blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

War Story: Archangel (2003)

WsaaSometimes the snow comes down in June, and all that business because out of nowhere… Archangel is really good. It’s not the best of writer Garth Ennis’s War Story: Volume Two, which is only not a joke award because of that David Lloyd story, but Archangel definitely makes up for the previous couple entries. Now, I read Volume Two in the collection order, not the publication order, and I remain convinced they intentionally started with the superior Lloyd story. Archangel is the finale in both orders, so Ennis (and perhaps his Vertigo editors) saved the second-best for the last.

Archangel has Gary Erskine on the art, and it’s a nice fit. I’ve been dreading War Story: Volume Two, so I was hesitant to embrace Erskine’s art. Or even to acknowledge it was Erskine and, you know, it might actually be intentional, competent artwork. Then I saw one of Erskine’s weird little figures—there’s just something about how he draws people in long shots—it’s like a forced perspective thing; they all look Hobbit-y. Anyway. Some of Archangel’s story involves a visual pay-off, and—conditioned by the rest of the series—I assumed the comic would fail.

Now, first, the comic does not fail. Erskine does a phenomenal job with that sequence. Except then, Ennis abruptly changes the stakes of the story, requiring Erskine to pivot into a peculiar kind of war comic. It’s the action hero war comic, except Archangel doesn’t do the heroes thing, and the comic becomes this delicate balance of talking heads, World War II airplane action, and just plain countdown suspense. Erskine ably handles all three, and the potential of War Story suddenly shines again. Ennis and an artist who doesn’t just get how to draw the airplanes or do the busy, frantic dogfight scenes, but one who gets the emotional core of the story and can help Ennis get there.

The story’s about a snotty RAF officer who gets reassigned to CAM ship duty. What’s a CAM ship? The snotty RAF officer doesn’t know, which is part of the gag. Suffice it to say, the snotty officer is on a comeuppance personal growth arc, and it’s fantastic. Especially how the personal growth aspect shakes out.

Ennis never writes the character too likable, contributing to Archangel’s potentially shaky opening. Would it be potentially shaky if the two-thirds of the rest of the series wasn’t a fail? Maybe, maybe not. Ennis doesn’t make the protagonist remotely charming at the beginning, rather doing lengthy talking head sequences where the other characters explain to the hero why he’s a dipshit.

I just assumed it would be bad War Story: Volume Two writing, not an intentional character development device.

But Ennis is on it. Archangel is outstanding. It doesn’t save Volume Two, but it does give it some nice contextual cushioning.

They should just put out a collection with Archangel and that Lloyd one. Save the unsuspecting from the rest of Volume Two. Archangel’s a great save. I’m so happy this story’s good.

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