As part of its relaunch, Valiant Comics is making a bid for "Call It a Comeback" publisher. In the 1990s, Valiant was very much a part of the comics boom, launching independent characters in the marketplace to great fan adoption. Like many of its contemporaries, however, Valiant suffered once the initial superhero bubble burst. But that was 20 years ago, and the market is a much different place, rife with opportunity and nostalgia. Enter Valiant Comics, again, with several throwback titles reborn into sophisticated packages.
One such title is the winning Archer & Armstrong, by writer Fred Van Lente and artist Clayton Henry. Fans of historical conspiracies and buddy-cop stories will love this one. Young Obadiah Archer is in search of his possibly immortal enemy, Armstrong, an ancient Mesopotamian who tried in vain to stop a prophetic Armageddon. The comic jumps from historical flashbacks to contemporary chase scenes. Archer's duties stem from a Biblically focused upbringing, and he leaves his tutors (all creepy eyes and smiles) with a singular purpose: destroy Armstrong. When he finds his archenemy, however, he sees an intoxicated cad, and before Archer can fulfill his purpose the two of them are captured by an order of nefarious zealots. Their true schemes shake Archer's resolve, and"”naturally"”Armstrong helps him escape. Readers can see where this is going: the two grudgingly band together to thwart the true evil, but it's the journey that makes the book so rewarding.
Van Lente writes punchy, ever-quipping dialogue as Archer and Armstrong banter between fisticuffs. Yes, there are a few anachronistic moments, where contemporary phrasing pops up in the historical flashbacks, but the book is full of punchy jokes and clever twists. Look for Van Lente's narrative boxes whenever Archer uses a new marital art or technique, or when Archer focuses on a particular weak point of his assailants"”both informative and funny. Henry's artwork is the book's highpoint"”his sharp lines, wide-open faces, and expertly choreographed fight scenes turn this story into one that is beautifully told. I've been following his work since Exiles, and he's at his best in Archer & Armstrong.
After this arc, Henry departs the book, but fans need not fear: Emanuela Lupacchino will handle pencils in the second volume (due in August), and she brings beautiful character designs, fluid action, and amusing facial expressions to her projects (see also Castle and X-Factor).
You can't go home again? Nonsense. Archer & Armstrong revisits a fan-favorite duo and gives them new life.