The Valiant revival continues later this summer with a new take on Archer & Armstrong from the creative team of writer Fred Van Lente and artist Clayton Henry — who previously worked together on Marvel projects including Incredible Hercules. Newsarama talked with Van Lente to learn more about his plans for the series, which he dubs "South Park as an adventure series," and a book that simultaneously retains the dynamics of Barry Windsor-Smith's original Archer & Armstrong while moving in a entirely new direction. Courtesy of Valiant, we're presenting an exclusive extended eight-page preview of issue #1, out in August and presented throughout the article.
Newsarama: Fred, how familiar were you with the original version of Archer & Armstrong going into this series?
Fred Van Lente: I didn't really know anything about it at all. I kind of missed Valiant entirely, being in college in the early '90s and kind of being harried and running around. I missed a lot of early '90s stuff — I didn't get into The Simpsons until I graduated.Warren Simons handed me this trade they had done of the original Barry Windsor-Smith series, and told me that it had "aged like a fine wine." I read it, and I was just blown away by it. I can see why it was one of the most beloved series of the whole line, and then I quickly raided back issue bins and got the remainder of the original run, just devoured all of them.
Nrama: Had you worked with Simons at all during his time at Marvel?
Van Lente: I talked to him a couple of times at the Christmas party, but I never actually directly worked with him before, so this is all brand new, but it's been a great relationship so far.Nrama: What's it been like working at Valiant — which, though it's using existing properties, is essentially a new company in its early stages?
Van Lente: It's been really cool. It's certainly a very inspirational story about how a couple of Valiant fans bought the company and revived it, after a couple of attempts at reviving it haven't necessarily gone very well. It's just been very exciting. Everyone there is very much committed to these characters, and committed to making the whole thing work, and really making Valiant if not exactly where it was in the early '90s, a company that can stand on its own in the shadow of DC and Marvel.
Nrama: Based on what's been revealed at this point, it appears that, as far as relaunches go, your book is relatively faithful to the original Archer & Armstrong.Van Lente: It kind of depends what you mean by faithful. The basic premise of the series is exactly the same: Obadiah Archer is the world's greatest martial artist — he can kill you 17 different ways before breakfast — but he's grown up in a cloistered compound and knows nothing of the outside world. He's a completely lethal innocent.
Armstrong, on the other hand, is thousands of years old. He's apparently invulnerable and immortal, and super-strong. He's a warrior from the ancient city-state of Ur; he has two very special brothers as well, who also havehad their own Valiant books. He's always looking for a good time, but what he lacks is Archer's innocence. I wouldn't say he's not heroic, but he's definitely very cynical, so he needs the heart that Archer provides. Armstrong guides Archer with his experience, Archer guides Armstrong with his nobility, and that's really the heart of the series.Other than that, it's completely different from the original! From there, we diverge radically. The central conflict revolves around this secret society called The Sect, which as been pursuing Armstrong and trying to kill him for thousands of years. The story they tell their followers is that Armstrong is in fact Satan, and they need to kill him to keep the wheel of Karma spinning. Once you scratch the surface in our series, you realize that's actually a lot more to it than that. They really want to figure out why Armstrong is immortal, and get their hands on that power. Keeping that secret out of their hands requires Archer and Armstrong to go on this globetrotting adventure solving problems, and going to the sacred places of the world, and shooting people, and punching them in their face.
Nrama: The original series also had a comedic edge to it, which is certainly territory you're familiar with. Will that be present in the new book?Van Lente: Oh yeah. My desire here is to sort of do South Park as an adventure series. I want this to be as irreverent and offensive as possible. The tagline for the book, as far as I'm concerned, is "the comic that's offended by you." The gag I've been using about Archer & Armstrong is, "one's a little bit Fox News, one's a little bit MSNBC," but they have to somehow team up and defeat this much larger enemy.
That's the part that I'm very much attracted to. We live in such a polarized country where everything is divvied up and balkanized into these little-bitty information nuggets, and we never have to go outside our own belief system, and we never have to confront anything that might offend or disturb us. We have two people whose worldviews are fundamentally at odds with each other and have to achieve this common goal, and in the process become extremely close friends and one of the greatest buddy teams in comic history. How that relationship evolves is what I'm interesting in exploring.Nrama: So the folks at Valiant have given you enough latitude to push some envelopes with the book?
Van Lente: They've really been terrific. Some of the stuff has made them nervous, I'm not going to lie. Armstrong has very unique way to take out one of their enemies in the first issue, which I hope will be an Internet meme. It will disgust and amaze everyone. I'm happy to report that for the most part they've unhooked my leash, and I've run off into the woods of comedy, and to just find the craziest, nuttiest stuff I can come up with. I was largely hired on this job because of the work I did on Incredible Hercules with Greg Pak, in fact I'm reunited with one of my all-time favorite Incredible Hercules artists, Clayton Henry. What Warren was really taken with a book I did with Taskmaster a year or two back that had a lot of crazy concepts, like a town full of Hitlers, and a Day of the Dead-inspired drug smuggler called Don of the Dead. If you liked all of that stuff, Archer & Armstrong is that turned to 11.Nrama: One would imagine there's a little more room to do it here than there would be when you're writing characters with decades of history.
Van Lente: It's looking at everything through fresh eyes. Everything's very current. There are some crazy concepts I'm bringing in from Barry Windsor-Smith's run, like the ninja nuns are back. But we also have new concepts. The Sect is formed by many different factions — one of which us in fact Archer's parents. Archer has been given the assignment to kill the unkillable Armstrong, but he's been raised in this fundamentalist, Creationist theme park, and has never been to the outside world, so he's completely ignorant of what's going on. And then he's immediately sent into the Meatpacking District of New York City to find this guy.
There are crazy enemies like the demon-worshipping cultists of Wall Street who run the financial districts. One of the main, basic premises of this book is that every conspiracy theory you've ever heard is true. Including the ones that contradict each other.
Nrama: It certainly sounds like you already have a lot of ideas for the series — do you have a long-term plan for the book?Van Lente: It's great, because Archer and Armstrong can really get into any kind of adventure, and I've already got several lined up. They have a fantastic supporting cast, most of which were created by Barry Windsor-Smith. There are Armstrong's brothers Gilad and Ivan who are maybe better known as the Eternal Warrior and the Timewalker, respectively. There's Dinosaur Flo, there's the ninja nuns, there's Andromeda; they're all showing up. So really, we can just keep doing the book until I get run over by a bus. Nrama: Though the new Valiant Universe is still pretty fresh, is there plans for a level of interconnectivity among Archer & Armstrong and the rest of the line?
Van Lente: One of the great things about the Valiant Universe is that there are all these connections to history. Because X-O [Manowar] is a Visigoth, there are a couple of immortals running around who may be involved with him. So we're definitely going to explore some of those connections as the series goes along.More from Newsarama:
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