Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks
Retro-styled pulp adventure has become something of a trend these days. With its hero being a stage hypnotist, Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks falls into this category, but the story is a modern one in its telling, and highly enjoyable.
We meet Archer hypnotizing cats, so he can communicate with them. He explains, “The truth about hypnotism is not that you convince people or creatures to do what they already can do…. The reality of hypnotism is that it’s an exchange of information.” That comes in handy, later, as a rich man hires him to find out why his wife doesn’t respond to his lovemaking. The client hopes that Archer can find the secret hidden in her past and remove the impediment from her brain. Hypnotist as psychotherapist is quite the new tack.
However, things become more complicated with the presence of the Zipper, a serial killer. The police think Archer has something to do with the murderers, and the wife, his alibi, insists that she’s known him before, although he doesn’t remember her.
I’ve known that Jamie S. Rich enjoys classic mysteries since I read his You Have Killed Me, and I was tickled to read another of his stories with those elements. But it’s Dan Christensen’s art that brought this one to life for me, since he draws terrifically detailed environments populated with characters with distinctive, realistic expressions, such as this early panel. Just look at that smirk!
Later, there are impressive effects done with cigarette smoke — an appropriate choice, given both the smoking present in the noir influences evoked as well as how most people these days know hypnotism as a way to stop smoking — fading into hallucinations and visions centered on the book’s femme fatale. I was reminded, although I doubt many readers today remember it, of Jason Hall and Matt Kindt’s first book, Mephisto and the Empty Box.
The story is twisty, with plenty of double-crosses and hidden secrets revealed. It’s the kind of book where, once I’m done and know what happens, I immediately re-read it to see all the author’s tricks and hints. There are many layers, items that take on different significance as we learn more about what’s really going on, and they’re shown in subtle changes of the art.
Archer Coe is due out June 11. It can be ordered from your local comic shop with Diamond code FEB14 1356. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)