“Archer and Armstrong” #3 by writer Fred Van Lente and artists Clayton Henry and Pere Perez moves the action forward quickly, and the path of various groups of characters are moving towards convergence, and the inevitable re-assembly of a sinister weapon, The Boon, is on the horizon.
Van Lente’s worldbuilding is rapid, and creations like the “ninja nuns” and “The Vatican Library’s Z-Collection” are memorable for their precision and humor. There are a lot of fun ideas and fantasy mixed in with an impressive of history, geography and religion. None of it overwhelms, though, because Van Lente keeps “Archer and Armstrong” #3 accessible with a recap at the beginning of the issue and brief textboxes of information scattered through the opening pages.
Both within textboxes and in the dialogue and action, Van Lente also drops in real-world but fantastical details that make the world of “Archer and Armstrong” seem deeper and more exciting. The issue opens with Mary Maria being inducted into the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, and when the nuns tell Mary Maria that a crossbow would be an obvious choice, I was delighted to note that this was probably a reference to the Mary Rose, a Tudor warship whose wreck salvage is the modern world’s major link to the age of archery.
As in the original series, Archer and Armstrong are great foils for each other, but their odd couple and buddy comedy dynamic is still in its formative stages. “Archer and Armstrong” has been very action-heavy so far, and thus the characters still feel like caricatures of The Old Jovial Epicurean Hedonist vs. The Young Straight-Edge Zealot. As a result, the two leads are very likable, but despite all that has befallen them, but there isn’t much depth to them yet. The same goes for Mary Maria, Obie/Archer’s adopted sister.
The slightly awkward dialogue accounts for much of this stiffness of portrayal. Everyone talks like a parody. Sure, Archer and Mary Maria were raised in a cult, but their yelling “Jimminy Cricket” and “Fash Darnit!” makes them seem cartoonish. They’re funny and cute, but that makes it harder to take their ordeals, their mission and potential romance at all seriously. Armstrong, too, is more a type than a man so far, although his lines are consistently amusing.
Henry and Perez’s art sometimes magnifies this lack of characterization. Although the panel-to-panel and time transitions are smooth and their page and panel compositions are balanced and clean, the facial expressions and body movements are sometimes a little stuff. When Mary-Maria kills by accident, Van Lente’s dialogue communicates her regret and shock, but her face registers little emotion.
Still, “Archer and Armstrong” #3 is a compelling comic, with lots of action and rich backstory, and Van Lente’s plot twists are refreshingly unpredictable. The final page’s cliffhanger prominently displays some familiar and sinister iconography and readers will definitely want to know what happens next.