Now that "Archer & Armstrong" #17 by Fred Van Lente, Khari Evans and ChrisCross has wrapped up "Sect Civil War," Archer & Armstrong find themselves in an interesting crossroads. After all of the machinations Archer set up to put himself at the top of the food chain, Archer instead finds himself there by saving the lives of the various Sect representatives that were almost drowned when Mary-Maria blows a hole in the side of the Pharoah's Tomb and Archer's plans. Fred Van Lente uses the climax of the war to clear the air between the two leads, mending their relationship while introducing new complications with Mary-Maria and her Sisters of Perpetual Darkness. This issue is heavier than most but still maintains a light enough touch.
Archer's dark side has creeped up over the last several issues even though he hasn't seemed to notice, which will certainly only continue to come in to play as he take control of the Sect. Van Lente teases Archer's nature vs. nurture conflict and I honestly don't know on what side of the coin he will finally fall. This is still a character that is dealing with his entire life being a lie. Pronouncing oneself as Dark Archer and debuting a hideous new haircut is hilarious but doesn't mean everything is better now. If anything, this only introduces new complications in his life.
I really enjoyed the tipping point of the issue when Archer returns to the battle to find Armstrong broken, bloody and bullet-riddled through Archer's own plan. It's one thing to make schemes; it's another to watch how they affect those you care about. The relationship between the two leads continues to deepen and may be the most rewarding part of any issue. Just like love, friendship is hard and has many facets. We've seen them up, down, up, back down, and hopefully up again. Mary-Maria's appearance in the issue seems to have finally freed Archer's mind up from the anger that he felt after Armstrong slept with her in the Faraway.
Khari Evans and ChrisCross deliver solid artwork. Everything is fun to look at and the designs and shot choices are clean. They and David Baron and Allen Passalaqua make the tomb feel gritty and ancient. The build before Archer rejoins the fray is well-paced across a single page, as we flash back to how Armstrong's powers actually work - he's not totally immortal - and back to the present as we live in the anguish Archer feels over the pain he's caused his friend. The following splash page is a great money shot. SIR! indeed. The attack on Armstrong feels brutal and the wounds he receives are painful to look at. The Valiant house style prefers storytelling over flash, and while you won't find any genre-altering layouts you won't get lost either.
So now Mary-Maria has the map to immortality, Archer has a new role, his hair has a new cut and the pair have a new problem in the form of Project: Rising Sun. It looks like they'll be crossing paths with Bloodshot and the H.A.R.D. Corps soon so I don't expect those wounds of Armstrong's to get any better.
Valiant continues to build their universe in a way that is acceptable in modern interconnected comic storytelling and isn't alienating to new readers, something the original version of the company also did well. We flash back for a Zero Issue next month but I'm excited for the the prospect of Van Lente throwing these characters in a jar and shaking them around come March.