By: Fred Van Lente (story), Emanuela Lupacchino (art), Guillermo Ortego (inks), Matt Milla (colors)
The Story: In which it is proven that too much math can only lead to no good.
The Review: It’s funny. You can go for years without seeing a movie about Abraham Lincoln, then all of a sudden, there’s two of them in the theaters one year. True, one of them is a serious drama about the nature of principles and politics and the other involves slaying vampires and jumping off trains before they explode—but my point is sometimes, by chance, different writers will get the same ideas in their heads around the same time and go different ways with them.
I’m pretty sure the likelihood of someone reading both Dial H and Archer & Armstrong is even less than that of someone seeing Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, but if you do happen to read both, you have to notice their mutual fascination with the concept of “nothing as something.” China Miéville basically spent his entire first arc exploring the different sides of “nothing,” but it’s Van Lente who manages to push out an accessible story out of it.
In fact, you might say Van Lente’s take on the Null is a bit too accessible. The numerological cult’s obsession with nothing—and that’s never going to get less awkward to say—doesn’t really have much of a point—which may very well be the point. Yes, we’re made to understand that their goal is to “break the code of the universe,” thereby attaining “the means to unmake reality,” but the obvious question we should all ask after that revelation is: for God’s sake, what for? As a villainous motive, destruction for its own sake always seems a bit silly without more to it.
But let’s set that aside for now; maybe Van Lente will pull off some elaborate explanation later for this seemingly pointless conflict. Meanwhile, he takes a page or two out of Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D.* and weaves all kinds of history into the narrative. Again, you have to question whether he does this seriously or as parody since these historical figures play no bigger role than as simply the means for the Null to get closer to their goal. Archimedes and Alan Turing do little more in the issue than gurgle to death.
No, it’s not really the plot that keeps you interested in the series; it’s just the good-natured tone of the series and the fun of the characters. There aren’t too many hard jokes in the title, and Armstrong tells most of them, but the humor comes from the characters’ straight-man reactions to their own crazy antics (e.g. Obie, Kay, and Armstrong clutching each other for dear life and screaming their heads’ off as Gilad sends their car flying from one skyscraper to another). You also have to enjoy their flippant responses to crises. Gilad, incredulous at his brother’s unconcerned attitude, exclaims, “The whole world is in jeopardy!”
“Pfff. So? Archer and I saved the world last week. That’s kind of our thing now!”
If you have a mostly mediocre story, then you need someone of Lupacchino’s talents to massage the kinks of the script and highlight its strengths. And this she does in full. Because her art is just so inherently shapely and fleshed out (in the same category as, say, Marcus To), she makes even the weakest scenes look credible. And she certainly highlights the cartoonish humor of the characters, whether it be Obie’s hands-on-face-yet-unable-to-cover-his-eyes terror or Armstrong’s grumpy expression at hearing yet again about the coolness of his brother. Milla’s warm colors make Lupacchino’s figures even more lifelike and vibrant, rendering an issue that often looks better than it reads.
Conclusion: It’s hard to tell if Van Lente actually has a serious story up his sleeve or if he’s just playing around. If it’s the former, he has a lot of work to do; if it’s the latter, he doesn’t do quite enough.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Is S.H.I.E.L.D. still a thing, by the way? Or did somewhere along the way Marvel realized that a bimonthly series about cultish nerds fighting each other wasn’t going to be a major seller?