Archer and Armstrong’: A Valiant comic in every sense

One really can’t discuss Valiant Comics without talking about Archer and Armstrong. A&A is one of those must-have comics and, if you are not reading it, you should be.

When my oldest son showed me A&A a couple years ago, I really didn’t know what to make of it. It’s funny and offbeat, with all the makings of a cult classic. You have this drunken immortal hanging out with this super-warrior who was raised by an evil cult bent on world domination.  And the cult is part of an even larger conspiracy. There are also wild villains such as “The Sister of Perpetual Darkness, all who have taken oaths of stealth, chastisement and lethality. “ You kind of get the picture.

I’ve heard this series described at a cross between Monty Python and Douglas Adams. But, that’s completely wrong.

If Simon R. Green wrote a comic, it would be Archer and Armstrong. Simon Green is the master of  twisted, funny and mystical mayhem. In particular, I’m thinking of his Nightside books and how A&A would fit right in. In fact, Armstrong probably wouldn’t want to leave the Nightside.

Suffices to say, this is a twisted, off beat, funny, rip-roaring adventure comic.

At present there is a new A&A series, but since this review is for newcomers, I will confine myself to issues 1-4 which are collected in a trade paperback. And these issues themselves are a reboot.

Read Gary’s review of ‘The Sixth Gun’

Back in 1989 Jim Shooter, having crashed and burned with Marvel New Universe, tried his hand again at creating his own Shooterverse. The result was the first incarnation of Valiant comics. He gathered some top talent and created some very inventive titles.

A&A, back in 1992, was written by Shooter and drawn by Barry Windsor Smith. For those comic book archaeologists you can find the entire run of the first series on Comixology.

While the comics were unique and interesting, and the talent top flight, Valiant didn’t survive to see Y2K.

In 2005, Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari bought the rights and rebooted Valiant. They have done a smash-up job. While the original comics were good, the reboots are fantastic.

The original A&A might have been diverting, but the reboot is addictive. Fred Van Lente’s stories and scripts show a depth and maturity of writing missing from the first incarnation. Moreover, unlike Shooter, Van Lente understands humor and how to use it in a story. The humor never so overwhelms that it derails the story. Instead, he deftly balances the pace and flow of the story with the humorous elements.

While I loved Windsor Smith’s work on Conan back in the 1970s, I wasn’t too thrilled with his run on A&A. On the other hand, Claython Henry’s work on the reboot is flawless. It is very distracting in an action comic when the dimensions are off, or the characters are drawn in awkward poses. Henry doesn’t suffer from this problem. Further, the panels are set up perfectly. But, best of all, he really captures the essence of Archer in all his earnestness and Armstrong in all his joyful depravity.

My one complaint about A&A, as with all the Valiant titles, is that it exists in a single coherent universe, just like the DCU and Marvel Universe. There was a time when, except for crossovers, you could ignore what happening in other comics and only read a couple of titles. In the DCU and Marvel Universe those days are long gone. Valiant strives to be like the big 2 and, if you love, A&A, you might find yourself buying Harbringer, Faith, X-O, Bloodshot and the like. You can get by with just a couple of titles, but you will notices holes in the continuity if you do.

And there is the other problem that besides A&A, the other Valiant titles are so good as to be addictive. My youngest doesn’t read any comic series except Valiant. He turns his nose up at DC and Marvel but will continuously read and re-read his growing Valiant collection.