Valiant Rewinds the Clock for New Zero Issues, FVL Tells ARCHER Origin

Archer #0 Henry cover
Credit: Valiant Comics
Credit: Valiant Comics

While Unity is Valiant Comics' future , they're also going to look back to the past in early 2014 in order to introduce new threads of story to lead year three of the successful relaunch of this universe. After a popular set of Zero issues focusing on the origins of some of the cast of the Valiant Universe, the company plans to go back to that well in February and March 2014. Thanks to their ongoing series having multiple leading characters, each book will this time focus on a different one than the first time around.

The first set of zero issues will be Archer #0 and H.A.R.D. CORPS #0 in February, which writer Fred Van Lente hinted to Newsarama are very much on purpose, setting up the first real crossover of Archer and Armstrong with another big part of the Valiant Universe (more on that in a bit). Then in March, two supporting castmembers get their own origin stories, with The Goat #0 and The Bleeding Monk #0, revealing the pasts of two enigmatic characters from the Valiant Universe. Here's the full creative team solicitation:

Credit: Valiant Comics

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For more on the new set of Zero issues, and specifically a lot more about what's coming in Archer & Armstrong, we spoke with writer Fred Van Lente. He told us about Archer's origin, who else we might see, and how it all leads into the next Valiant crossover.

Newsarama: Fred, Valiant is announcing a whole new series of zero issues across the board, and specifically for you, Archer & Armstrong. This time, you’re focusing just on the first half of the pairing, right?

Fred Van Lente: Right, the first Archer & Armstrong #0 was Armstrong’s origin, and now we’re going to look at the guy on the other side of the ampersand, mister Obediah Archer.

Credit: Valiant Comics

Nrama: What is advantageous to you as a storyteller to have these kinds of flashback issues?

Van Lente: Well, the way I’ve been using the zero issues is to key up story arcs. The Armstrong issue took place many thousands of years ago in the land called the Faraway, which is essentially the Savage Land of the Valiant Universe. Then we did a whole arc of Archer & Armstrong set in the Faraway.

The Archer issue fills in, for the reader at least, a lot of the gaps of Archer’s backstory as it pertains to Project Rising Spirit, and his time there as a child in the nursery. And that probably tees up another storyarc, because there’s another Valiant title that takes place in Project Rising Spirit, and their title and our title may collide after this zero issue.

Nrama: Yeah, there’s a lot of Project Rising Spirit across the Valiant Universe it seems…

Van Lente: There is. What I like about Project Rising Spirit is they are S.H.I.E.L.D. but evil. Or if you want to be cynical about it, they’re a S.H.I.E.L.D. that acts a lot more like real-life intelligence agencies act (laughs).

Nrama: Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps has a zero issue in February…

Van Lente: HUH! How ‘bout that?

Nrama: What is it you personally like about going back and evaluating the past of these characters?

Van Lente: As you know, I write a lot of non-fiction; I like exploring the origins of things. I’m definitely from the gothic school of writing, and there I mean the literary sense of gothic, and not wearing black stretch pants and mascara. That can be my next connection appearance (laughs). But no, I mean in the William Faulkner sense of gothic, in that the past will always overwhelm the present.

I find it interesting, the motif of characters constantly trying to escape the shadow of their past. It’s a very universal theme that we all of us have had injustices done to us, or we’ve done injustices to others, that sort of linger in our souls and our memories. I like wrestling with that in a story.

Credit: Valiant Comics

Nrama: Coming out of the very heavy Archer & Armstrong mythos story arc of “Sect Civil War,” does the zero issue give you kind of a breather from that, or do you feel like you’re keeping the same pace?

Van Lente: You know, I think that when we were talking about this with Warren Simons, the head editor at Valiant, he was saying maybe we need a breather issue after “Sect Civil War,” which has a spectacular, “Michael Bay” ending. When you have those, you want to kind of pace them out.

It’s interesting, the Archer #0 story is fairly dark and grim, because it involves Archer’s mind-numbingly horrible childhood. It’s a breather in the sense of less things explode and there are less crowd scenes than “Sect Civil War,” but I think on an emotional level and a character level we maintain the same steamroller pace.

Nrama: Since we’re looking into Archer’s past, will we be seeing some of his adopted siblings, some of those characters from the early issues that maybe have been a little neglected?

Van Lente: Yes…

Nrama: Can you tell us any more about that? (laughs)

Van Lente: Well, almost the entire issue takes place when Archer is about ten years old. Clayton Henry did the most amazing cover for it, he really outdid himself this time.

So yeah, it’s about kid Archer, and kid Archer gets himself into even more horrible and horrific situations than his older counterpart does. You learn that a lot of Archer’s innocence is a defense mechanism for the things that happened to him in the past. We’re getting into a lot of real I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings sort of territory here of intense stuff.

Nrama: Without outright giving it away, what’s a specific thing you hope readers pick up on about Archer; what do you want them to learn about Archer that will carry them forward into the next arc?

Van Lente: Archer is the innocent of the book, but I think that innocence is conscious and it’s chosen. It’s a willful ignorance based on things that happened to him.

And I’ll point out, this is what the readers learn about Archer, but not necessarily what Archer learns about himself. I think once the readers see this backstory, they’ll look at Archer differently. And as we tee up the next big arc and arcs, not to give too much of “Sect Civil War” away, but the status quo of Archer & Armstrong will be very different going out of it than it was going in. So I think that once you see Archer’s new place in life combined with what you learn about his past, things will be even scarier and more exciting and more dramatic than they were previously.

Nrama: One of those other children we mentioned, Mary Maria, has a big role in “Sect Civil War.” Is there anything you can say about her role and their unique relationship going forward?

Van Lente: All I can say is that her situation is as radically different moving out of the story as Archer’s. She’s not going anywhere.

Nrama: You’re a year and a half into this book; I’m sure that’s a little crazy to think about.

Archer #0 Henry cover
Archer #0 Henry cover
Credit: Valiant Comics

Van Lente: It is! It started out as a mini-series, originally.

Nrama: How has the book developed for you, has there been anything that has surprised you, either about the individual characters or where the overall story has taken you now that you’re a year and a half in and it sounds like you have plenty of plans to keep on going?

Van Lente: Yeah! We’re definitely in the “Second Season.” I consider #13 a nice hard ending for the first season, and now we’re starting our second year off with a bang with “Sect Civil War.”

The book really is about the spiritual development of Obediah Archer. The book is about conspiracy theories, and ultimately conspiracy theories are basically the mythology of the impotent. They’re what people that don’t have power think power looks like, and how power acts. So really, it’s a kind of religion.

Just because Archer’s coming from a very religious background, and is now moving into this world full of weird fates and theories about how the world actually works – all of which turn out to be true, which is one of the fun things about Archer & Armstrong: Everything you’ve heard is true, including the things that contradict each other. You’ll start seeing Archer growing more and more. He started out as a pure innocent. A lot of that innocence was robbed thanks to Armstrong in the “Far Faraway” arc, and as we move forward in these next few arcs, he’s definitely maturing. Him losing his innocence, in my mind, is not a bad thing. There’s a fine line between romanticizing childlike innocence and straight-up willful ignorance. (laughs) One is fine, one is not.

Nrama: You’ve obviously teased a little bit here, but I’d say overall that Archer & Armstrong has stayed the most in its own corner of the Valiant ongoings. Are there any particular Valiant characters that you’re looking forward to getting a chance to play with in Season Two?

Van Lente: Look at the last page of Archer #0, and you’ll find out.

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