Originally published on Set The Tape
Archangel, written by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith, is a time travel action-adventure story that spans from modern day to post-world war two Berlin.
It tells the story of a different timeline, a world where America controlled the majority of the planet but has been ravaged by nuclear weapons. With the world destroyed and unliveable, the American leadership forms a plan to travel into an alternate past, to change their history and create a new world for them to take control over.
Having altered his appearance to look like his grandfather, Junior Henderson, the son of the President For Life, travels back to 1945 along with a group of marines and replaces his grandfather, an important military officer. Fortunately, a resistance movement feels that it is wrong for Henderson to alter an entire world in order to rule it, and as such sends a team of their own back in time to stop their plans.
Archangel splits its action between these two time periods, with the 2016 setting acting as support for the agent sent back to the 1940’s. Whilst the majority of the narrative takes place in the past, these jumps back to the present allow for good narrative pauses in the story, and give us some additional context to the future timeline and the events that led to the destruction of their world.
The 1945 setting is well done, with the books art style complementing the location of a post war Berlin. Whilst many time travel stories, especially ones that involve alternate histories, tend to be set during World War Two itself, moving it to the time just after makes for a familiar yet refreshing change. The story unfolds at a brisk pace, yet never feels rushed or like things are happening too quickly, there’s still time to build the world and to take character moments.
Despite only being five issues in length the writers manage to develop their characters well, they explore their histories and their motivations in ways that feel natural and not forced, and manage to add a lot of depth to even side characters. The single panel in which you discover that the character Fritz was held in a Nazi prison is a disturbing moment, and tells you huge amounts about who he is and what he’s been through, simply with dialogue; ‘I wore a pink triangle. A certain guard befriended me. There was food, of sorts. Other privileges, for one such as myself. Staying out of the death camps was one.’
A personal favourite character of mine for the series is Naomi Givens, am RAF Intelligence Officer who couldn’t help but remind me of Peggy Carter. Much like the beloved Marvel character, Givens is a smart, quick thinking, and no nonsense character that drives the story forward; she takes to the concept of time travel especially well.
Archangel also manages to pack in several action sequences throughout the story despite so much of the narrative being given over to characterisation and world building, meaning that even the most hardened action fan will find something of interest, even if they aren’t drawn into the story, which strikes me as impossible.
Learning that Archangel began as a television project, before being changed to a feature film, video game, and then finally a comic book, isn’t surprising, as it has a very cinematic quality throughout, from the way the story unfolds to the way that certain panels are drawn. The book has a scope to it that many comics lack, and a care and attention to detail that make it feel like a very real and lived in world.
With Archangel now collected as a single volume it’s the perfect time to check out the story if you missed the issues when they first came out, plus, reading it as one piece rather than waiting a month between issues is definitely the best way to experience this story.
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