New To You Comics: Immortal Hijinks In ‘Archer & Armstrong V1: The Michelangelo Code’
by Tony Thornley
With the comics industry slowly returning from the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are taking the opportunity to introduce each other to comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week we talk about one of the most bonkers “superhero” comics of the last decade!
In 2012, Valiant Entertainment relaunched with a batch of four titles. While the first three were to be expected, several series easily considered the original Valiant’s flagships, the fourth was unexpected. The odd couple pairing of supernaturally skilled martial artist Obidiah Armstrong and immortal lush Aram Anni-Padda (AKA Armstrong) was one of the more obscure titles from Valiant’s library. However, under the watch of Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, Pere Perez, Matt Milla, and Dave Lanphear the new series was an instant hit.
Obidiah Archer is a weapon born, a fighter able to pick up any skill with a supernatural proficiency. Armstrong is an immortal so sick of his lot in life that he spends it completely drunk. However, when Archer is sent to kill Armstrong by his (secretly evil) parents, the duo quickly turn the tables, and become the Valiant Universe’s greatest team!
Tony Thornley: So last time we talked Valiant, I think you said you had at least a passing familiarity with the universe. I kinda think I caught you off guard with this one.
Brendan Allen: A little bit, yeah. Coming in cold, you throw out a title like Archer & Armstrong, and my mind immediately goes to, like, 80s buddy cop movies. This was not a buddy cop movie.
TT: When I try to sell people on Valiant, I often oversimplify the concepts into pastiches. For the most part, even though Valiant is usually good to great comics, it’s the truth. X-O Manowar is Conan meets Iron Man meets Venom. Bloodshot is Punisher mashed up with Wolverine. Eternal Warrior is an immortal Captain America. Harbinger is straight up X-Men with some different status quos.
The thing I like about A&A (which is probably my favorite Valiant title until Bloodshot Reborn) is that you can’t really do that. This is a mixture of Kung Fu movie, Indiana Jones, some Highlander, and a bit of Da Vinci Code. All with two extremely likable protagonists who are very much unlike any other you’d find in comics.
BA: Ha! I was thinking Highlander. Only took maybe six pages for me to go there. I can see Indy, and maybe Da Vinci Code, although, I think things are just a little more boiled down here. I kind of wished each chapter was its own arc. Seems like we headed from one plot point to the next at an almost reckless pace. That works for some, but I’m sitting here, going, wait a second, tell me more about these murder nuns?
Each artifact could have been a separate issue on its own. This thing was what, four chapters? And we got introductions to the immortal brothers, the doomsday cult, the Nazi monks, the murder nuns… All smashed up in this first arc.
TT: This first arc really does have a breakneck pace. I enjoyed it though because it’s very cinematic and exciting. It was a story intended to get hooks in, and I felt like it does that. And for the stuff that you wanted to know more about, Van Lente goes back to it. The Sisterhood of Perpetual Darkness hangs around the entire series. The Sect never goes away. We get to spend time with each of Armstrong’s brothers. Van Lente actually pays off all of the teases we see through the first arc.
BA: Ah, okay. That makes sense then. If it fits into the bigger picture, I can get behind that. I love callbacks. And, cinematic is a fitting description. These four chapters could easily fill 97 minutes or so of screen time.
TT: Yeah, I think you’d like the series as a whole. We even get an in-depth explanation of Obie’s “skill flashes” which doesn’t sound like it would work but it really enhances the story. As for the art, I’ve liked Henry for a long time, but I think this is his best work. He has a style that’s very classic superhero comics, but he knows how to time comedy, and play with characters on the page.
BA: I did like the art quite a bit. There’s a great flow to the action scenes, but there’s also a bit of a slapstick quality.
TT: Yeah, definitely. Van Lente puts A LOT of silly things in the script, but Henry is the one that makes it work. The Nazi monks? It probably would just be stupid without his linework.
BA: The Nazi monks, with their tiny moustaches. And the throwaway line about why they have the tiny moustaches. The line in the script doesn’t work without the art, and the art doesn’t work without the line. It’s a really great example of how comfortable this team is working together.
TT: Exactly! I love the series, and the creative team is a big part of that. They just click. So final verdict?
BA: I really liked it. It is silly, and that’s probably half of WHY I liked it. Doesn’t take itself too seriously. I get hung up on titles a lot. If I read the description before seeing the title, I probably would have picked this sucker up a long time ago. I’m still kind of stuck on a mental image of two, like, eighties motorcycle cops with bad hair and worse moustaches.
TT: Shhhhh, don’t give Van Lente any ideas! Hah! So what do we have up next?
BA: I’m laying off the intense horror shows for a minute, and throwing one of my favorite weird little minis at you. I think you’re gonna dig Si Spurrier and Jonas Goonface’s Godshaper.
TT: I like Spurrier’s stuff, so that will be fun!
Archer & Armstrong Volume 1: The Micahelangelo Code from Valiant Entertainment is available in print and digitally from your favorite retailer.
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