I haven't reviewed this book in several months, and the main reason for that is that Archer & Armstrong feels to me like one of the steadiest, most reliable books I read. Not a lot of new stuff to say. The quality never jumps up or dives down. The story and characters keep on trucking and bringing me back every issue without having yet won any wild adoration from me. The art is consistent and clear. It's not at the top of my list at all, but it's equally far from the bottom, a beautiful but not load-bearing column in the building of my comicbook collection.
Archer & Armstrong #9 marks the end of an arc, and is a satisfying if slightly easy win for our heroes. Easy only in the sense that, in the pages of this particular issue, all we see is the good guys' have things start to swing in their direction and continue to ramp up to a victory. Right out the gate, Kay McHenry is visited by the spirits of past geomancers, which leads to her gaining a much more comprehensive understanding of her powers and the purpose of geomancers in general. So in a very sudden, off-screen moment of immense power, Kay shuts down The Null's entire plan by literally rewriting the way the world works. Then, just as suddenly, Archer's consciousness reappears within his mind and he rids himself of The Last Enemy, an agent of The Null who inhabited Archer's body at the very end of last month's issue. These rapid solutions are arguably a bit unearned, inasmuch as they amount to "my powers are good enough to win" versus them being some brilliant, last-minute tactical decision that saves the day. But these are both characters who have been struggling to identify and understand themselves since their respective introductions, so having them wrap up this storyline with moments of self-realization/actualization is actually quite fitting.
All of our heroes get a chance to shine by fulfilling some inevitable actions. Armstrong saves his brother, finally able to fully put aside their differences. And Gilad in turn not only lets himself trust Archer but goes so far as to provide some helpful information for the boy's larger quest (i.e. setting up the next arc). Fred Van Lente has been constructing a very clear narrative with constant forward momentum, and so when it finally arrives at its destination here, nothing is necessarily surprising, but it's all logical and right and good. Everyone is where we want them to be, and where they want to be, at least on the heroic side of the equation. And in the final scene, Van Lente lets us in on a secret about the current status of some of the series' best baddies, too. It's a well-done final chapter, leaving many doors open for the immediate and distant future, but landing in a place of closure, too.
It's also a heck of a lot of fun, even though there aren't necessarily as many jokes and jests as usual. There's just a general lightness in the air, bolstered immensely by Emanuela Lupacchino's art. She is an excellent choice for this series because her style lies somewhere between classic superhero and goofy kid's show. Everyone is exaggerated, but the world around them isn't, and even the characters aren't wildly unrealistic in their appearance. It's more the expressions and the action that become larger-than-life. Yet the fights are never needlessly, excessively gory or brutal, so even the violence has a sense of fun about it, or at any rate an energy that keeps the fun alive. When Archer mentally thwarts The Last Enemy, he has a self-confidence that borders on smugness, and the same is true of Kay when she finally reaches her full potential. Having the characters actually enjoy themselves, even in their most serious and high-stakes moments, is a big part of what makes this title work. The Last Enemy smirks right up until the moment of his defeat. Armstrong basically refuses to ever take anything seriously, shouting "Crappity-crap!"when he's nearly blown up. The characters are having a blast, and it creates the strong sense that the creators are, too. Which naturally translates to the reader joining in.