As one of the most popular Valiant titles in the 90’s, it was only natural that Valiant Entertainment announced that Archer and Armstrong would be part of their launch titles for the summer. Once hailed as the “Best buddy team book of all time” by Ain’t It Cool News, Archer and Armstrong gained a huge, if not very loyal, following during its short 27 issue run (counting the zero issue). Can a comic really put down that much of an impact in an industry filled with Spider-Men and Supermen? What made Archer and Armstrong so popular that it would be called, by Wizard magazine no less, “the Superhero buddy book of the decade”. That’s very interesting to me, but what’s more interesting is to see where it all started, and to see if it’s justified to have garnered that much attention of a book about a fat, drunken immortal and a little guy who is the worlds best hand to hand fighter and an expert marksman to boot. Let’s take a look at one of Valiant’s top selling titles as we peek inside Archer and Armstrong #1.
We’re in the very beginning of Valiant’s Unity Saga, so this issue takes place immediately after Eternal Warrior #1. Gilad, Armstrong’s brother, appears with the head of Solar, just as Archer and Armstrong seem to be in a mess. Gilad requests his brothers help, and with much eagerness, if only to escape their current situation, Armstrong agrees. Within moments, they’re teamed up with the likes of the Harbingers, X-O Manowar, and Solar himself. It’s not long again before trouble comes there way in the form of massive robots. They’re now in a place that is beyond the ends of the earth, beyond known space, time, and reality. It can only be called Unity.
With Jim Shooter, I’ve found that his writing can be hit or miss. Harbinger, to me, was nowhere near his best, while X-O Manowar was a great start to the series. Here, Shooter excels with this storyline. Though it continues inside the Unity plot, you don’t feel lost as you come in on this issue. It’s established pretty quickly that Armstrong looks out for Archer, as Archer does for him. The banter is great between Armstrong and anyone he’s talking to at the time. It’s light comedy, and really fits in and helps smooth out the darker and despairing tone that is Unity. While they’re fighting to save themselves, or fighting to get back to each other, Archer and Armstrong function great alone, but better as a pair. Jim Shooter writes this expertly. The characters, even the lowly guards, feel very much alive. Nothing feels cheap or hastily done here. There were several times I caught myself smiling, or even laughing outright. With Shooter’s work, that’s hard for me to do, but here, it was natural.
Barry Windsor-Smith’s artwork is nothing short of amazing here. Archer and Armstrong stay very consistent in look and action, and Barry spares no talent in creating a very believable world. The subtle emotions coming off Archer, and the wide smiles from Armstrong are very powerful to look at, and when panels call for action, it jumps from the pages. It’s smooth, not sketchy, rounded, not sharp, and really a joy to look at.
As I read the issue, with each page, it became apparent to me how a duo like this really could capture the hearts of it’s readers. Armstrong is a lug, for all intents and purposes. Where he started in Eternal Warrior to where he is in Archer and Armstrong is really a vast difference. He loves his booze, his women, and most of all, being a giant, immortal kid. Archer counters that, but keeps it very much in balance. Archer is very disciplined and centered. He’s an expert marksman and one helluva combatant. In one part of the story, Archer hits his captor 9 times before being pulled off. Wow. When they’re separate, they’re OK, but you can feel and see that something is missing. When they’re together, it fits. It feels right. It’s good storytelling.
The newest version of Archer and Armstrong will hit shelves some time in August, but that can’t be soon enough. Just how close to this is the new title going to be? We can only wait and see, but until then, we’ve got 27 issues of greatness. I can’t really think of any other title, with so few issues, that put on such an impact on so many people. Can they do it again? Yeah… I think they can.
Parental concern: Mild violence.