By: Fred Van Lente (story), Emanuela Lupacchino & Alvero Martinez (art), Guillermo Ortego (inks), David Baron (colors)

The Story: It’s safe to say if your pal’s trying to kill you, he’s not acting like himself.

The Review: My ongoing complaint with this series has always been that it tries too hard to toe the line between comedy and seriousness, without really committing to either.  Just look at this issue’s cover and you’ve got a good example of what’s flawed about the general tone and direction of this series: Gilad and Armstrong pincushioned full of arrows while Archer looks malevolently at them.  It’s a comical image, but not enough to make you laugh outright.

Within this issue, Van Lente’s humor diminishes to maybe half a handful of amusing remarks, the best of which is Kay bemoaning her sorry life while in Geomancer limbo: “I have a serious eating disorder!  My acid reflux is killing me! I pop pills like a reverse Pez dispenser!  I can’t maintain a serious heterosexual relationship!”  And that’s pretty much it as far as comedy goes on this issue.  The rest actually gets devoted to the plot at hand.

Unfortunately, this battle with the Null has felt underdeveloped from the start, though that only suits the one-dimensional nature of the Null themselves.  It’s not as if they can get any more nuanced or complicated if their whole motivation is to reduce all life to nothing.  The Null don’t even come across as true antagonists as they never even confront our heroes at any point.  Instead, the Last Enemy (in Obie’s body) is the face of villainy in this issue, and he’s not exactly a complex figure himself.

Not that it would matter much if he was, not with Kay coming into the full of her powers and basically serving as deus ex machina, to the point where Armstrong actually calls attention to the fact (“Deus the ex machina! I love it!”  Well, I don’t!).  And she’s not quite alone in doing so; Obie’s ability to draw upon any skill from the Akashic Field comes pretty close to turning him into a one-man problem solver.  It takes a lot of the suspense out of a story when you have two characters who can pull out any trick to get out of whatever scrape they’re in a the moment.

Even more disappointing is the departure of Kay and Gilad, just when Gilad is starting to make nice with our duo.  I think Van Lente makes a mistake in sending them off.  Kay is a great equalizer among the men, and Gilad’s craziness brings out the straight man in Armstrong, which makes him a more textured character overall.  I don’t really feel up to watching the antics of Archer and Armstrong by themselves again.

Although at the end of the day I view my time on this series as mostly a waste of time, I’m glad I read it because it exposed me to the work of Lupacchino.  Her art just seems tailor-made for a series of pure fun elsewhere.  As is, she gives this issue a great deal more liveliness and energy, not to mention emotional depth, than the script has in itself.  Ortego’s inks bolster her already confident lines to create remarkably clean, yet detailed images, while Baron’s colors add plenty of zip.  If nothing else, Archer & Armstrong is a fun title to look at.

Conclusion: Van Lente never succeeded in getting me much attached to the characters, nor much invested in the story.  There are more promising projects coming down the pike, which makes it easy for me to Drop this series for better things.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – While I do find the idea of your parents possessing your own body majorly creepy, I still honestly don’t care what happens to Mary-Maria.