Jamie Rich + Dan Christensen + Crime Noir + Stage Magic = A heady, edge of your seat thriller that will wrap you up and keep you guessing till the very end. It’s not rocket science, it’s magic!
Written by Jamie S. Rich
Illustrated by Dan Christensen
Archer Coe is a performing hypnotist with the stage name “The Mind’s Arrow.” When his
nightly shows are over, he moonlights as a special consultant for the rich and powerful. His latest client is a woman who claims to know him but whom he swears he’s never met.
Things take a strange turn for the worse when her husband ends up dead, and police
suspect Archer of not just killing him, but also of being a sinister killer nicknamed “The
Zipper.” Archer has no memory of any of this, but it’s making him doubt whether or not he’s got blood on his hands. Could the master of other people’s minds be losing his own?
In “Archer Coe: The Thousand Natural Shocks,” Rich and Christen succeed in blending two strikingly different genres to create an extremely compelling protagonist; Archer Coe. A mysterious stage performer, a master of hypnosis hiding behind a domino mask, Coe comes off as a blend of the Spirit and Zatara. There’s heavy pulp feel to the character, which lends to the book’s decidedly noir style.
Taking a page from the likes of The Prestige, “Archer Coe” plays coy with the nature of its mystical elements. This leaves it up to the reader to decide just how much credence to lend to Coe’s abilities. The character, at times, seems super-human in his abilities. A regular Charles Xavier, Coe seems to have extraordinary power over the minds of his subjects. Furthermore, he can talk to cats (which is essentially the greatest super power of all time).
While it may seem over the top, the creators keep suspension of disbelief high by making the reader want to believe. Coe’s confidence in his abilities borders on arrogance, and his ability to walk that line between prodigy and menace is a major part of his charm as a protagonist.
Make no mistake, while the story deals heavily mysticism, this is a crime thriller through and through. Rich and Christensen hit all the major beats; a dame in distress, a cocky lead, a grizzly murderer with a distinctive M.O., and just enough doubt to keep the reader one step behind the next major twist.
Therein lies the book’s greatest strength. Like Coe’s mind-bending abilities, the book’s maze-like structure, weaving through half-recollected flashbacks, will likely leave readers more than a little dazed after the initial read. Nothing is ever quite as it seems, and Christensen’s ability to inconspicuously scatter clues throughout the story demands a close and watchful eye from the reader. In this way, team drafts the reader into the detective’s chair, unravelling the tangled web right along with Coe.
Dan Christensen, a relative newcomer, makes a particularly strong showing. The artist’s cartoon-esque style belies the book’s surprisingly dark tone. His characters have a strong Darwyn Cooke/Bruce Timm feel; simple, but strong and clearly defined. While the artist plays it safe throughout most of the book, but absolutely cuts loose in the mind-boggling third act, creating a labyrinth of striking images. The artist uses blacked panels to great effect, controlling the pacing of the story beats on a page and creating a general sense of unease.
Occasionally, the dialogue and panel progression start to feel slightly muddled, making the already complex sequence of events even harder to follow. As it nears the finale, the plot threatens to cave in under the weight of its convoluted structure. However, the team manages to navigate most of the winding threads to a satisfying endpoint.
Even so, Rich leaves a fair amount of uncertainty in the book’s conclusion. Multiple read throughs are practically demanded for a full appreciation of the story, keeping the investigative spirit alive.
Which is appropriate. As the first in a planned trilogy, ‘The Thousand Natural Shocks’ wonderfully succeeds in establishing Archer Coe and the world around him, setting up for any number of potential stories. However, it also works fantastically as a standalone tale, delivering a well developed and realized story. While it may be slightly uneven at times, “Archer Coe” Volume One has an incredible amount of charm, and is ultimately a ton of fun to read. It’s a strong debut that is definitely worth your attention.Continued below
Final Verdict: 8.4 – Buy. Keep an eye out for”Archer Coe: The Thousand Natural Shocks” when it hits shelves on June 11th, for the reasonable price of $19.99.