ON COMICS: ARCHER & ARMSTRONG

51pF3DPKb5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Archer & Armstrong, Vol. 1: The Michelango Code (Lente/Henry/Milla)
Valiant Comics, 2013

I don’t know where I heard about Archer & Armstrong. I’m guessing it was mentioned in passing on a podcast or I saw a twitter reference, but I can’t be sure. I read a quick synopsis before picking up the volume 1 trade paperback and it seemed just silly enough to grab my attention – an funny, schlubby immortal teams up with a kid assassin to battle eternal forces? I was in.

I’m also unsure of where this book feel in my comics-reading-progression, but I’m fairly certain it was later rather than sooner. The majority of my reading has been DC up to this point, so I wonder if The Michelangelo Code was just enough outside-the-box to capture my attention. For whatever reason, this book really took me by surprise and is still one of my favorite comics to re-read…for lots of reason.

THE INDIE THING
When I bought this book, I knew there were comics publishers (other than DC) out there making a mark. The most commonly heard titles tended to be Vertigo releases, but I had never read any of those. Like a lot of newcomers, I didn’t care much (still don’t actually) about publisher loyalty. The “cred” of certain publishers didn’t factor. Since I buy so infrequently, I’m usually more concerned with story quality over just about every other consideration.

But before the first issue was over, I knew I had picked up something unique. Archer & Armstrong isn’t any more or less graphic, violent or funny than other books, but there was something about the story. It dared to be ludicrous, weaving in Bible-thumping fundamentalism with Illuminati conspiracy theories. Art history was right next to future tech. A barroom brawl interlaced with Shakespearean dialogue. The book took my by surprise because it did what it wanted to.

THE STORY
As a minister, I am always attracted to works focused on faith. While the book does a real number on religion, faith comes out pretty unscathed. I was intrigued that a story could be so ridiculously slanted without actually defaming God. It’s not a pro-God book, but I appreciate a story that so clearly knew what it was about. There don’t seem to be any wasted lines or story-arcs. The writers aren’t writing about faith…they’re writing about what happens when faith gets co-opted by the greedy.

SEEING STUFF FOR THE FIRST TIME
The upside of being a writer is that your mind gets trained to analyze every little turn of phrase. The art element took longer to grasp. I had definitely noticed the artwork in previous books, but Archer & Armstrong was one of the first times I noticed lines and shading and color. Every time I re-read this book, I keep thinking, “This looks like a cartoon.” There’s a vibrance and a brightness to the look of this book that only helps the fun, globe-trotting focus of the story-line.

If you’ve never read Archer & Armstrong, pick it up. I think it performs on a level equal to – if not better – than the bigger and more famous books.

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