By: Fred Van Lente (story), Emanuela Lupacchino (art), Guillermo Ortego (inks), Matt Milla (colors)

The Story: It’s like Armstrong and Gilad are living the bridge to “A Change Is Gonna Come”.

The Review: Reading back what I wrote for last month’s issue of this series, I’m struck by how cross I sound.  Maybe the looming specter of finals sucked away some of my good humor that week, but I really gave #4 a hard time.  While I stand by my criticism of the title’s rushed pacing and thin development, perhaps I was a bit hasty myself in writing off the promise this title offers.  Despite my frustrations with it, I have to admit it still holds my interest.

What remains irritating about reading this series is the nagging feeling that I’m missing some crucial details about the A&A mythos, probably from the first couple issues I skipped over when I jumped onboard at #3.  It’s still a tad ridiculous that you’d miss out on that much substance by being slightly late to the game—and that the sizable recap page does nothing to reintroduce some of it to you—but at least this issue sort of brings you up to speed.

Here you thought the Boon was the big focal point of the story (an understandable assumption, given the Boon’s world-threatening powers and all), yet all of a sudden, it’s this Geomancer that’s taken over the story’s direction.  Fine.  I’m happy to relegate the Boon to the past and focus on this new plotline, as it seems to have a lot more meat to it than the last one.

For one, it introduces Gilad, brother to Armstrong, who gives the series an appreciable shot of unpredictability.  Unfortunately, his dedication to the Geomancer proves somewhat narrow-minded and unintelligent; he makes no distinction between death by murder and death by accident, and he doesn’t care that Archer’s only real connection to the death of the last Geomancer is that he “bears [his parents’] name.  He was there.”

Silly vendetta aside, Gilad’s strident anger issues fits within his history ancient warrior and protector (the Earth’s “fist and steel,” which is only about the coolest epithet ever), and he serves as a good contrast to his brother.  Next to him, Armstrong comes off as downright sensitive (Gilad scoffs at him in battle: “Use iron, not your poetry.”), and his concern for Archer’s survival against the obsessed Gilad is eventually leads to them sealing their friendship and brotherhood, albeit with that characteristic backhandedness Van Lente is so famous for.  Repeating Archer’s earlier words, Armstrong asks amazedly, “I’m the best and most noble dude you ever met?”

“I haven’t met very many people, sir.”

“True, that.  But I’m takin’ it anyway!”

But the real reason I’m willing to stick around to see what happens is the teaser image for next month’s issue: Armstrong and Gilad frothing at the mouth in each other’s face, separated only by a very cute, very blonde, very shapely, very wry-looking Geomancer.  The possibilities are simply intriguing, no?

And if Lupacchino continues art duties from now on (and it looks like she’ll at least be covering the next issue—hooray), that gives me another reason to stay on.  Although she shares the relaxed linework of predecessors Clayton Henry and Pere Pérez, her lines seem more confident and surer, and Ortego’s inks give them even more definition.  The result is artwork that looks clean and polished enough to make you take the story seriously, but with plenty of expression to pull off Van Lente’s emphasis on fun.  Milla’s colors also add a layer of sophistication to the issue; he actually gives gradations of luster and shine to surfaces, bringing out their texture, making our characters appear as if they’re moving in a real world.

Conclusion: The issue seems to use the new arc as a chance to start afresh, with a more accessible storyline and stronger art.  Worth a second chance.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – This just tells you how much daring I have, but I get so nervous seeing that rickshaw driver run through the wet and rainy streets in sandals.