Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen are the creative team behind Archer Coe: The Thousand Natural Shocks, a graphic novel from Oni Press about a hypnotist who finds that the past is a lot tricker than you'd think. Archer, also known as The Mind's Arrow, is a highly skilled hypnotist who uses his gift to entertain crowds and talk to cats. After a show, he's hired by Jonathan Midland to use his powers on Midland's wife, Hope. Against the advice of a gaggle of felines, Archer agrees and is set down a path that winds between his past, present, and future. Archer meets Hope whom appears to know him. They begin to connect (or reconnect) and the mystery begins. Along with the mysterious connection between Archer and Hope, a killer known as The Zipper has been slicing people's hearts in two with his bare hands. After a series of deaths culminating in Midland, the likely suspect is Archer. But how can he prove his innocence when he starts to question his own past?
Through writer Jamie Rich, Archer travels both through the minds of others and his own past. Archer himself is a bit complicated. He's both extraordinarily confident in himself, but he's also easily discouraged. He's rarely seen without his mask, and when he is, he's usually doubting himself. Very early on, he's dismissed by a passerby for claiming he can communicate with a cat (to which the cat responds in a way to further discourage Archer). Only after donning his mask is he able to confidently shoulder the burden that his abilities carry (mainly the skepticism). Then, as he's hit near rock bottom, he's again mask-less, as he tries to dive into his own mind and past. He doesn't get far, but he does have a conversation with himself wherein he starts to put the pieces together. Though he acknowledges his mask has no real ties to his abilities, it is apparent that it holds some power with him. It's his cape and cowl, it's not what makes him special, but it helps him realize his own worth. It gives him an identity.
Identity is key, especially to a man who can make someone forget something that is very much a part of them. Whether it's that the person likes to smoke, or that the person shouldn't slice people's hearts in half with their bare hands, the power over identity that Archer holds is actually kind of godlike. That he can make himself forget his own past is one thing, but that he can also hold conversations and battles in the minds of others make him kind of a lower-stakes Dr. Strange.
His supporting cast is less fleshed out. Other than The Zipper, who's very role as Archer's foil (and arguably biggest mistake), everyone else is kind of one-sided and flat. Hope shows promise early on, but once her mystery is solved, she loses her flavor and becomes a cliché. The two cops that constantly hassle Archer feel like they stepped out of The Maltese Falcon. Though one shares a personal connection with Archer, it never goes anywhere other than empty threats. That these characters get discarded so easily isn't a major revelation. It's actually kind of lackluster. And though the climax does contain a pretty interesting twist, it's almost too much to care about the "why". If it were just Archer talking to cats for 140 pages, it would at least be more amusing.
Christensen's art is a nice companion piece to the story and he does a great job with the various scenes of Archer in the mind-scape, but overall it feels a little plain. His characters are unique and provide an extra layer of character that is glossed over in the overall story. The transformation of The Zipper is jarring, but it also makes sense. He's become a different person. He's no longer held down by his inhibitions and it shows. His hair is messy, his eyes have sunken in, and his suit is disheveled. He's become Archer's Frankenstein's monster, and he looks like it. Christensen's highest point is his illustrations of Archer doing his thing in various minds. The scene where he tries to literally put the pieces of his past together and the culmination of his confrontation with the Zipper are two stand out. In the first, the panel literally becomes a puzzle as Archer tries to find the answers to his own mystery. Other than these few instances, the paneling is fairly straight-forward and boxy. It's not a bad thing, it just seems like there is more room for experimentation that's missed out on. Christensen is also very much focused on lips. And that makes sense. Both truth and lies come from the mouth. Archer's ability is really hyper-persuasion. It's all about words. Panels of just lips really drives that point home. Also, his black clouds against a white sky is a nice artistic touch.
Archer Coe is a man with a special ability. People do and believe what he says, he can even make himself forget his own past. With that kind of great power also comes a great responsibility. Instead, he puts on stage shows and makes house calls for the rich upper-crust. If he'd been a little more responsible, he might not have created a killer and a gold-digger. Unfortunately, he has to pay for his past. The Thousand Natural Shocks, is the tale of his redemption for a crime he didn't even know he committed. While the plot is strong and the twists interesting, the side-characters feel a little flat and motivations feel cliché. Overall it's a nice read, but not one you'd feel bad about missing, or hypnotizing yourself to forget.
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