It's been an exciting month for Valiant Entertainment. Earlier in March, the publisher announced its full "Summer of Valiant" launch line-up including a relaunch of Barry Windsor-Smith's odd couple duo, "Archer & Armstrong."
The original Valiant comic focused on Archer, the son of a sadistic evangelical couple, who ran away after his parents nearly murdered him. During his adolescence, he journeyed across the ocean and trained to become the finest martial artist to finally get his revenge. Upon his return to America, he encountered Armstrong, an immortal man chased by a cult known as The Sect, who believed Armstrong to be Satan. After teaming up, Archer and Armstrong journey across the world, having incredible globe-trotting adventures.
Bringing "Archer & Armstrong" back to modern comics is "Incredible Hercules" scribe Fred Van Lente. Alongside artist Clayton Henry, Van Lente is bringing Archer and Armstrong to the 21st century, hoping to start a movement of high adventure in comics. Van Lente spoke exclusively with CBR News about relaunching the Valiant series, his love of history and high adventure, similarities to "Incredible Hercules" and the challenges of taking on the classic adventuring duo.
CBR News: Fred, you're helping relaunch "Archer & Armstrong" coming in August from Valiant. How aware were you of the source material before coming on to the relaunch?
Fred Van Lente: I really wasn't. The Valiant books actually came out when I was in college and kind of overwhelmed with life and so I did not really follow them when they initially launched but when Hunter and Warren approached me to do this book and I heard what it was, I was like, "Yes, please!" They gave me the trade of Barry Windsor-Smith's original run which completely blew me away. I tracked down every single issue and made myself as much of an expert as possible. I love the material and I love the characters.
Tell us about your upcoming run. What's the same, what's different and how are you approaching relaunching the source material?
Well, for longtime fans, a lot is going to be familiar. You definitely have the primary thrust of the book is this classic mismatched buddy concept of Archer, who is the greatest martial artist in the Valiant Universe. He has a superpower that allows him to absorb the skills of everything he sees, which is a power I'm familiar with having done Taskmaster for Marvel. Although, there are definitely differences here between what Archer does. Then, you have Armstrong who is this extremely cynical, superpowerful, invulnerable, strong immortal who's really been walking the Earth for 10,000 years. The Sect, a conspiracy that's embedded in the secret history of the Valiant Universe has been trying to kill him this entire time. Archer has been groomed from his youth to be that assassin, to go after Armstrong, because he's been told Armstrong is this great Satan. When Archer and Armstrong come together, they get to be more allies than enemies.
You worked on a fan-favorite buddy comic "The Incredible Hercules," which also features an immortal alongside a kid with extraordinary abilities. While that's watering down the concept heavily, did you find your work on "Incredible Herc" helped you while preparing and writing "Archer & Armstrong?"
Very much so. In "Hercules," you had a lot of flashbacks -- we called them "Mythbacks" -- to Herc's time in the mythic era. What's going to be fun about "Archer & Armstrong" is we're going to be doing something similar to that, but we're going to have 10,000 years of history to choose from. Armstrong is one of the oldest surviving people from this great cataclysm that happened in prehistoric times interpreted by some as the great flood but we'll see there may actually be something else going on there. He's done and seen everyone and everything. It'll be fun to constantly flash back to that. In that way, they're very similar. Amadeus Cho, Hercules' sidekick, and Archer are very different in the sense that Amadeus was very cynical, wiseass and even more irresponsible than Hercules was. Archer is the exact opposite. He's grown up in a very cloistered existence having been raised in an amusement park in Kansas his entire life and knows nothing of the outside world. While Amadeus was very brilliant and genius-level, Archer, while not a dumb person, has no world experience whatsoever because he's been in a bubble for the first eighteen years of his life, but he knows seventeen different ways to kill you. That dichotomy, that dissonance is a lot of fun to explore.
In the original series, Archer's origin was a major focus in the first story arc but not a lot of focus was put on Armstrong. What can readers expect in terms of the beginnings of both these characters?
