Last month, a celebrated writer from outside the world of comics landed in our little four-color ghetto with a thud when Ta-Nehisi Coates debuted his much-ballyhooed new Black Panther series over at Marvel — first issue sales were strong, but the comic itself sucked (to put it mildly), and if the shelves at my LCS are any indication, there are going to be a lot of copies of issue 2 available in the bargain boxes sooner rather than later. It’s too bad, of course, because Coates is both an interesting and important literary figure — as well as one with an apparently long-standing love for this much-maligned medium — but when the history of comic books in the 21st century is written, Black Panther circa 2016 looks likely to go down as yet another missed opportunity to bring new readers into the fold.
Still, there’s gotta be hope, right? I mean, there has to be a successful novelist out there somewhere, with a strong fan base of his or her own, who both wants to work in comics (for whatever reason) and knows what they’re doing, doesn’t there? Enter William Gibson.
If you’re a fan of speculative science fiction, Gibson’s name is one that needs no introduction — and truth be told it may not even if sci-fi isn’t your cup of tea, simply because he hasn’t just “reached the mountaintop” of that genre, he is the mountaintop, and has been for a couple of decades now. How his latest project, the five-issue comics series Archangel, landed at the doorstep of IDW Publishing is anyone’s guess (although he alludes to its origins a bit in this first issue’s extensive backmatter), but I’m sure Ted Adams and company are very glad it did, because the first printing of issue one sold out nationwide in just a couple of days and they’re already headed back to press with it. So, hey, happy faces all around there — but will all those Gibson fans be back for more next month?
If the debut installment of Archangel is anything to go by, I’d have to say the answer to that would be an unqualified “yes.” This opening salvo may not be anything like an “instant classic” by any means, but it does everything a good first issue needs to do by offering readers an intriguing premise (2016 Earth is an irradiated post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by a father-son team of major-league assholes who have now perfected time travel and are seeking to re-write history to their specifications by going back in time and impersonating their ancestors), immediately-identifiable (if broadly-drawn) characters, stylish artwork, and plenty of engaging mysteries — particularly if you’re into Foo Fighters (not the band), Fireballs, and all that other “exotic” aerial weaponry the Nazis purportedly threw up into the sky at the tail end of WWII. In short, it’s a fun, interesting, well-paced, intelligent read.
And my oh my is it ever a joy to look at! The art team of penciller Butch Guice and inker Tom Palmer would have been considered an “A-list” pairing in, say, 1986, but the illustrations in Archangel #1 show that not only have these two consummate pros not “lost a step,” they’re actually gotten better while no one was looking. Add in the superb color work of Diego Rodriguez and put all this gorgeousness under a breathtaking Tula Lotay cover and what you’ve got is a comic that combines the best of both the “old-school” and “new-school” artists in service of a script that plays to the strengths of everyone involved.
Now, as far as the script goes — actor/writer Michael St. John Smith is credited on the inside cover for “editing and story structure” (I know what the first means, but I’m a little less clear on the second), but in this issue’s already-referenced backmatter (which, in fairness, takes up half the book and its inclusion is a big reason, I’m sure, for the higher $4.99 cover price here — still, for a “process junkie” like me, I’m not complaining because I love seeing all the stages of a given page come to life in front of my eyes) Gibson refers to him as a full collaborator, and the two of them share the copyright on the material, so — I dunno, it could just be a case where one guy’s getting short shrift because the other guy’s name (which is in big bold letters right above the logo on the cover) sells copies, but I’ll say this much : they both deserve a ton of credit, apportioned in whatever percentage is most agreeable to both, for delivering a crackerjack story that doubles, frankly, as a fucking clinic on how to structure a first issue/episode/chapter/you name it. If subsequent installments are anywhere near this strong, we’re in for a very memorable ride indeed.