Fresh Meat: Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks by Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen

Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks by Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen is the debut comic series about a successful stage performer who learns more than he expected to after taking on a wealthy client (available June 11, 2014).

In this decidedly noir take on the life of a stage hypnotist, Archer Coe, a.k.a The Mind’s Arrow, is a performer with a successful act that has taken him from back alleys to seedy nightclubs to far, far more respectable venues. One of his specialties is enabling willing volunteers to overcome their vices, such as in this scene, where a man in the audience named Delmar asks Archer to help him quit smoking cigarettes. Archer removes the pack of cigarettes from Delmar’s shirt pockets and intones:

Archer: It appears you travel with your vice wherever you go. The greatest boon to religion was sin being made portable. What can be brought… can also be removed. Are you ready to remove that addiction, Delmar?

Delmar: I- I- I—

Archer: This requires you to be present, Delmar. I asked if you're ready to remove the addiction. I didn't say I was doing it. Do you believe you can conquer this, Delmar? DO YOU?

His success rate, never mind his flair for the dramatic, brings him to the attention of the wealthy Jonathan Midland, who is looking for help with a delicate marital matter. Reluctantly, Archer takes Midland on as a client, and soon finds out that nothing that Midland has told him, while technically the truth, is really what it seems. To Archer’s further mystification, Midland’s wife seems to know more about him than he can logically explain. On top of this, a serial killer—who the police suspect is Archer himself—appears to be stalking him.      

And to give the tale a further twist, while Archer is adamant that his hypnosis has nothing to do with magic, there is more than a touch of the supernatural to his abilities. For starters, he regularly converses with cats, who warn him away from his initial visit to the Midland estate in their own idiosyncratic style:

Cats: Stay out, Archer Coe! You don't want to go in there. It's a bad place. You don't want to get mixed up with these people.

Archer: Why not?

Cats: They aren't good people. They put locks on their trash cans. They don't share their food.

Archer: They're going to share with me.

Cats: Not share. Trade. You won't like what they'll have to get for what they're going to give.

Archer: Maybe so, but that's a chance I have to take. It's different for guys like me.

Cats: Don't say we didn't warn you.

Archer’s involvement with the Midlands forces him to confront the buried secrets of his past, in a mind-bending exploration of the lengths we’ll go to in order to avoid what we’d rather forget. As Archer Coe & The Thousand Natural Shocks progresses, our titular hero clings tenaciously to his pride, which he is convinced is the only thing that he can really call his own. In the end, though, he learns that there are greater things to lose when you interfere too much with memory and will, and that getting exactly what you wish for never works out quite as well as you’d want it to.

On a purely visual level, the black and white line art is a perfect choice for illustrating this noir tale. Dan Christensen’s art dabbles with modern layouts, but by and large sticks to a more classic feel with rectangular panels for the majority of the book. I enjoyed the way the explorations into the characters’ “mind palaces” was incorporated into the visual narrative a la the movie Inception, which gave the book a tone that was cinematic as well as crisp. It will be interesting to see where the title goes after this quietly disturbing first installment.

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.