“American Wasteland,” Part 3 – “King of Kings”
Would Archer’s powers still work if he were on the moon? This month’s issue of Archer & Armstrong takes a quick dive into the Akashic field, the collective consciousness which gives Archer the ability to essentially duplicate any skill (psionic or otherwise) on Earth. But in this third part of “American Wasteland,” writer Fred Van Lente is playing around with broader concepts including where our gods and demons come from (and go), and even making the case for the humanist deification of Michael Jackson.
But let me take a couple of steps back: the issue finds our two heroes still trapped in the purgatory of Hotel California, where the spirits of some of the greatest celebrities are trapped, their souls feeding the Wheel, a powerful artifact with the power to change reality. Archer’s one-time squeeze/adoptive sister Maria is there too, aged decades after a mess of time travel and having her life force siphoned off, so you can understand how things might be a little emotionally complicated for Obadiah.
It’s… surprisingly sad for an issue that starts with Armstrong headbutting an errant knight and getting testy about the Grail quest and ends with the same character fully nude and wreaking havoc. Van Lente is finally playing out the core conflict between the book’s two leads: the battle between conviction and moral relativism.
Archer has an inborn sense of “right” and “wrong,” and he’s a really decent kid who means well (even if he was raised by a murderous, manipulative cult). On the other side of the coin, Armstrong believes that human history is just a series of “them and us” fights that just end with a pile of bodies. You kind of feel with the weary certainty that he’s written that Van Lente tends to side with Armstrong, but I hope he’s not going for something as simplistic as that.
Artist Pere Perez captures all of this in a book that goes from zany to angry. The Arthurian sequence is bright and funny and shows us the weary but still fun-loving Armstrong of 1,000 years ago as well as the hurt and disappointment for poor Obie after he meets Maria again for the first time since she went traipsing through, well, time. The artist’s faux celebrities aren’t half-bad, even if the Biggie and ‘Pac stand-ins look like they need another round of color reference.
Perez and Van Lente will make you believe a naked, fat immortal is an imposing fighter, and for that reason alone, you might want to check out this issue of Archer & Armstrong.