Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Archer and Armstrong: Overall (Classic Valiant)

Obadiah Archer is a young Buddhist monk who's recently returned to America from a monastery in Ladakh. Archer was the child of two devout preachers in Topeka, Kansas, and he was a happy, God-loving child, until one night when he walked in on his parents in the middle of raping and murdering a young teenage girl. Archer's parents knock him out, then set fire to the house, temporarily killing the boy, until medics arrive and revive him. When Archer wakes up, he knows his parents, who the authorities seem none the wiser to, will make sure this time time to finish the job, so he runs away, eventually ending up in Ladakh, near Tibet. He spends years of training at a monastery, so he can one day return to gain revenge on his parents, but when he returns to America, he finds that they were arrested shortly after he first ran away. Now purposeless, Archer roams around the streets of L.A., eventually bumping into an immortal drunkard named Armstrong...

Archer and Armstrong is a buddy comedy series from Valiant Comics, and has a popular reputation. Unfortunately, I've found this series to be nothing but a disappointment! It's not just that I don't like it, but rather that two issues of the series are brilliant, and the rest is pure mediocrity, at best!

Lets start with the writing. Archer and Armstrong started off strong with its first story, which was Issue #0 for some insane reason, but immediately following that was the Unity event comic, which took up the first two issues of A&A. This was a highly annoying move, as the last thing a new series needs is its first issues to be part of an unrelated crossover event! That completely kills the series' momentum, as well as takes completely away from the character introductions, and their journeys.

Following that, we get a dull road trip series that's devoid of anything interesting. The plots are boring, accomplish very little, and never have entertaining characters. The series' main story arc involves The Sect, a millennia old cult devoted solely to killing Armstrong. There are multiple problems with this arc. The first is how overpowered the Sect is. Armstrong says that practically every city in the world each has thousands of Sect members. First of all, that's way to overpowered, and second, how could that many people have so much trouble killing one guy? You can't even use the excuse that Armstrong is nearly invulnerable, because the Sect freely use automatic weapons. All they need to do is locate him, then have a sniper plant a bullet into his skull. Plant two more after he falls to the ground, then problem solved, Armstrong is dead. I know they could do this, because Armstrong's brother Gilad is a full-on powerhouse soldier, yet when he gets shot just once in the head in his own series, he dies for a bit, then comes back totally jumbled.

The other problem with the Sect storyline is that it's never advanced. It's a purely static plot. In fact, using the word 'plot' is excessive. The Sect is really only an excuse to have issue-long fight scenes, and that's it. There's not one issue of Archer and Armstrong where there's a genuine story involving the Sect. The just want Armstrong dead, and fail a lot.

The comedy in this series is either-non-present, weak, or downright unfunny, sometimes to the point of racism! The few times I did laugh were in Issue #0 and #12, which had genuine laughs on display. Nothing gut-busting, but nothing painful either.

Head writer/artist Barry Windsor-Smith left the series following Issue #12, and it immediately took a downturn, both in artwork, and storytelling. It becomes a shadow of its former self, and I don't even know how that's possible, since the series was already pale enough!

Focus is a serious problem Archer and Armstrong has. In Issue #0, Archer swears to devote his life to fighting evil, yet he never does. He just goes cross-country palling around with Armstrong, and the duo often get unwittingly and unwillingly embroiled in brawls and 'hijinks'. Then, in Issue #18, we get a very unsubtle scene where a drowned Archer has a possible hallucination where God demands he renew fighting evil, which Archer vigilantly swears to. But then he goes and doesn't follow that purpose again! A couple of later issues have him actively striving to fight injustice, but the majority are just him sitting around and getting embroiled in 'hijinks'. You have to try to make a series have this little focus!

One particularly annoying early element to the series is Armstrong's satchel, which is full of magical trinkets. You'd think this would be important, but it isn't at all, and rarely plays a part in the stories. From Issue #3 to #11, we get an extremely drawn out and tedious subplot involving a kid who's stolen the satchel. This plot has very little to it, usually only making up a page or two every couple of issues, and only amounts to anything when the villainous Sect member Mahmud steals the satchel, leading into Issue #12. From then on, the satchel is literally never seen or mentioned ever again!

