Archer and Armstrong – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Fred Van Lente (Part 1)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Fred Van Lente
Fred Van Lente is the type of writer you can’t help but love due to the charm and humour he puts into his scripts. Just to hammer that point home, back in 2014 Van Lente was nominated for a Harvey Award in the category of “Special Award for Humour in Comics”. Van Lente has worked for a plethora of publishers but is perhaps most well-known for the work he has done for the recently revived Valiant Entertainment, bringing to life one of the best buddy cop comics of all time in Archer and Armstrong. The two characters are even in the talks to have their own feature film produced at some point in the next few years.
Archer And Armstrong Volume 1: The Michelangelo Code
On a Tuesday in ancient Mesopotamia two brothers, Ivar and Aram, argue over the powers of a great machine called The Boon. A universal machine of unspeakable powers, Ivar seeks to use The Boon revive their deceased brother Gilad, while Aram objects knowing that neither of them truly understand the power of The Boon or what it is capable of. Ivar foolishly ignores Aram and activates the machine while Aram dives at it to stop it but is too late as a bright flash of light eradicates all life from Earth. Ten thousand years later (and still on a Tuesday), we are brought up to the present day inside an amusement park in Adam’s County, Ohio. Inside the amusement park is a fundamentalist compound that trains young, adopted, would-be assassins for an important mission in the outside world. Archer, the only member of the compound who is related its leaders, was born with the exceptional skill to allow him to mimic any physical skill without having actually learned it, making him perfect for the mission his parents have trained him for since his birth. Completing his training, Archer is set out into the world to assassinate a target for his parents, with his target being a man named Armstrong. Little does Archer realize that Armstrong is a supposedly immortal warrior and is actually Aram, having survived The Boon and travelled the world for centuries in hopes of keeping pieces of The Boon out of the hands of a secret sect. Armstrong brings the truth crashing down around Archer when he reveals that his parents are part of this sect that seek to use The Boon for evil purposes, creating an uneasy and unlikely alliance between the two heroes who race against time to prevent the world from getting destroyed yet again.
Fred Van Lente is a genius. It all shows with the stupidly addicting and wildly entertaining Archer and Armstrong. A crazy, buddy-cop-like adventure, Archer and Armstrong might be the most fun you’ll have had reading a comic in years. Van Lente is hilarious, witty, and thoroughly entertaining throughout in a series that will wildly exceed anything you expect of it coming into this first volume. I’ve begun to read more Valiant comics over the last few months, with Archer and Armstrong being an instant classic and runaway favourite in my opinion. Fred Van Lente takes characters you won’t be familiar with and makes them fully functioning and believable humans who you will be immediately enamoured of.
Let’s start with the story, which is so simple that it becomes brilliant because of how Van Lente executes it. An evil religious sect wants an unspeakable power for the sake of immortality. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s literally Raiders of the Lost Ark…but how is that a bad thing considering it’s one of the greatest action flicks of all time? The distinct difference between Raiders and this first volume of Archer and Armstrong is that there’s no Indian Jones, but there are still two amazing lead characters that balance each other out perfectly. Archer and Armstrong are reluctantly thrown together when Archer discovers his family is actually the very force of evil Armstrong is fighting against, creating a personal wedge between the two characters immediately. From there, it’s a race against time to find the remaining pieces of The Boon that the Sect is in search of, with the adventures that come with it being a driving narrative force. Fred Van Lente draws from history, making the artist Michelangelo a key figure in this first volume, largely due to the friendship he shared with Armstrong. An action mystery that’s a race against time is the type of plot that’s been done before, but the humour Fred Van Lente puts into the story is a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. There’s nothing about this that feels cliché, which is surprising consider half of the stuff in here has been done before, but that is definitely the reason why this story is as good as it is!
This story, as entertaining as it is, owes all of its success to the title characters of Archer and Armstrong. I’ve noted the humour as the strong point to this entire collection but all that humour comes from the contrast between your two leads as they are at the centre of the central conflict thanks to Archer’s personal tie to everything. With Archer you get a character who is capable of being a legendary action hero but his character is only heightened by the interactions he has with Armstrong. Archer is capable of learning any physical skill, allowing him to be a master martial artist with absolute ease. The interesting wrinkle to his character is how serious and disciplined it makes him, strongly opposing the laid-back nature of Armstrong. With Armstrong, you have a drunk brute who is the comedic backbone of this story. He’s deathly serious about the mission at hand but also can’t resist the sweet taste of wine or a pint, especially if it’s put in front of him during a moment where he needs to roll up his sleeves and save the day. The conflicting nature of the characters, with Armstrong’s experience balancing out Archer’s sheltered life will bring you about as much enjoyment as you can find in a comic book. There’s no moment you won’t enjoy yourself after these characters come together for the first time and continue to bring the hits your way. Trust me when I say, Archer and Armstrong is one of the most entertaining action comics I’ve read in years. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to promptly go out and buy the other six volumes to keep up with these guys and their over-the-top adventures.
Collects: Archer and Armstrong #1-4
Best Character: Armstrong
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “We came up with a special move during the siege of La Rochelle–we called it “The Cannonball Special”.” – Armstrong
Best Scene/Moment: Archer and Armstrong solve the Michelangelo code – Issue 2
Best Issue: Issue 3. A lot of dramatic moments crop up in issue 3. Archer has a conflict of interest in his mission to stop his parents, there is tragedy that befalls the heroes, and of course there is tons of that comedy I’ve been talking about for the whole post. Better to read it for yourself and just nod in agreement on this one.
Why You Should Read It: The Raiders of the Lost Ark comparison feels like an apt one to come back to as Archer and Armstrong is just like Indian Jones but with two compelling leads instead of just one. The comedy, action, and everything in between is nearly on par with good ol’Indy and you’re sure to fall in love with this series if you love anything that’s good in the world. It’s ridiculous but in a great way with some fun ideas underneath all the awesome humour and tight action that you can sink your teeth into. Archer and Armstrong is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year for the challenge and considering the amount of reading I’ve done, I don’t say that lightly. This book won me over with four too short issues and I want more right now.