Friday, April 19, 2013

Valiant's New Archer & Armstrong by Fred Van Lente & Clayton Henry

Archer & Armstrong: The Michelangelo Code
By Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry
Valiant Entertainment, 2013
I've never read a Valiant comic, but I can attest there was a lot of anticipation and excitement among the Wednesday crowd when the company returned last year. Valiant was founded in 1989 by Marvel castoffs Jim Shooter and Bob Layton, one of the largest and most popular publishers in the 1990s boom era featuring comics not dissimilar in style to the other major company founded by Marvel castoffs, Image. But after a period of massive success, the company fell on hard if not weird times and folded, was bought out, came back, went away, and came back again in full force last year with the resurrected properties X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, Shadowman and Archer & Armstrong. The new Valiant is not a continuation of the old books but a full line-wide reboot created by a bunch of mainstream superhero veterans. While the new books inhabit a shared universe, they largely stand on their own. I'd heard good things about a couple of the titles and decided to give the first trade of Archer & Armstrong a try.

Archer & Armstrong Volume 1: The Michelangelo Code, collecting the first four issues of the series written by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Clayton Henry, is a largely entertaining and slyly clever if occasionally trite superpowered buddy comedy cum Da Vinci Code pastiche. Obadiah Archer is a highly trained assassin raised in a creationism amusement park by ultraconservative Christian nutcases. Archer's mission is to hunt down the Anti-Christ or something like it but in reality he's been manipulated by his parents, the heads of a secret society, into retrieving the last bits of an ancient device that may hold the key to immortality. The sheltered Archer comes to New York and quickly finds Armstrong, an immortal drunkard with connections to many people and events throughout history. They are both captured by the secret society - The One Percent - and Archer quickly learns of his parent's treachery. Archer & Armstrong team up to keep The One Percent from getting the device and global misadventures from the Vatican to the Himalayas ensue.

The dynamic between Archer & Armstrong is fairly conventional in terms of the buddy comedy genre, something Van Lente is very skilled at executing based on his wonderful Hercules/Amadeus Cho work at Marvel with Greg Pak. The unique bits are in Armstrong, a good-natured and ebullient immortal fellow, and Archer, lethal yet hilariously reserved by effect of his upbringing ("Flipping Bullcorn!" he swears). The initial pages setting up the big bad of the One Percent are very, very funny and clever. The One Percent - meeting under Wall Street - are the ultimate secret society, composed of elements of most global secret societies. They want to destroy Greece to stabilize the Euro, and at one point one member, preparing a sacrifice, chants "Bagabi laca bachabe... lamac chi achababe... EXCHANGE-TRADED DERIVATIVE CONTRACTS!" Heh. Then there are the telepathic mountain nazis and underground ninja-nuns to contend with. We get hints of the larger shared universe in play but not in a way that interferes with the stand-alone story.

But despite this manic villainy the whole thing feels almost kindof dull; it's entertaining, but only just so. Van Lente is a competent storysmith, and Henry's art is fairly decent. But at the end, despite the obvious nature as a continuing story with still much left to tell, I wasn't exactly jonesing for more. Overall this is a well-produced, solid if slightly trite, somewhat fun read. I do not want to damn this with faint praise: it's is an excellent value at ten bucks, and despite it's somewhat well-worn nature it's got enough going for it to recommend.

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