Ok, that's enough of the negatives for now. Let's get into what I like about Archer and Armstrong-Issues #0 and #12. Both are a great mix of comedy, and dark and mature subject matter. There isn't a whole lot to Armstrong in these issues, with the main focus being Archer. In all other issues, he's a young, polite, somewhat naive guy with little personality, but in these issues, he actually has legitimate character. He wants to lead a tranquil life as a monk, but no matter what he does, Archer can't overcome his rage. He wants to destroy his parents, and avenge both his life, as well as his parents' victims.

Ok, back to the negatives. Outside of #0 and #12, the characters in this series are dull. Archer is just boring, with little personality, while Armstrong is equally so. He has little character besides his being a drunk, and at times, he's unintentionally portrayed as a philandering dick, as the series totally forgets about his wife Andromeda, leading Armstrong to, among other things, start a relationship with his neighbour.

The first logo to this series was slablike and unappealing, in my opinion, while the second, which started come Issue #5, is nicer, and eye-catching.

Archer and Armstrong is a bad series, and while I wholeheartedly recommend the fantastic Issues #0 and #12, the rest are disposable...

Archer and Armstrong #26 (Classic Valiant)

A mysterious and devastating electromagnetic field has surrounded the entire Earth, and immortal drunkard Armstrong and his Buddhist sidekick Archer are smack dab in the middle of the a freeway as chaos breaks out, encountering all sorts of threats, from looters, to resurrected dinosaurs...

It's rather amusing that both the beginning and end of Archer and Armstrong were part of a crossover that by and large, had nothing to do with them.

This issue is very brief. The title duo's reactions and actions during the Chaos Effect are rushed, and the dinosaur plot is just a waste. It literally only lasts two pages! As a tie-in, this issue fails, as it tells us nothing about what the Chaos Effect is, not are the leads caught in any serious situation caused by it that tests their mettle and shows off their character. They just stumble around, acquire a jazz CD, then very briefly encounter a couple of dinosaurs, which they immediately incinerate.

The ending to this issue is pretty miserable, and a rather downer conclusion for the entire series, especially if you know what happens to Archer and Armstrong in the main Chaos Effect book. This ending isn't a bang, but a whimper.

The art here is mostly passable, with the worst problem being a printing error, where there's a blank speech bubble from Armstrong, and its text is on the page 'under' it! This happens again a bit later, but unfortunately the misplaced text is over a dark background, therefore unreadable. The cover is ok, but only shows action in the tiny strip in the middle. It also shows the characters as looking like their old selves, with the never-changing clothes, and Archer's shaved head, which are both long since absent qualities from the series.

This final issue of Archer and Armstrong isn't terrible, but merely very mediocre, and it ends the series on a low note...

Archer and Armstrong #25 and Eternal Warrior #25 (Classic Valiant)

Immortal drunk Armstrong is visiting a psychiatrist who's very interested by what she believes to be his delusions. Wondering about his constant stories of being hounded by a murderous sect, she asks Armstrong about how all of that started, leading into a tale from the Crusades, where the conniving King Phillip wishes his reluctant ally King Richard to fall from grace, and so starts a conspiracy to shame him in the eyes of Britain's Archbishop...

This two-parter, shared between Issues #25 of both Archer and Armstrong, and Eternal Warrior seeks to explain why the Sect want Armstrong dead. A little late, aren't you?

The psychiatric meeting with Dr. Gluck is the framing for this story from Armstrong's past. Despite the fact that this is some random woman who harassed him on an airplane, it does make sense why Armstrong's seeing her for professional advice, given his explanation in Issue #24, = except in one respect-She's a sex therapist! I have no doubt that even sex therapists are qualified in every respect to be both medical professionals, from being doctors, to regular psychiatrists, but it makes little sense what someone most interested in things along the lines of 'What causes Nymphomania?' is doing treating a seemingly delusional patient who thinks he's thousands of years old!

I guess to make up for the last two issues, Armstrong is purportedly the main focus of this story, and Archer is the one who barely appears. However, Armstrong himself is a rather peripheral character, and the majority of the story focuses on the political machinations of King Phillip!

It makes little sense why Phillip wants King Richard publicly disgraced and stripped of power, as he needs all the help he can to fight the Turks! Worse still, this 'fall from grace' plot ignores the fact that the King has more power than the Archbishop! The King can chop off the Archbishop's HEAD if he wanted to. I know this, because it's happened before. Many times! And those times it was in situations with just as much, if not more, political scandal, and they didn't end with the king deposed by a revolting public or anything!

On that note, while I can't speak for everything present, I can tell that at least some of this story is historically inaccurate.

