“I am delighted to say this is an excellent return to form for Archer & Armstrong. This was a really good first issue with writing that got the characters and wrote them well, with art that worked for the characters and effective and fun lettering. I enjoyed everything about this issue and it was great to see the boys back on form.”
Writer: Steve Foxe
Artist: Marcio Fiorito
Colourist: Alex Guimarães
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Cover Artist: Bernard Chang
This was probably my most anticipated comic of the year. Archer & Armstrong was what got me into Valiant back when they were relaunched with Fred Van Lente’s run in 2012 (still one my all time favourite comics). It was Archer & Armstrong that started me on the path of collecting 90’s Valiant as well. Theirs was the first 1990’s run I completed and still own to this day. If I had to tattoo the name of one Valiant title on my arm it would be Archer & Armstrong. I have a very strong emotional connection to these characters so I was excited to see their return after what was for me a bit of a lacklustre run with A&A in 2016.
So the big question for me as an Archer & Armstrong fan was “is this title any good?” I am delighted to say this is an excellent return to form for Archer & Armstrong. This was a really good first issue with writing that understood the characters and wrote them well, with art that worked for the characters and effective, fun lettering. I enjoyed everything about this issue and it was great to see the boys back on form.
For those unfamiliar with Archer & Armstrong there is a handy explanation at the start of the issue. Archer was raised by some creepy cult parents who trained him to assassinate Armstrong, an immortal (thanks to the Boon) who was born Aram Anni-Prada has spent most of history having a good time and drinking. However, when the two met Archer realised he had been lied to his whole life and they promptly teamed up. This issue does what so many of Valiant’s titles have been doing very successfully of late and that is serving both as a jumping on point for newbies and a solid re-jumping on point for those of us who have followed these characters over the last decade. The balance hits really well. There are nods to previous runs which long time readers will pick up on but that won’t alienate or confuse newbies.
The reason I love Archer and Armstrong is their very odd couple dynamic. Archer was raised in something of a sheltered environment with little life experience but had instilled in him a strong moral code. Armstrong on the other hand doesn’t especially have a moral code. He’s very much about the eating, the drinking (mainly the drinking) and having a good time (understandable considering the stuff he’s had to deal with). Yet despite this Armstrong can be persuaded to do the right thing by Archer who knows Armstrong is a good person deep down. Armstrong also cares about Archer and sees himself as something of a mentor, helping show Archer the good parts of life (Archer doesn’t drink). The dynamic is classic odd couple but with that immortal twist. They help each other out.
This issue absolutely nails that. I always felt their dynamic was a bit off at times in the last A&A run. Here though it’s back to the classic Van Lente version and all the better for it. Archer & Armstrong is all about the odd couple dynamic which not only leads to moments of comedy but also some really surprising moments of emotional heft. That’s very much on show here.
The central premise is that Armstrong’s bag gets stolen and in the ensuing fight to get it back Armstrong’s ear gets cut off. Normally this would not be a problem, it would grow back. However, it doesn’t. Is Armstrong’s immortality at an end? Well for those familiar with how Armstrong became immortal he essentially got the life force of thousands at once via the Boon which he and his brother Ivar (who became Ivar Timewalker) were using to try and bring back their baby brother Gilad (the Eternal warrior). As a result there’s a finite amount of immortality it would seem and Armstrong thinks now might be his time. So he does the logical things and decides to go out the same way he’s lived much of his life. Drinking and partying. Archer on the other hand is determined not to lose his best friend.
This issue really nicely sets up all of this. We of course get our bad guys and Archer shows off his martial art skills. The art of Archer taking out bad guys is dynamically done. On one page we get three different fight moves and each move is showcased in its own panel. We don’t need to see the movement before and after each move in itself. It’s really effective and when you see Archer kicking someone in the face you definitely feel the force behind it.
In fact I just love the art generally. I never thought I would say this but Armstrong in his underwear is just on the right side of detailed. There’s a realism to the art that I think is important. It’s not straight up realism but it’s not out there cartoonish and I like that. Yes, there’s a lot of comedy and jokes with Archer & Armstrong Forever but there’s also a lot more to it than that and in having this art style we get that. We get the more emotional core as part of the comedy in the art as well as the writing and I can’t stress how great that is.
If I may gush about the art a bit more one of my favourite panels is Archer stretching, holding a weird position as he, well, kinda meditates. The sun streaming through the window and the way he loses his pose as Armstrong appears missing his ear still is just so nicely done. I also like that the panels are often big and bold. No page is cluttered, the art is really nicely put together just from an aesthetic reading point of view. It makes for a very nice and comfortable read whilst still telling the story in an interesting way. You can really dive in on the art. The first page with Armstrong running out of the bar with his pants down – excellent.
I could go on and on about how brilliant his book is. I haven’t even mentioned the lettering which has some great moments with Armstrong’s yelling and Archer whispering Armstrong can’t die. Nor have I mentioned the colouring which works so well with the line drawing of the art, again helping give it a distinctive look. Nor have I mentioned how great I thought it was that we get a phone call between Archer and Faith at the start, a nice bit of continuity with their relationship.
I honestly will stop now but this issue was really excellent. This is is what I want from Archer & Armstrong. It’s clear Steve Foxe knows his stuff and cares about these characters. The art by Marcio Fiorito and colouring by Alex Guimarães is top notch and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou reminds me why he’s one of my favourite letterers. Solid work from the whole creative team. If you are new to Archer & Armstrong do hop on board. If you are an old time fan who has been hoping for a return to the highs of 2012 then this issue will give you that.
The boys are back and I couldn’t be happier.