Last Summer, Valiant stole the show with a series of relaunches that gave them a new Valiant Universe, and multiple hit ongoing series.One of the most well received came from longtime Marvel writer Fred Van Lente: Archer & Armstrong. Moving the unlikely duo of an immortal reluctant warrior and a just un-brainwashed wünderkind into the 21st century required more political intrigue and a lot more world-building than you would normally find in a comic relaunching an old property.
Now, with a full year of issues solicited, Van Lente and artist Pere Perez prepare to reinvent the series once more. He's letting go of the Eternal Warrior (Armstrong's brother), letting him move on to other Valiant series, and introducing some even wackier elements into the series.
We talked to Van Lente about what's coming in Archer & Armstrong, the surprise from April's #9, and his longterm plans for the series.
Newsarama: Fred, let's start with the end of the Eternal Warrior arc. First off, he's showing up elsewhere in the Valiant Universe right away moving straight to X-O Manowar in July – was there anything in particular you had to do to set up his use in other books?Exclusive A&A #10 Art Fred Van Lente: No, not really -- just set up his baseline. It's hard not to like Gilad -- I like to think of him as "Punisher-Meets-Highlander." Of the thirteen issues of A&A I've written, Gilad has appeared or been mentioned in all but two, so it'll be odd to not have him in the book any more. But I'm sure he's on to bigger and better things! Nrama: You have an interesting proposition here of established characters that you're telling brand new stories, backstories, etc with. How much has been working from what came before with Archer, Armstrong, and the rest, and how much has been just treating them like brand new characters? Exclusive A&A #10 Art Van Lente: Well, it's a straight-up reboot. I've been given the opportunity to completely reinvent the characters, but for the most part, they were so well crafted -- A&A is, I don't even think arguably, the most beloved original Valiant series -- I didn't have to do much more than do a slight tweak there, an update here.
Part of that is so new readers can come to the series fresh without knowing what was published in 1991, 1992 -- hell, I hadn't even heard of the book until Valiant approached me about writing it! I had to Google it! But as Warren Simons told me when he handed me the first collection of the original Barry Windsor-Smith run, it's aged like a fine wine.
So you'll see Easter Eggs and nods to the original as we move forward -- I won't say what to avoid spoilers -- but no, you don't need to read hundreds of back issues to get the story. I think that's a big part of the appeal of the new Valiant for a lot of people.Exclusive A&A #10 Art Nrama: Now that we "know" Archer and Armstrong, and the world in which they're tangled, what's next for this unlikely duo? I hear from a little birdie that there's a big twist coming in August…
Van Lente: There is. There is. It should be pretty controversial. There are some people in the Valiant offices who really opposed to it. It will leave your jaws on the floor. But playing it safe is no fun, you know?
Nrama: Aliens and dinosaurs – What about the titular characters lends them to adventures with so much out-there fantasy?Exclusive A&A #10 Art Van Lente:Wait! We have Greys -- did we say they were aliens? (ARCHES ONE EYEBROW SUGGESTIVELY)
The over-arching theme of A&A is "conspiracies." It's been interesting how each arc has kind of coalesced around a different kind of conspiracy ... we had religious conspiracies in Arc One, historical conspiracies in Arc Two, and Arc Three is shaping up to be mysterious disappearances and abductions. We're dealing with the Lost Colony of Roanoke, Ambrose Bierce, Flight 19 ... and where did all those dinosaurs go, anyway?
And it's hard to do anything with conspiracies without touching on the infamous Area 51 ... and hence the Greys. That will be clearer and clearer as we move along, set up by our terrific #0 issue in May, which has Clayton Henry returning on art. #0 is basically a prologue to Arc Three, telling the story of how Armstrong and his brothers captured The Boon, the ancient super-weapon that's the source of his immortality, which is the "true" story of The Epic of Gilgamesh.Nrama: Mary-Maria is very interesting – but very enigmatic. Has she broken off the programming the way Archer did, or is she still "under control"?
Van Lente: Well -- SPOILER ALERT for people who haven't read the end of #9/Wrath of the Eternal Warrior -- she's actually been possessed by her parents. For most people, I'm sure, this is a fate worse than death. Can you imagine the eternal nagging? But for Mary-Maria it's particularly bad, because her 'rents are forcing her on a quest to find a new Boon. And this will bring her -- and her unwanted stowaways -- into conflict with their arch-nemeses, Archer & Armstrong.
Nrama: Harbinger, Bloodshot, and to a lesser effect X-O have all crossed over a bit already. Any immediate plans for A&A to meet up with any established series' characters? Maybe an early A&A, Quantum & Woody crossover?Van Lente: Yes, but I am not 100% sure I can pull the trigger on it just yet, I want to first make sure the creators on those characters are all on board -- one of the nice thing about working in an intimate universe like Valiant's is you can get total participation from everybody.
Nrama: It seems like you're having fun with the is book, and really just playing around, throwing off-the-wall concepts together. Has there been anything your editors at Valiant have said "Wait, Fred, that might be a little too weird" to yet?
Van Lente: Not really... I mean, at times the editors and I have quibbled over the best way to execute some of my stranger ideas ... But they've let me get away with Psychic Nazi Lamas, Killer Sentient Equations, Hippie Eternal Warrior, and ... well... Wait until you see the splash that ends #10!We also have a new big bad, General Redacted, one of the original founders of Project: Rising Spirit. His name is where the military term "redacted" comes from. He is exceptionally bizarre and scary and is great nemesis for A&A. I look forward to seeing fans' reaction to him.
Nrama: You're approaching the end of year one on Archer & Armstrong. What has surprised you about the characters? What has been the best part, and the most challenging part, of launching a title this way?
Van Lente: The success has really been very gratifying -- you know, before #1 landed I really was skeptical how this concept would play in this day and age, but I guess people were looking for something different. So much of this series is very much my brain like spilled out on the comic book page, so it's even more meaningful when something that's so personal to me has such a tremendous response. I have to avoid doing a Sally Field -- "You like me, you really like me!"
I have an endpoint in mind for the series -- really, the book is about the spiritual evolution of Obadiah Archer -- and the challenge for me is to set that up best as possible without really knowing when the last issue is going to be. It's hard to keep topping yourself -- but we're going to keep piling crazy upon crazy as long as the market puts up with us!