Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Archangel 1, originally released May 18th, 2016.
Michael: Over the course of recent pop culture history, it has become more and more well-known that time travel stories are difficult to pull off successfully. It’s become such a universal truth that there’s typically an in-story joke about how complicated and confusing time travel is. Likewise, we as an audience inevitably find ourselves questioning the “logic” of the time travel narrative – Grandfather Paradoxes, timeline alterations and basic logistical functions of the time machine in question. However, I think that we can suspend our disbelief for time travel the same way we can for the last son of Krypton – if there’s a worthwhile story at least.
Archangel takes place in an alternate 2016, where the leaders of the free world are attempting to escape the nuclear wasteland that they have created by travelling back in time (and space?) to rewrite history as they see fit. In an early twist of the book, it’s revealed that the brains of the operation — Major Torres — sabotages the project; cutting off present day communication with the Vice President and his team in 1945. The remainder of the book takes place in 1945 Germany, dealing with U.K. and U.S. intelligence trying to uncover the identities of two men that Torres sent back to stop Vice President Henderson from changing the future.
Archangel kind of reminds me of the short-lived and incredibly mediocre TV series Terra Nova, whose premise was: the future is bad that people have gone back in time to a parallel universe to mine its prehistory of precious resources. Similarly, Vice President Henderson and his men are exploiting the events of our past to use to their advantage. I now realize that both of these stories are basically sci-fi allegories for the consumption of energy and resources – “temporal fracking.” Though instead of drilling for oil/whatever “unobtanium” Terra Nova used, Henderson garrotes his grandfather (okay, alternate universe grandfather).
I’ll be interested to see why creators William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith decided to have Archangel take place at the end of WWII as the story unfolds. With Henderson’s bit of body-snatching and the “UFO” discovery of the backup Torres sent in six months later, Archangel feels decidedly Cold War to me. We’ve seen the “evil replacement” shtick many times before, but the staging of Henderson as he kills his alt-grandfather and replaces him definitely comes off as sinister and alien. Artist Butch Guice embodies Henderson as sinister and alien especially on that final page. He’s snake-like and Napoleonic in his size and in the way that his clothes don’t exactly fit. And look, its older Channing Tatum!
Likewise I had flashbacks to shows like DS9 when Doctor Givens and Captain Matthews were scratching their heads as to who the hell those “mystery men” that landed in Germany were. In cases like this it’s enjoyable to have a few more pieces of the story than the characters do.
Comic books love the myth of Icarus. I can’t count or name every comic that it’s been referenced in, but it’s enough to make me take notice when Givens and her team are citing “Icarus events” for “Project Daedalus.” Gibson doesn’t further elaborate on what exactly Project Daedalus is, but by the characters’ reactions it’s probably safe to say that it’s not dedicated to finding space/time travelers. The myth of Icarus flying too close to the sun with his wax wings is a lesson in hubris – a tried and true theme in the sci-fi genre. Whose hubris is it referring to though? Henderson’s, for thinking he can change the future? Torres’, for thinking that she can stop Henderson? More than likely it’s the creation of the space/time machine – the hubris of man surpassing God.
I think that my previous exposure to Butch Guice was in the later years of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. His style in Archangel reminds me of that of Rags Morales in Identity Crisis or Brian Hitch in The Ultimates. While this isn’t true for everyone in the book, some of Guice’s characters seemed to be modeled after Hollywood actors: Henderson is a toss-up between Jude Law and Benedict Cumberbatch while Givens’ commanding officer is the spitting image of Christopher Plummer.
Patrick! How did you enjoy Archangel? Do you have any logical reason as to why Torres wouldn’t send her men back BEFORE Henderson arrived in 1945? (Time-travel nitpicking, I know) What’s with the tattoos on the marines? Is there gonna be some sci-fi explanation about how that helps their space/time travel? Also did Henderson engineer robot flies within six months in 1945? He did, didn’t he?
Patrick: I think you just answered one of your questions with another one of your questions. (Questions answering questions?! This is madness!) Those robot flies could literally come from ANYWHERE because of the time travel paradoxes at play. Did Henderson cook them up in a couple of months stuck in the past or did someone else send the fly even further into the past to meet him? THERE’S NO WAY TO KNOW – and I think that’s really how we’re meant to view the time travel shenanigans in this comic.
Actually, it’s strange how Gibson and Guice leverage the series two main genres against each other. On the one hand we’ve got the dystopian future hellscape and all the science fictionary around that and on the other hand, we’ve got a WWII European espionage thriller. Both genres call to mind a lot of specific imagery, especially in the comic book medium. Gibson makes a point about this in his notes at the end of the issue, but it’s interesting to note that Henderson’s goons from the future (one of which, I believe Michael describes as “older Channing Tatum”) are the only characters we see with that traditional superhero body type. They’re huge, broad-shouldered, and have enormous arms. Couple that with the logic-defying time travel tropes and an opening page that recalls every post-Apocalyptic story I’ve ever read, and you’re got yourself an aesthetically-rote piece of genre fiction.
There’s no wonder Michael made so many references to movies and TV shows in his lead – the world of alt-2016 is one that’s permeated popular culture. From Hunger Games to Walking Dead to The Last of Us to The Division, the post-apocalypse is a setting we are comfortable reading about. Ditto 1945 Berlin.
But it’s where these two genres and settings intersect that Gibson and Guice achieve their coolest ideas. The characterization of the 1945-native characters is pretty stellar; Fritz and Naomi’s banter about finding French coffee at “the market” is blindingly charming, and gives an awful lot of information about what these people value and how they operate without dragging the story down. Similarly, Naomi’s relationship with Captain Matthews is dripping with history. All of which makes me more personally interested in the characters from 1945 than their two-dimensional future-counterparts.
Maybe it’s not totally fair to describe the future-folk as two-dimensional… or at least, not fair to criticize them as such. Yeah, Henderson’s plan may be overtly evil — as emphasized repeatedly by Guice and colorist Diego Rodriguez’s red washes anytime the guy does anything — but his world and his motivations are inherently compelling. Right when we meet Naomi, Guice and Gibson give us permission to find that kind of sci-fi / comic stuff fascinating by revealing that Naomi has a soft spot for it as well.
Check it out: there’s a science fiction rag in her desk drawer – same place she keeps her gun. Guice further directs the reader’s eye to that detail by placing it in the middle of this procedural square of panels. These are precious early moments with the character, and we’re seeing how she works, what she wears, the state of her office and… what she’s interested in. Which is also why she’s the perfect person to investigate temporal usurpers from an alternate dimension. She picks up on the tatted marine’s question of what year it is, she notices his bracelet, she extracts the plastic from the tattooed corpse.
As far as what’s up with the tattoos? I don’t think we’re going to get a time-travel-related answer to that. I’m assuming that they’re future-mercs, so it’s not hard to imagine that they’d be covered in tatts that are either gang or military related. It’s a way of making them alien to Givens and Matthews without making them seem alien to the reader. The could have been hyper-augmented flyborg monster-men, but this is a lot more familiar, and familiarity is the currency Gibson and Guice use throughout this issue.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?