"Archer and Armstrong" #20 kicks off new arc "American Wasteland" by Fred Van Lente and Pere Pérez, as Archer and Armstrong try to find Obadiah Archer's birth parents with the duo no closer to realizing their quest by issue's end.
Van Lente concocts a religious cult called the Church of Retrology, founded by J. Douglas Morrison, who refers to himself as the Lizard King and oversees their headquarters, the Fameotorium. That's right, Van Lente has crafted a cult around a very thin Jim Morrison analog. If any deceased pop culture icon is going to be held up as the leader of a cult, Morrison would be a very solid choice, with Kurt Cobain perhaps the next closest. Retrology, like all popular religions, brings admirers and would-be converts. Van Lente uses that premise to put Archer and Armstrong within the Fameotorium halls, looking for Archer's mother. While Van Lente's take on Archer and Armstrong are fun and affable, I'm not fond of Morrison. The character is clearly supposed to be the deceased frontman from the Doors, but he comes across as a fairly thin cutout that could just as easily be a stand-in for Napoleon Bonaparte or Noah. There's reference to the Lizard King and plenty of images of lizards and snakes throughout the issue, but Van Lente just doesn't seal the deal. Maybe he's trying a little too hard or maybe I'm not "clarifying" my serpent mind, as Retrology would have me do -- or maybe it's simply because nothing is as it truly seems.
Part of the hang-up, I suppose, could be the fact that Pérez stays far enough off model to keep all of the historical figures less recognizable, but he imbues each with enough essence that their identities can be determined with a little effort and knowledge. If Morrison looked more like Jim Morrison, I might be more inclined to buy into the Retrology gig, but for now it just seems like a placeholder. I completely understand Pérez's choice, but would like to see a little more personality poured into the recognizable members of the Church of Retrology. The artist does not restrain the personalities of Archer and Armstrong, frequently playing those two up nicely throughout the story, as should be in a comic titled "Archer and Armstrong" #20. The expressions on the duo's faces throughout the issue project how Pérez's art is nicely detailed and colorist David Baron works very well within Pérez's lines. This is a solid looking comic book, especially when Archer and Armstrong are featured.
When a member of the church of Retrology asks Armstrong for six hundred thousand dollars, he retorts with, "And they say you're not a real religion." That weighs in as the funniest line in "Archer and Armstrong" #20. Armstrong keeps the story light, while Archer is on a quest, giving "American Wasteland" a strong purpose. Now that the duo have infiltrated the Fameotorium, I'm curious to see where they go, what comes next and who the next deceased celeb will be.