By: Fred Van Lente (story), Clayton Henry & Pere Pérez (art), Matt Milla (colors)

The Story: Only Armstrong would save the world in a newsboy cap and multicolor sunglasses.

The Review: I must say, things move fast in this title.  I’m not a huge fan of the decompressed storyline, since the monthly intervals between issues make waiting for an inch of progress a real drag, but I support writers who want a slow-and-steady development to their plot.  Rushing things poses a risk of undermining the integrity of your own story.  It prevents tension from building and it misses opportunities to explore different directions to take the characters.

Maybe I missed a lot from the first two issues, but I think it’s somewhat ridiculous that at #4, we’re already at the world-saving part of the arc.  While I happen to like Van Lente’s casual writing style, there’s a line where breeziness crosses over into the downright careless.  Unless you’re writing an all-out comedy, you have to give the proper sobriety to certain moments if you want to convince your audience there’s some real stakes here.

So how the heck are we supposed to take a summary like, “…[Archer and Armstrong are] trying to stop Archer’s parents from activating the Boon before it destroys the world, so, that…uh…  Ahh, screw it.  It’s too complicated”?  With that tone, you expect a silly kind of resolution to this story, only for Van Lente to turn the ending around into a kind of downer.  But Van Lente can do the opposite just as well.  Just as you start getting into the groove of a more conventional crisis resolution, he topples a wall on someone in a fit of slapstick irony (“Gaahhhhh!!  Crap!” Armstrong exclaims).

But then, in terms of sheer weirdness, Van Lente ranks with the best of comic book writers.  Obviously, Paul Cornell’s dinosaurs in medieval armor and Grant Morrison’s Bat-Cow are standout candidates for Most Wonderfully Bizarre moments of the year, but Tibetan monks, who are actually Nazis, with the capability to access all of mankind’s knowledge, and yet who still have the stupid little mustaches—well, that’s one to beat, right there.

And yes, I do enjoy the chuckles I can get out of the series, even if it does verge on the corny at times.  While zip-lining toward the Green Dragon Lamas’ hideout to make a surprise attack, Archer groans at the weight of his charge: “Mr. Armstrong—I told you that big meal in Lhasa was a bad idea!”

“You said there was gonna be a big battle!  I had to bulk up on carbs!!

Unfortunately, no amount of laughs can overcome an otherwise underwhelming script.  The scene where Mary-Maria sees the light and makes up with Obie has almost no real emotion attached, and that lack of feeling follows even after—spoiler alert—the Boon steals her life.  That’s about the only genuinely heartfelt moment of the entire issue, and it has almost no heart to it at all.  Van Lente’s wackiness kind of overshadows everything.

Henry and Pérez together produce an issue that, at least in terms of appearance, matches the script’s lively good humor very well.  Just like the script, when it comes to squeezing out some actual feeling from the action, the art falters.  It’s all clean and fairly polished, but it doesn’t really add anything to the story.  Same goes for Milla, whose colors are serviceable and natural, but nothing more.

Conclusion: For an issue where the world nearly met its end, it all feels like mostly a letdown.  I think I’m willing to see if a new arc can catch my interest, but as it stands, the series feels like it’s just making itself up as it goes along, with no idea what it wants to be or do.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – And the award for Line Most Likely to Leave You Speechless goes to one of the Green Dragon Lamas, who mind-shouts, “You just been blitzkrieged, dummkopf!  Booyah!

– Anyone care to explain why Archer’s soul doesn’t get sucked out, even point-blank to the Boon?  And the Geomancer, too?