Another thing this story fails to explain is why Armstrong and Gilad are even working for Cour de Lion. Do they want to slaughter people just for worshipping a different religion? And we should feel bad that a sect emerges from this wanting to kill them?

All in all, this story feels pointless. It accomplishes very little, and the conclusion is very rushed and unenjoyable. Meanwhile, the framing story accomplishes just as much, seeing as how it lacks a real ending!

The characters in this story are just boring. Armstrong barely makes an impression here, and he's just an unlikeable lout. Gilad is just as dull, and plays practically zero part in the story. This is especially annoying given this story is partially made up of an issue of his own series Eternal Warrior!

Dr. Gluck has nothing to her, but at least she's not a pushy bitch like she was in Issue #22.

Concerning the characters of Lockinbar (who's also totally dull) and Archer, the story tries to push some past life similarity crap on us, just like the last A&A/Eternal Warrior crossover Issue #8. It's as confusing and inconsequential as it was there. There's also a really confusing thread at the beginning and end of the story, concerning someone who seems to be a...reincarnation?...of antagonistic Brother Nicholas.

There's very little humour in this story, and what there is is weak, save for the amusing ending to A&A #25, where Dr. Gluck shows surprise at how detailed Armstrong's 'delusions' are-"The work you must have put into the research alone!". I like that kind of humour much better than lower, immature forms, although nothing like that is ever within these pages.

The art here isn't as bad as previous issues of Archer and Armstrong, but shares many of the same problems, such as the very poor crosshatch shading. The cover to Issue #25 of A&A is ok, while EW #25's is lazy. It's pretty much the exact same cover, but without Armstrong.

This two-parter of Archer and Armstrong and Eternal Warrior isn't terrible, but it is a total waste...

Archer and Armstrong #23 and #24 (Classic Valiant)

Young Buddhist Archer finds himself caught up in a gang war when he rescues Ethan, the son of local gangster Nate Rosen...

This is a decent Archer and Armstrong two-parter, but its trouble is that the story really has little to do with the lead characters, and neither contribute to taking down the villain. They knock out some of her goons, but the situation itself is resolved entirely by the antagonistic Pan.

Archer is the lead in this story, with Armstrong getting barely anything to do. He only has one scene in Issue #23! Archer is an ok protagonist here, but naive. I also have no idea why he's suddenly growing his hair out, even though he's been a bald monk for this whole series. There's no explanation given. It could be because his order was destroyed in another Valiant series, which was the instigator for the plot of the previous two issues, but one would think that would strengthen Archer's want to look monkly, rather than distance himself from it.

The two anti-villains Nate and Madeline and their dynamic is actually mildly interesting, but come the end, totally underused and underdeveloped. It's an extra shame seeing as how they have more to do with the plot than Archer.

Ethan is more of a plot device than a character, and doesn't get nearly enough scenes to flesh out his character.

The art in these issues is pretty terrible! We've got poor crosshatch shading, and Picasso-like faces, given how poorly drawn, angled, and structured they are. I like the wide shot of the sky in the story's final panel though. It hardly looks convincing, given its colouring, but I still like it.

The cover to Issue #23 is ok, but the lack of background hurts it. #24's cover is not only decent, but actually has a background, rather than crappy gradient speckles! The only problem is Armstrong's face, which looks pretty gremlin-y.

This Archer and Armstrong two-parter is mildly tolerable, but compared to the terrible previous story, it's a nice improvement!...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Archer and Armstrong #21 and #22 (Valiant Comics)

Young Buddhist Archer finds out that his former monastery has been besieged and destroyed by an evil necromancer named Darque. Swearing vengeance, Archer heads to Darque's home in New Orleans, and with the help of the city's vigilante Shadowman, he attempts to rid the world of Darque's evil...

While Issue #12 of Archer and Armstrong is a perfect example of light and dark genres mixed together well, #21 and #22 are the opposite! This story is a chore to read. It's a dull crossover that does nothing with the potential it could have had. While way too depressing for my tastes, Archer avenging his decimated monastery is a plot that has weight to it, and it could logically lead to a legitimate crossover. Unfortunately this falls flat, as there's no real story here. All this is is a few fight scenes, which conclude in a deus ex machina. Ultimately, the story accomplishes absolutely nothing. Archer hasn't avenged Ladakh, nor beaten Darque in any way. In fact, what he has done is successfully get himself planted directly onto Darque's shitlist!

