able to transport themselves around. The dramatic conclusion centers around the explosion of the first atomic bombs, and brings everything together in an exhilarating way. That leads to a delightful epilogue that sheds a very different light on the events we’ve witnessed.
Gibson constructs a sprawling story but it all holds together elegantly, as one might expect from a writer of the caliber of Gibson. He does an outstanding job of laying out elements in early chapters that pay off beautifully later. As well, his characters have real life and energy to them, especially his women. The women in this story are as strong as the men, intense and brilliant people well able to take care of saving the world.
The art by Guice is perfect for this book. He’s always been great at drawing a diversity of human faces, as well as grand action scenes, and here his work brings the story thrillingly to life.
I wasn’t ready to enjoy this graphic novel as much as I did, but Archangel swept me away. If this had been a movie, I would want to see it on opening night.