Review: Archer & Armstrong #1
By Marc H. Specter
STORY BY Fred Van Lente
ART BY Clayton Henry
COLORS BY Matt Milla
LETTERS BY Dave Lamphear
PUBLISHER Valiant Entertainment
For good or ill, my comic book enthusiasm peaked in the 1990s, when speculation was rife, and every die-cut, holofoil, guest-starring, alternate cover issue was going to be worth millions and my future was secured by funny books.
Suffice to say that did not come to pass, but one of the great things to come out of that era were two upstart companies known as Image and Valiant. They had different philosophical underpinnings—which are not the topic of this review—but they each in their own way benchmark the glory of my teenage comic book years.
Because of that, it was with no small amount of both nostalgia and trepidation that I approached the new Archer & Armstrong from Valiant. I remember A&A as one of the books that kept the funny in comics. I have the entire run, and while the details are lost to time, when I look back on the series as a whole, it told a solid story with no small amount of intelligent humor. So would the new A&A pull it off?
To know these characters is to know that their appeal lies in their diametrically opposed views of life. Archer is the embodiment of naiveté combined with no small amount of self-discipline bred by his extensive martial arts training. Armstrong, on the other hand, is the pinnacle of hedonism: food, drink, sex, he’ll take it all, without apology, until it makes him sick, and then he’ll take some more. (In one scene Armstrong uses his alcohol-induced vomit as a weapon.) When these worldviews collide, watch out. Archer & Armstrong are the classic “buddy cop” team.
The storytellers do a very good job of crafting two separate tales for these characters and then putting them in the same room to see what happens. Without preamble we are dropped into their lives already in progress.
For those new to the Valiant universe, it might be difficult at first to understand where Armstrong comes from, without knowing his literal history and relationships with other key characters. We first meet him in the ancient past, in a short vignette, not tied to the main story, and then we jump to now. This temporal shift is something I’m sure will be fleshed out as the story develops, but might be off-putting to the uninformed reader.
Archer however sets us squarely in an environment with which we are all too familiar, a modern America where his upbringing has taken a “hard right” turn. This is a marked contrast to the Eastern philosophical Archer of 1990s Valiant. To me this was a very brave choice on the part of the storytellers, not only because it radically alters the basis of the character many know and love, but also because they poke a bit of fun at that right-wing perspective.
So then the characters meet. And did they capture the funny? I’d say they did. I remember my 1990s A&A with LOL moments, and this issue elicited no shortage of chuckles. There was one particularly noteworthy moment of banter among a family, completely unimportant to the plot, that really grounded this book in our ugly American reality.
So what of the art? I feel as if I’m coming to this almost as an afterthought to my review, though that was not my intention. And as I reread my words, I realize why I have omitted my opinion of the art until now. Going back to those 1990s, Valiant was always the story company. (Image was the art company.) Artwise, 1990s Valiant was, dare I say, accused of having a very distinctive style, one that I enjoyed well enough. When I look at the art in this issue, there are no hints of 1990s Valiant. While the characters themselves bear a resemblance to their former incarnations, they have been modernized for the current readership.
The most significant scene in the book takes place about halfway through. The coloring, heretofore emphasizing cool greens and blues, is cast in brownish reds. This scene, apart from the rest of the book, is important.
Classic fantasy literature often invokes the familiar old friends meeting in a tavern. That is exactly what takes place, and the change from cool to warm colors invites the readers into that intimacy. Archer and Armstrong will have their first meeting, briefly confrontational, then moving them to a time when they are thrust into mutual dependence. Nothing seals the bond of friendship like having your lives threatened together. That all of this takes place awash in the amber hue of many a good red ale is all too appropriate.
One final note. As a practitioner of martial arts, I very much appreciate the breakout explanations of Archer’s skill set when he engages obstacles.
So did Archer & Armstrong #1 speak to my nostalgia and allay my trepidation? I think so. The creators have set a fantastic foundation to develop these characters as a team but also individually. I look forward to meeting them anew.
Marc Specter is not the Moon Knight, though he wishes he could be. However, he is co-founder of GrandCon Gaming & Comics Convention, coming to Grand Rapids MI in September 2013. He asks that you check it out at grand-con.com.