William Gibson's Archangel: a graphic story of the unfolding jackpot apocalypse
William Gibson's 2014 novel The Peripheral was the first futuristic book he published in the 21st century, and it showed us a distant future in which some event, "The Jackpot," had killed nearly everyone on Earth, leaving behind a class of ruthless oligarchs and their bootlickers; in the 2018 sequel, Agency, we're promised a closer look at the events of The Jackpot. Between then and now is Archangel, a time-traveling, alt-history, dieselpunk story of power-mad leaders and nuclear armageddon.
From the start of its run in 2016, Archangel went from strength to strength, packing in so many goddamned O.G. cyberpunk eyeball kicks per page that it felt like some kind of cask-strength distillation of all the visual and action elements that gave the original mirrorshades stuff its dark glitter.
Now that the comic's run is done, the five-issue tale is revealed as a masterful, beautifully plotted war story set in three different wars: WWII as we know it, WWII as it might have been, and a distant all-out nuclear conflagration that may or may not have been an inside job.
This is a time-travel story, but it's one that sets out to break the genre's conventions: it opens with the ruthless son of America's power-grabbed president-for-life traveling back to Berlin at the end of WWII to murder his grandfather and take his place. Take that, grandfather parodox.
Hunting the president's son and his goons is "The Pilot," a USAF ninja in a camouflage suit who must prevent Junior from destroying another world without giving Junior the chance to detonate the belly-bomb all US armed-forces members must have implanted when they enlist. Thankfully, it has a 30 foot range.
Archangel is visually stunning, with all the dark romance of war-torn Berlin as a setting: deviant cabarets, black marketeers' dens, chop-shops, makeshift Soviet command-posts and secret airfields. Then there's the futuristic world of Junior and the president, seen in a cramped bunker in which a rogue scientist is scrambling to support The Pilot from the distant future and a different timeline.
Gibson's intimated that this is an intermediate step between The Peripheral and Agency. It is a tantalyzing glimpse into some of the underpinnings of the world, a making-explicit of something that Gibson's imagination hadn't quite fleshed in when he wrote The Peripheral. It reminds me of what Kim Stanley Robinson's doing right now: first, he wrote 2312, imagining a world 300 years away; then Aurora imagined a world about halfway between there and here; then this year's New York 2140 split the difference between now and Aurora, like a Xeno's arrow fired from the 24th century, halving the distance to us with each interval that passes.
This is an approach whose time has come, I think. My novel Walkaway is meant to be a midpoint between now and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Sometimes, it's easiest to start at the destination and work your way backwards to where you are right now.
I interviewed Gibson about this last month.
Archangel [William Gibson, Michael St John Smith and Butch Guice/IDW]
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