Archer Coe and the Way to Dusty Death

Cover to ‘Archer Coe and the Way to Dusty Death’ OGN. Art by Dan Christensen/Oni Press

By Jarrod Jones. “The whole idea of noir,” Roger Ebert once said, “[is] to live through unspeakable experiences and keep your cool.” Archer Coe, awash in shifty-eyed customers and a bonafide adversary in The Way to Dusty Death, doesn’t always keep his cool. In fact he’s downright combative in places: So sure of his worldview, while admitting it’s flawed, Archer is quick to express his moral superiority over the deceptive charlatanism of would-be protégé, Jane Collins. Archer: “You cheat people, Jane.” Jane: “And you don’t?” Archer: “I give them what they want.” Jane: “So do I.” Later, Archer considers a statue of Cupid and his arrow on the grounds of a sprawling estate, his investigation up against a brick wall and his heart all a-flutter.

Could love be in the air for the Mind’s Arrow? Probably not, but it’s nice to see the perennial bachelor at least considering it. The Way to Dusty Death chases after the consequences that have beset our imperfect stage hypnotist/private eye since Jamie S. Rich & Dan Christensen’s Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks. After closing “The Zipper Killer” case in the last installment, life has improved somewhat for Archer: audiences come to his show in droves; his name adorns marquees; he has fans who turn up in funny places. There are negatives, too. For one, his helpful band of cats, who once gave Archer tips about his cases, have rebuffed him. And since this is Archer we’re talking about, his successes have served as a grim reminder that he was more involved with the Zipper’s killing spree than he’d care to admit.

Since this is a direct follow-up, Rich and Christensen know they have to provide an extra bit of intrigue to keep their readers engaged. So they’ve zeroed in on setting and atmosphere. Their environments have been made more intimate and clearly more perilous for our masked showman. The sudden and unnerving presence of the dead, who have reached out to Archer with vague demands, casts an ominous pall over the proceedings. And the wildly inventive dreamlike reveries return with outcomes that are decided in pitched mental battles, both of which are set against a jet-black background of infinite head space. Its imagery conveys totems and taboos, providing clues to the mystery at hand. In imaginary daring, Archer Coe has upped the ante.

And his latest case? A real head-scratcher. Archer is hired by an almond heiress (sure, why not) named Nicolette Hardy, to prove that Jane Collins—a medium he once partnered with on stage, disastrously, and has since fired—is a fraud. Jane has attached herself to Nicolette’s millionaire father, a widower who wants desperately to speak to his dear, departed wife once more. Nicolette has her suspicions about Jane which align a bit too snugly to Archer’s, and almost immediately he’s off to the Hardy estate where ferocious sparks between himself and his former partner threaten to ignite the entire affair in flames.

Jane Collins is an intriguing foil for Archer—as a former performer herself, she’s wise to his act, and as someone who’s been on the receiving end of his cynicism she can also presume a few things about Archer and his personal connection to the case that made him famous. And since she’s a medium, she can block Archer from entering her mind, which gives her a sense of control that drives Archer crazy. Their oil/water chemistry grates at times; as Archer and Jane continue to volley back and forth, we get the sense that the more immediate danger to their respective clients is the inability for these two to play nice. Death is missing the ominous pall of dread lurking in the background by “The Zipper” killer in Shocks, though it more than makes up for it with Rich’s astounding character work and yet another boffo presentation by Christensen.

Jamie Rich, who co-created Lady Killer and You Have Killed Me with Joëlle Jones, has found another kindred spirit in Dan Christensen. Reading this second volume of Archer Coe felt like coming home in a way thanks to Christensen’s artwork; it’s fluid, characteristic, dynamic in places and frightening in others. Rich’s story twists and twists again, like a corkscrew domino line, always one step ahead of us, the pages practically turning themselves. This is detective comics as you like it: mean, moody, magnificent, and not without a sense of showmanship. When Archer finally throws his signature cape around his shoulders towards the graphic novel’s climax, you get the impression that an icon has arrived.

Oni Press/$19.99

Written by Jamie S. Rich.

Illustrated by Dan Christensen.

Edited by Robin Herrera.

Design by Jason Storey with Kate Z. Stone.

9 out of 10

‘Archer Coe and the Way to Dusty Death’ is available now. Find your LCS and order it here.

Read our ‘Archer Coe’ interview with Jamie S. Rich here, and check out this ten-page preview of ‘The Way to Dusty Death’, courtesy of Oni Press!