The dialogue in these issues is often painfully bad, especially in its weak attempts at humour. The only bit of good dialogue comes in Issue #22, when Archer is backtalking Darque. There's almost a decent scene when we see Darque instructing his zombies to sing the Hearse song, which could be a darkly amusing scene if in the right story, but the tone of this one, along with the shoddy art, drags it down.

Archer is tolerable here, but rather useless, and one scene at the story's beginning really pisses me off! The fact that Archere here feels that that his life needed revenge to give it direction is a slap in the face to the character's Buddhist beliefs.

Armstrong is a dick, who's more than happy leaving Archer to fight the incredibly powerful and evil necromancer Darque on his own! All he does is give Jack a ring, but fat lot of good that does! He does show up to bail Archer out in Issue #22, but his contribution means practically nothing.

Jack Boniface is a confusing character for anyone who hasn't read other Valiant series Shadowman, and he acts like a dick for how he abandons Archer in Darque's dungeon at the end of Issue #21. He has a legit reason to do so, but he could've just explained that to Archer before he just ran off! The whole 'curse' plotline basically ensures that Jack has next to no real involvement in this story.

Darque is a dull and overpowered villain. There are also more than a few plot holes concerning both him, and Jack, but I'll be sure to discuss those when they come up withing the pages of Shadowman itself.

Sandria is pretty confusing and underused. Story of her life, really. She was only ever decently written in The Second Life of Doctor Mirage, and even there, things were inconsistent.

The art here is terrible! We've got odd angles (especially with mouths), overly visible and red gums, extremely poor colouring and lighting, and The T-shirt and pants problem I mentioned last issue has gotten worse. Not only is it drawn worse, but we see the terrifying evil force of scariness that is Master Darque in an ill-fitting T-shirt and baggy pants! I wish I was joking! For some reason, this artist drew lots of characters like this in a few issues of A&A. It's really lazy, and takes away from the antagonist's intimidation factor.

Issue #21's cover is decent, although the red filter is pretty overused  Issue #22's cover, on the other hand, is crap! The background is lazy, and as a bright green colour almost resembling sunlit grass, it's ill-fitting for this story's tone. It also looks like Armstrong is punching Archer in the back of the head, rather than attacking Darque!

These two issues are possibly the worst in this entire series, and that is saying something!...

Archer and Armstrong #20 (Classic Valiant)

Young Buddhist Archer has joined up with a local vigilante group, in an effort to keep the streets of L.A. safe. As he attempts to find the source of a recent spate of brutal attacks, Archer's immortal friend Armstrong dresses up as Santa for charity, earning the ire of some gangsters...

This is a rather decent issue of Archer and Armstrong. It's not great, but the main characters are actually likeable for a change, and the series has finally dispensed of that insanely long 'Armstrong's paintings' arc, which ate up six issues and never did anything but waste time and money.

This issue's story is pretty simple, but it's entertaining enough, and follows a distinctive 3-act structure. Unfortunately the climax feels like it comes too soon, and is wrapped up too abruptly, which is due in part thanks to their being three splash pages in this comic! I love the final splash page though! It's a neat group shot, positive, and has Christmas cheer!

There's not really all that much humour in this issue, and what there is is pretty weak, like having 'Expletives Deleted' boxes over swearing. Stuff like that feels lazy, while genuine humour comes when the Santa-suited Armstrong gets shot up by gangsters, then gets back up to beat the tar out of them-I find the dialogue between Jamaladeen and Armstrong at the scene's end to be quite amusing.

The characters here are mixed. Archer is a likeable lead, as is Armstrong. Neither are characterised a whole lot, but they get their moments here and there, especially Archer. His scene with the battered prostitute he comes across is his best, and really makes the character a likeable guy.

This issue re-introduces the character of Amy, but we never see her and Archer talk. They've clearly reconnected, given their appearance together on the last page, but we never saw them rekindle their relationship, or even be on the same page together until the end. This is especially annoying as Amy never appears again! I know the two never had any chemistry to begin with, but if you've already gone to the trouble of re-introducing the character, you could at least write her better!

The young 'tough' street kid Jamaladeen is a decent addition to the story, while Pamela is completely underused.

The artwork here isn't great. It's not terrible, but it bears the early warning signs of the problems with this art style that end up rearing their ugly head tenfold over the next four issues, such as oddly angled mouths, overly visible and red gums, crosshatching to an absurd degree, extremely poor colouring and lighting, and the fact that this artist is seemingly unable to draw characters in any type of clothes other than a baggy T-shirt and shorts! He even draws the malevolent necromancer Master Darque like that come next issues #21 and #22!

