I approached Archer & Armstrong in the same way I would a cover version of a song originally recorded by my favorite band. I first encountered the original Archer & Armstrong – my Archer & Armstrong – in the early ’90s during my formative years as a comics reader, an experience that led me to conclude that Barry Windsor-Smith is possibly the medium’s greatest living artist, and one whose lack of modern output is a source of constant disappointment. In other words, the new Archer & Armstrong should be doomed to suffer in comparison.
However, I’m happy to report that unlike, say, Annie Lennox covering “Train in Vain,” Fred Van Lente and Emanuela Luppacchino’s Archer & Armstrong #7 has a good beat that you can dance to.
The script recalls much of what that made the original great, but does not remain beholden to it. Archer remains naïve and overeager to do the right thing; Armstrong still seems more interested in his next beer than in saving the world, except in such instances when the end of the world might prevent him from getting that beer. Van Lente injects the story with plenty of humor – I counted at least three laugh-out-loud moments – but never loses sight of his epic ambitions, moving the story briskly from ancient Sicily to modern Greenland with detours to Brooklyn and Manchester.
This issue follows A&A, along with Armstrong’s brother Gilad and new geomancer Kay McHenry, as they set out to save all of existence from a cabal of evil mathematicians who want to, um, divide the universe by zero. Van Lente and Lupacchino show no fear in introducing complex concepts, but they never once burden the book with too much expository dialogue or demand that the reader possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Valiant’s past or present continuity. For those that do possess an encyclopedic knowledge of Valiant’s continuity, however, that last page teaser holds a lot of promise.
Of course, the new A&A never quite transcends the original. Lupacchino’s art is good, bordering on great, but it lacks Windsor-Smith’s knack for visual invention. Van Lente’s in-story references to modern pop culture (GLEE) and current events (he calls one faction of villains the One Percent) could keep this version of A&A from achieving the same timeless quality as its predecessor.
But that’s almost always the trouble with cover songs, even good ones.
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