Warning: Contains mild spoilers for A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #1.
When it comes to Valiant, I like to keep it serious. Bloodshot, Ninjak and Shadowman are usually my go-to favorites. I’ve devoured most issues multiple times and spent way too many hours writing out mock treatments of films that I don’t have the means or the connections to get made (although it looks like someone beat me to the punch on Bloodshot, so at least we’ve got that coming). The point is, Valiant isn’t a publisher I usually go to for comedy. That is, at least, until they released A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #1.
Archer and Armstrong was highly recommended by a comic editor who I very much respect and admire. I don’t usually review comics on Sundays, but I made some extra time this weekend to fit it into the schedule from Hell. This is a decision I did not regret. The story is intriguing, revolving around a team-up between a teenage master fighter named Archer and an immortal lush named Armstrong. It seemed at first glance like a predictable buddy comedy, but I soon found out that writer Rafer Roberts put in the time to ensure that this comic stood out as something entirely unique.
The characters have been around for a while. But if you’re as new as me, you’ll require some introductions. We’ll start with Armstrong, who we meet first. Remember, this guy isn’t your run-of-the-mill hedonist. He’s been at it for six thousand years, and his tastes have developed in that time. This is clear from the very first page, on which he expresses a love for Lagavulin (if you haven’t had it, go out and find a bottle…I’ll wait). This is later followed by a reference to vintage wines that I admittedly had to Google. They even bash on Thunderbird a little bit at one point—now that reference, I understood. Either Roberts knows his liquor, or he put a fair bit of research into this comic.
Archer also shows a fair bit of strength, picking up a crate of alcohol with one hand and dumping the bottles into a normal-looking satchel with apparent ties to hammerspace. Even if you didn’t read the front matter to learn more about his character, you would know from this moment that there’s more to this guy than a mere love for booze. More is revealed as the comic continues, and we learn a bit more about the extent of his strength before long.
A few other things are clear from the first page as well. For instance, penciler David Lafuente and inker Ryan Winn have teamed up to create bold, crisp lines for every element on the page. Even some of the background elements maintain this crispness. And when they don’t, it works to their advantage as it simply makes the background look out-of-focus. Reading Archer and Armstrong essentially feels like watching a cartoon movie based on a comic strip, and the colors by Brian Reber only add to this feel. And while the panel arrangements work on basic right angles without much experimentation, that’s not to say that they’re predictable. This might be the first comic I’ve read that began on an eight-panel page, with two of those panels about the size of insets. That’s not even the busiest page in the issue, either. You’d expect all this to feel cluttered, but it all comes across as perfectly well-organized, everything in its proper place.
Back to the introductions, it isn’t long before we get an action-packed introduction to martial artist/marksman Obadiah Archer. His youth is apparent from the way he talks, but he is a serious martial artist. He faces a few strange creatures early on, and he even takes down one of them while calmly sitting on the edge of the bed. We learn that he knows multiple martial arts, and a couple of moves are cleverly defined for us in the form of mock dictionary snippets on the panels where they appear.
This sort of humor is a defining characteristic of this comic. It never quite breaks the fourth wall, but it certainly leans on the son of a lady dog like there’s no tomorrow. We get such self-aware gags as a restaurant named “Mafia Front” (but in Italian, of course), a character realizing that they were talking to themselves for no reason (other than to provide light exposition), and character named Davey the Mackerel who actually refers to himself as “a weird little fish monster.” There’s also a fairly cute moment early on where Archer watches reality TV with two creatures that he’s beaten and tied up.
The humor may be self-referential, but it never quite comes across as lazy. This is partly owed to the artwork, which is serious when it needs to be and cartoonish when the moment calls for it. I believe the word I’m looking for here is “fun.” I like huge, sweeping, depressing storylines as much as the next guy, but it’s nice to kick back every once in a while and flip through something that’s just plain fun to read. This is what Archer and Armstrong promises, and it delivers in spades.
While Archer and Armstrong may be humorous, don’t think for a second that it doesn’t deliver a thoroughly interesting story. That satchel I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s a bit more than hammerspace. We actually get to see inside of it this issue. Not only are we introduced to an M.C. Escher-inspired world full of goblins, Mickey Mouse ears and other oddities, but we also meet a villain whose history with Armstrong (who he knows as the immortal Aram Anni-Padda) goes back over three thousand years. We do learn who he is, and those familiar with Greek mythology will find his identity more than slightly apropos.
We also learn, as is hinted early on, that Armstrong is more than just a fun-loving lush. In his long lifetime, he’s experienced his share of losses. Like most alcoholics, he has a preoccupation with drowning out some of the more painful memories. But right now, he appears to be trying to drum one back up. It has something to do with his friend Franky, and it should be interesting to learn in future issues if he ever finds what he’s after.
A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #1 is an amazingly fun comic with a surprising amount of heart. Some may argue that the humor can almost get a little too ham-fisted and self-referential at times, but it succeeds far more often than it falls flat. As someone who is being introduced to these characters for the first time, I can say from experience that this is a great comic for newcomers to the series. I have no idea what they have in store for us next, but I definitely know I’ll be waiting on the edge of my seat to find out.