This isn't anything special, but Issue #20 of Archer and Armstrong is the first one I can honestly say I'd recommend since the fantastic #12...

Archer and Armstrong #17, #18, #19 (Classic Valiant)

Immortal drunk Armstrong and his young Buddhist sidekick Archer are seraching for the former's missing paintings. Meanwhile, a 124-year old man, Duerst, is hooked up to various life support systems, and desperate to learn the secrets behind Armstrong's immortality, at any cost...

This three-part story is another dud for Valiant comedy Archer and Armstrong.

Issue #17 isn't too bad. It's not funny, and there's minimal plot, but it's not terrible, and showing the titular duo doing all sorts of odd jobs for cash is at least some effort in showing off their character. Not very successfully, but effort nonetheless. Following that, the story starts meandering, before abrutly switching gears in Issue #19. Then the story just stops, with nothing really having been resolved besides the villain's plans being slightly waylaid once more.

Archer drowning seems to only happen in order to pad out the story, and the Macrobiotic cult section (that is, the entirety of Issue #19) only serves to bring the plot to a complete stop. In Issue #18, we get an exchange between Archer and a figure who is God, assuming this isn't a hallucination (which given Valiant continuity, it is), but all this does to serve the plot is remind Archer that he should be fighting evil. You know, the thing the series was already meant to be about! I also don't like this scene because it's very unsubtle. For example, in Archer and Armstrong #0, there's no dialogue from any god needed for Archer to realize that he's headed for heaven, and that he needs to go back to Earth to bring his parents to justice. I also don't like that this God is the brimstone dick type.

The worst thing about this story is that it continues the story arc from Issues #13, #14, and #15, and doesn't even conclude it! Was 'Armstrong looks for his old paintings' really a plot worth a 12-issue epic?!

The leads here are bland. Armstrong is rather boring, and while he does get some drama when Archer drowns, it's over quickly, and has no further weight on any events. As for Archer, he's pretty naive, and his morals are really poorly thought-out. In one scene after he's entered a boxing competition for quick cash, Archer's asked why he didn't like Armstrong's gator wrestling, yet is fine with knocking a guy out in the ring. Archer's answer is that he 'only hurts people who deserve it'. So, what, those boxers deserve to get bashed?! Next comes when Archer 'comes back to life', and he belittles Armstrong for having paid the hospital to save his life, claiming it was only God who was responsible for saving his life, and the hospital contributed nothing. What a sanctimonious jerk!

Duerst continues to be a boring villain, with very little personality to him. He's damn near annoying in how much he prattles on about jazz! If only he actually did stuff instead of repeating old tidbits, and maybe we'd have more of a real story!

The rest of the characters are wasted. Naomi is mildly likeable, but underused, and plays no real role in the story. Pan is an ok antagonist, but also extremely underused. Pamela gets a bigger role, in Issue #19, and she's pretty proactive, but acts as a deus ex machina.

Toyo Harada, the villain of other Valiant series Harbinger, briefly shows up in this story, and his appearance is forced 'crossover', and totally pointless. He shows up for one scene, and seems to be playing an important role in the story, but he and his Foundation just phase out of the proceedings for no reason. His part in the story doesn't even make much sense, as Harada is good friends with Armstrong's brother Gilad, the Eternal Warrior. If Harada wants to learn the secrets of immortality, all he has to do it give Gil a ring. Sure, he may need to fudge over a few details about his secretly being a supervillain, but he could get it accomplished easily enough, with no subterfuge necessary. After all, Gilad is an idiot! Why else would he be good friends with Toyo Harada and not know he's a mass-murdering lunatic?!

The humour in this story is barely there, and what there is is either gross, or unfunny. 'Do-Don't' exchanges are one of the lowest forms of humour when done poorly! The humour coming from the character of Pamela is borderline racist, as her German-accented dialogue is written phonetically, and we get lines like "Donkey shine, mine hair".

The art in these issues is barely passable, and very mediocre in places, especially concerning skin textures. The covers are better though. #17's is decent, while I particularly dig #18's. It's not great, but I like the imagery used. It makes the use of the Creation of Adam imitation actually seem necessary. Issue #19's cover is ok to, although your mileage may vary on if you find the Indiana Jones joke tagline amusing or not.

This storyline is nothing more than a waste, and it reduces Archer and Armstrong even further into a shadow of its former self...