Check out that apple

Publisher: Valiant
Writer: Steve Foxe
Breakdowns: Phil Hester
Artist: Marcio Fiorito
Colourist: Alex Guimarães
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Cover Artist: Bernard Chang

One thing I am loving about Archer & Armstrong Forever is the way in which Steve Foxe cleverly weaves past Archer and Armstrong continuity in. This issue is no exception and I am delighted to see the Faraway make a return. For those not as well versed in Archer and Armstrong’s history the Faraway is basically another dimension where there are such things as dinosaurs and aliens. The 2012 Archer & Armstrong run had a whole arc with the Faraway (which is lampshaded brilliantly in this issue with several subtle references) so to see it back, and in such a neat way, was just so good.

Last issue Archer and Armstrong had travelled the globe as Archer desperately sought a way to restore Armstrong’s immortality. It did not go well. They ended up looking for Golden Apples in Norway only to meet a large troll-like creature seemingly intent on guarding the apples and attacking our heroes. This issue picks up exactly where the last one left off as Archer and Armstrong face off against a blue cave troll dressed like a Viking. Frig, as we shall discover her name is, is a nice bit of character design. She is definitely a female of whatever species she is and the sight of her in the armour and Viking style helmet is certainly something that makes her visually memorable.

There are some visually memorable sequences throughout this issue such as Archer’s fall through the portal into the Faraway. The transition with the dark, Archer relaxing to soften the impact of certain death that never comes and his fall out into the Faraway is done in just four panels but each panel works perfectly. It covers everything succinctly but doesn’t skimp on the detail. The little touches from the look on Archer’s face to the way the action of falling is really well conveyed just work. Then of course we get Armstrong bursting through the portal wrestling with Frig which just visually is very Armstrong.

There are some great details in this issue which cover everything from Archer leaping though the air to throwing objects from Armstrong’s satchel (and again some great continuity with earlier runs as to the objects that are pulled out of that satchel). We get some fun action as Archer and Armstrong fight off first Frig and then later the Maw (yes he’s finally squaring up to our heroes). There’s a lot of fast paced action which the art captures beautifully, but as I said it’s the little details that make it, like the panel with Frig roasting a dinosaur over an open fire like you would a chicken.

As I mentioned the Maw finally makes his appearance. I think it’s good we’ve had to wait this long because the emotional tension has been with Armstrong’s sudden mortality. Now they are in a strange world facing off against a powerful enemy the tension and danger is just upped that little but more. The Maw is a strange character indeed. The way he unzips his mask to reveal his mouth is a very memorable visual feature, as is the way the Maw eats the jerky that seems to give him a power boost which leads to the end of the issue with our heroes in serious trouble as the Maw is out of jerky and fancies a bit of fresh meat.

What I love about the confrontation though is the humour that’s weaved throughout. It’s true about all the issue but some of the comments made during the fight with the Maw were just hilarious. From Archer calling the Maw Jerk-face (he eats jerky – geddit?) to Armstrong’s comment of ‘We have got to stop letting this guy snack on the job.’ All delivered with really fun lettering throughout which really helps convey the humour, just as the art does.

The real heart though is still the relationship between Archer and Armstrong. That’s the emotional core and driving force and it remains so despite the introduction of more characters. It’s always front and centre from the opening pages as Armstrong shoves Archer out of the way. It’s a funny moment but also underlines the fact Armstrong does really care about Archer. It’s also why he follows Archer into the Faraway. Armstrong is after-all practically mortal now but despite that he never hesitates in trying to protect Archer. That love and care for his friend is a defining characteristic of Armstrong this issue and indeed this run, and does hark back to Fred Van Lente’s run in the best of ways.

Then there’s Archer constantly trying to persuade Armstrong out of danger. His worry that his best friend is going to suffer more injuries is ever present. He’s constantly throwing himself into danger to protect Armstrong and of course this whole quest was his idea. At points Armstrong even listens to Archer and provides help from the side, throwing items from his satchel as Archer battles the Maw.

As always their interactions are laced with humour and that underlying emotional core. That’s the mix I really like. The humour in no way detracts from the danger or action and is just another facet of the emotional heart of the story which is Archer and Armstrong’s friendship. Whether it’s Armstrong throwing Archer a fire extinguisher, or casually mentioning that Archer founded a cult in the Faraway last time they were there, the humour informs the character moments and the plot in equal measure. It just makes a fun read and tonally it’s pretty perfect. Even Frig gets some really great lines about the monkey men.

I just really loved this issue, it’s as simple as that. It brought back the Faraway in an interesting way that I think even newbies would enjoy. As a long time reader the continuity was highly enjoyable. This issue also introduced an interesting new character and in a way also really introduced the villain as a threat. There was such a good balance in the writing, art, colouring and lettering with the humour and plot. Everything in this issue just works for me, it was pretty much perfect Archer and Armstrong. I really cannot wait to see how the cliff-hanger gets resolved next issue. Solidly recommended.

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