You are [going to get to see where they came from.] As longtime Valiant fans know, Armstrong has two brothers, Ivar and Gilad. They are major parts of this book and of this relaunch in ways I'd rather not go into. Gilad is known as the Eternal Warrior and Ivar is known as Timewalker. Armstrong, Timewalker and Eternal Warrior, their immortality all stems from the same source and you learn what that source is in the opening scene of "Archer & Armstrong" #1 which takes place in the city-state of Ur 10,000 years ago.
The original "Archer & Armstrong" was very much a comic of its time. How do you feel the original run gives you the freedom to delve into unexplored territory with these characters so many years later?
I think that characters like these with such an iconic relationship have to be reinvented for their time. Each series has to be of its time. In the way of the '90s where Archer's origin was rooted in the scandals of its day, Archer's origin is very much rooted in the controversies of our own era. That's one example and this is a book that while it's going to lean on the action and adventure side very heavily, I think something Barry did so well in his original run that we're going to continue is (and Mike Baron did something very similar during his run) keeping that spirit of satire. Don't necessarily expect knee-slapping hilarity, but Archer and Armstrong go on a worldwide quest that is going to let us poke fun at a lot of the controversies and insanities of the 21st century in a way that the original series did of the late 20th.
What about the supporting cast? Will we see any other original characters like Armstrong's wife, Andy and his dinosaur, Flo?
They also appear in the first issue, although that's a bit of an Easter Egg. We'll see if people figure that one out. There's definitely an oblique reference to Flo and Andromeda in the first issue. I'll give you a hint: it's in the amusement park scene.
As a writer, what appeals to you conceptually about "Archer & Armstrong" and its characters?
I love writing about history. I love the opportunity to deal with Armstrong having rubbed shoulders with all these generals and adventurers and poets and philosophers throughout the era. Archer is a unique character. I love doing non-superhero tales set in a superhero universe. There's a lot of opportunity for that in the Valiant Universe. What we basically have here is a globetrotting adventurer in the vein of something like "Assassin's Creed," the great video game series that's all about secret histories and conspiracies affecting modern day. Armstrong and Archer have to go on this quest to stop The Sect from putting together something Armstrong doesn't want to put back together again. It's something that he's tried to stop The Sect for doing for thousands of years but he's been drunk for the last five hundred years, so he doesn't quite remember where he put all the parts that Armstrong and Archer need to do to keep this horrible cataclysm from coming about. There's some puzzle solving in "The Da Vinci Code" and "National Treasure" kind of vein with ruins and a very interesting group of assassins called The Believers that I think will become fan favorites. You heard it here first!
What have you found to be most challenging while writing this book?
Ah -- [Pause] Nothing! [Laughs] I love these characters so much. It sounds horrible to say it, but if the writing is easy, it's almost a guarantee that it's going to be good when it's just flowing right out of you. That's really what I've found with this book. The challenges have really been minimal because I've just gotten both of these characters completely. I can relate to them so well and I can relate to their relationship so well, it's just been a joy to work with them.
You're probably playing things pretty close to the chest in terms of long-term plans, but is there anything you can tease about your goals for the series and your plans for these characters?
I think I would like the series to be sort of an adventure graphic novel. Almost like a "Tintin" type series but way more obnoxious with way more drinking and anti-social bad behavior and satire and political commentary. I think this is Valiant's high adventure book. It's such a huge genre everywhere outside of comics and I would love for this to be in a new wave of adventure comics in the American scene. I think that would be terrific.
How has it been coming back to work with artist Clayton Henry?
I'm particularly excited to be working with the awesome artist Clayton Henry again. He did the "Love and War" arc of "Incredible Hercules" with Greg Pak, which spawned the "Cool Story Bro" meme -- a strange item on our resume. He's just already knocking out some incredible paged and I think people are going to be as gaga about them as I am.
Did you have a hand in helping with any of the character design work?
David Aja's done a great job designing "Archer & Armstrong." Clayton has done a great job designing some Sect uniforms. When you deal with an artist like Clayton, you give him a couple words and say, "Great!" when the designs come in. I tend to stay out of the way and let good people do their work.
"Archer & Armstrong" #1 hits stores in August.