Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Archer and Armstrong #12 (Classic Valiant)

Like I've said before (I think), Valiant Comics' Archer and Armstrong seems to have been hugely popular back in the day, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why. Every issue I've read is so horribly mediocre! I've not encountered any that are outright bad yet, but this still isn't a series I'd sing high praises for...Except two particular issues. The first one, Issue #0, and today's #12. Neither are perfect, and both have problems, but they encapsulate what this series should have been.

Young Buddhist Archer and drunkard immortal Armstrong are transported to Los Angeles bar The End of the World by superhero Solar, where the psychotic Mahmud is waiting, with Armstrong's magical trinket-filled satchel. Mahmud (a former member of The Sect, a millennia-old order dedicated to killing Armstrong, who they believe to be the devil) seeks to gain his revenge against his enemy and rid the world of him once and for all...

The structure of this story is actually pretty bad. It's just an issue-long fight scene, which can't be set over more than ten minutes, and the ending is a complete deus ex machina (Mahmud accidentally recites a spell wrong, which is the only thing that saves the heroes) but the writing is what saves this from being meh. The banter between Armstrong and Mahmud as they fight is fun, there's comedy that's actually funny, a cool-looking villain, and Archer's scenes (where he confronts his murderous parents in a vision caused by Mahmud) are fantastic! They characterize him really well, and add a dark tone that fits well with the more comedic nature of the series. This is what the series should have had more of-Great, complex, dark storytelling mixed in with comedy. It could work, and such a combination gave us the only two issues of A&A that I think are worth a damn.

Armstrong gets no characterization here, but he is fun. Mahmud is a fun villain-Much more entertaining than in Issues #3 and #4, and his new look is a lot more eye-catching and interesting!

Solar is useless here, no surprise there, but what's really baffling is that Armstrong calls him Magnus! As in Magnus Robot Fighter, another Valiant hero. This would make sense if it was clear that he's just confused about who Solar is, but Solar's dialogue does not help! He asks Archer if he knows who he is, and Archer responds with the proper answer, that he's Doctor Solar, and Solar's reaction is a befuddled 'Doctor Solar is a comic book character' and and 'Um, uh, good, glad we got that cleared out of the way'. And when he leaves, he calls himself a robot fighter! Wha?!...

In Mahmud's scenes last issue, which lead into this, he tells Solar that he'll be waiting for Armstrong at the end of the world, and the issue ends on a cliffhanger about what that could mean. What it turns out to be is the name of the bar from Issue #0, but since the issue never points that out or acknowledges what 'the end of the world' is (!) you wouldn't notice unless you're keen enough to notice the bar's name, which is backwards and partially obscured in whatever shots it's in!

The dialogue here is all good to great, minus the confusing Solar-Magnus deal, and this one line when Armstrong is on fire in one of Mahmud's visions, where the latter says "Why do you not writhe in pain? Call to your hellions for succour as I called to my God?" What? What the hell is that supposed to mean? The grammar and sentence structure there is terrible!

All Valiant issues had names, but every blue moon, you'd come across one that didn't, such as this, which is really lazy, especially since this was Barry Windsor-Smith's swansong as the series head honcho. They could have just called it End of the World, or End of the Line. I thought of those in seconds! But no, this issue is forever going to be the footnote known as [Untitled Issue]...Yes, those rectangle brackets are meant to be there, not a late night editing screw-up...

The artwork here is the best the series has ever had since Issue #0 (although the lack of backgrounds for many panels is a bit detracting), and the cover is pretty good. What I mean is that it looks great, but what it's showing is 1, from the ending, and 2, pretty non-indicative of the rest of the issue's action. The only real art screwup is the bar's name, which is spelt as End o' Th' World, but in one shot, you can clearly see an 'E' at the end of 'the'!

This was the first issue of Archer and Armstrong I ever read (I found this random physical copy at a local cafe), and I highly recommend it, along with #0! You'll probably be a bit confused reading this, given the sudden change of Mahmud, and in wondering who the hell is Solar, but that's little matter.

Unfortunately, as for the rest of Archer and Armstrong, the remaining issues are the bad period. Yeah, the period I've been discussing all this time was the good one! Barry Windsor-Smith may not have been the best writer, but at least he can draw!...

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