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Comics Review: You Can Check Out of ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #20 (But Can You Leave?)

This month’s issue of Archer & Armstrong kicks off the “American Wasteland” arc and it’s jarring; Writer Fred Van Lente seems to be going for softer targets and easier game than in previous storylines. Whereas the series up until now has been content to hit out at a culture of secrecy, the uneasy and uncomfortable mix of religion and politics, and the kind of paranoid thinking about secret organizations that gives us secret organizations, “American Wasteland” hits out at… celebrity religion.

I should rewind: after knocking heads at the H.A.R.D. Corps compound in the last issue of Bloodshot, our heroes have a lead on Archer’s real parents, which leads them to Hollywood and the Church of Retrology. The big money cult might be holding Archer’s mother hostage, and before the issue is over, he and Armstrong will have to figure out what the bizarre, metaphysical secret of the cult is and why a bunch of seemingly dead celebrities are just hanging around.

The script is just fine – in particular, how Archer is finally disarmed after two months of being a complete and total badass is clever enough comic book mumbo jumbo to keep the action going. It helps that the Steve Dillon-esque “acting” in Pere Perez’s artwork sells the celebrity facsimiles (or are they?) while delivering on the late-chapter weirdness when our heroes end up truly in over their heads.

Better still, we’re getting to see the evolution of Archer, as Van Lente threads the needle with regards to the formerly naive ultimate fighter’s faith and the beginnings of his cynicism. He’s seen supposedly good people do bad things after learning his whole life and world view is a lie – can you blame him? Hell, I was right there with him with the Retrology leader began launching into his monologue, because how many more of these nuts can we listen to spout some kind of lunatic certainty about their plans to change the world?

Where the book falters is in using celebrity religions/cults/what-have-you as a target: Armstrong says it himself when he calls the whole thing nothing more than a sign of the vacuousness of pop culture. It’s the religion of “me,” and I’m not really sure how many more pegs the organization giving Retrology its inspiration can be taken down.

Past that, Retrology introduces one more oddball faction to the Valiant Universe and hopefully the tour through “American Wasteland” will visit less obvious landmarks.

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What did you think of this week’s Archer & Armstrong? Let us know in the comments below!

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