"Archer and Armstrong" #9 wraps up the storyline pitting Archer, Armstrong, the Eternal Warrior and the Geomancer against the power of the Null, and it does so in an entertaining enough way. But when even one of the characters refers to the conclusion as a bit of a deus ex machina, it's hard to ignore that the solution comes a little out of left field.
Fred Van Lente's strength in "Archer and Armstrong" #9 isn't so much the plotting but rather the character interactions. Aram and Gilad's relationship is the sort that makes you feel like these two really are brothers; they fight, they bicker, they approach things from different angles, and grudges can be held longer than humanly possible. This second story arc has focused a great deal on the two of them together, and I think it's been successful enough on that front that the next time Gilad pops by for a guest appearance, I'll be cheering.
I've also been enjoying the new Geomancer, Kay McHenry. I like that while she's someone who's clearly new to this new life, that Van Lente hasn't equated "new" with "incompetent." She fumbles her way through parts, but she's a fun character even if a little overly wordy at times. Van Lente's taken the basic ideas on what a Geomancer is from the old Valiant, and then tweaked it a bit to add some additional information and abilities that are revealed this month. (There's also a fun easter egg embedded in the scene with all the past Geomancers, for long-time Valiant readers.) That's the way that a re-launch should handle this sort of material, and all in all I like it.
On the other hand, it's hard to ignore that the solution to the fight against the Null essentially involves a hand wave and a new ability previously never revealed. It's a less than ideal conclusion to that part of the story, and as fun as flashbacks to November 1963 or learning why Archer is such a great fighter are, that method of wrapping things up is more than a little disappointing.
Emanuela Lupacchino (and pitching in for a few pages, Alvero Martinez) provides the pencils this month, and they're as clean and attractive as always. Images like Kay taking cover under the desk actually reminds me of early Adam Hughes art; very attractive with soft lines and a pleasant rounded nature to her figures, but at the same time still telling a story through facial expressions and good page layouts. Lupacchino's the sort of artist that should be in big demand; she's able to take two characters that look identical and have them easily identifiable based solely on their body language, after all.
"Archer and Armstrong" continues to roll along as a fun title. It's not perfect, but it's still pleasant and the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. If you were only going to try one Valiant title, "Archer and Armstrong" is the comic you need make sure to read. Definitely take a look.