Interview: Fred Van Lente, ‘Archer and Armstrong,’ and the Secret History of the Valiant Universe

In this interview, all of the mysteries of the Valiant universe laid bare! Or not!

But we do have exclusive images from the first issue of the return of the buddy action-comedy comic which Van Lente (Incredible Hercules) says will serve as a sort of secret history to the new Valiant universe. Van Lente is joined by ’Herc artist Clayton Henry, the duo telling the tale of the titular mismatched companions, Archer, the perfect assassin trained from birth only to learn his life is a lie and Armstrong, the immortal drunk who’d rather be drinking than adventuring.

Van Lente spoke to MTV Geek recently about these two characters, what’s on the way for the series, and teaming up again with Henry.

MTV Geek: Tell us a little about the two leads that give the book its title—to what extent did you use their previous incarnations as a guide for your take?

Fred Van Lente: I wasn’t really familiar with the book before Valiant approached me, but as he handed me the trade of the first eight Barry Windsor-Smith issues [Valiant Executive Editor] Warren Simons said, “It’s aged like a fine wine.” And it really has. Besides BWS’ incredible art, the wit and breadth of adventures Archer & Armstrong went on was just inspired insanity even by super hero comics usually nutso standards. There are some things I’m definitely changing — I’m strong believer in tight plotting, for example, while the original A&A just kind of rambled from bit to bit — but I want to retain the spirit of the original, most definitely.

Geek: The original series presented the two leads as a contrast in naïve idealism and hard-worn cynicism. To what extent does that factor into your take on Archer and Armstrong?

Van Lente: That contrast is still very much at the heart of the series. Obadiah Archer was raised on a fundamentalist compound in America’s heartland. No TV, no movies, no Internet. He was seemingly born with the ability to copy any physical task he witnesses, which his parents have exploited to train him as a master assassin. But he’s still a sweet kid at heart. A pure innocent who knows how to kill you six different ways at a glance.

Armstrong, on the other hand, has walked the earth for thousands of years. He’s super-strong, super-invulnerable, and while he has a heroic bent, he’s more interested in the next bar, the next pretty hook-up. Archer has been told Armstrong is evil by his parents but when he learns the big guy is not the Devil Incarnate, the two team up to stop an ancient conspiracy that may or may not involve the Archers.

Geek: How would you describe the tone of your series? X-O, Bloodshot, and Harbinger are all fairly serious in their content and approach, while Archer and Armstrong seems like it might have leeway to go a little lighter.

Van Lente: Clayton and I are strapping on our bayonets and charging into battle to entertain the reader in every way we can—with action, mind-blowing set-pieces, globe-trotting, satire, intense character moments, romance –you name it. I wouldn’t say we were serious, but I wouldn’t say we were a comedy either. You know the tone of The Avengers movie? That’s the goal. Funny where it needs to be, dramatic where it needs to be, but always a blast.

Geek: While it sounds like Archer and his relationship to The Sect might drive a lot of the action of the book, how much will you be exploring Armstrong’s very long history?

Van Lente: We’ve already touched on him in ancient Ur, George Washington’s first inaugural, in Rome during the Renaissance and the reign of the Emperor Nero… When he runs into the First Emperor of China, whoo boy! Look out. Sparks will fly.

Geek: How much of Armstrong’s history do you have mapped out?

Van Lente: Funny you should ask that, because there is a map of Armstrong’s past that he and Archer are following—except much of it was scrawled when Armstrong was drunk and is filled with in-jokes and references he doesn’t remember anymore, providing a lot of the mystery.

Geek: How did you get involved with the book? Was there a crash-course in Valiant 101 involved?

Van Lente: The folks at Valiant liked what Greg Pak and I did over with Incredible Hercules, a similarly mismatched buddy book. I had missed out on Valiant comics the first time around but after I devoured the first trade I got the entire run of the Archer & Armstrong series–even BWS’s pseudo-A&A follow up, The Freebooters, from Fantagraphics. It’s safe to declare me a super fan at this point.

Geek: When you were discussing the series with Valiant editorial, what were some of the key things that you both felt were key to the series—you know, aside from the main characters?

Van Lente:
In a lot of ways, Archer & Armstrong is the secret history of the Valiant Universe — events are referenced here that impact every one of the books in important ways that will become clearer as all the series progress.

Geek: The first images of the duo seem to have taken Archer from the stringy Hare Krishna-type from his original incarnation to something more like a survivalist. What kinds of conversations did you and artists David Aja and Clayton Henry have about the designs of these two?

Van Lente: None! (laughter) The characters were already redesigned when I came aboard by David Aja, who’s worked with Warren for years. But I couldn’t be happier with the way Archer, Armstrong and… That third main character… Have turned out… (evil laughter)

Geek: What’s this reunion collaboration been like with Clayton?

Van Lente: It’s been awesome. Clayton has really done the best work of his career. It’s exciting, it’s beautiful, it’s hilarious. Last time we worked together we accidentally created the “Cool Story Bro” meme with Greg Pak in Incredible Hercules. Will this collaboration bear similarly long-lasting fruit? Signs are looking good.

Geek: Would you care to tease some of the things you’re most excited about with the first arc?

Van Lente: Armstrong’s method for taking out enemies who’ve interrupted his twelfth vodka tonic of the evening is destined to become an Internet meme. Even if I have to make it one myself.

Geek: Anything longtime A&A fans can look forward to making an appearance in your run?

Van Lente: Dinosaur Flo? Andromeda? Armstrong’s two brothers, Ivar and Gilad? How’s that to start you off? And that’s just the first issue…

Archer & Armstrong #1 is on sale August 8th from Valiant Entertainment.

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