Archer & Armstrong: More Covers Than The Walking Dead!

No, not really. But in the first portion of our ongoing discussion with Archer & Armstrong writer Fred Van Lente, we discussed the question of why interior artist Clayton Henry didn't draw the covers for the first issue of the sold-out Valiant series, and Van Lente's response was too good to pass up.

There's a lot of stuff going on in the first issue of Van Lente's reimagining of Barry Windsor-Smith's fan-favorite Archer & Armstrong, and so we wanted to make sure to talk to the writer about as much of it as we could...but we also kind jumped around a bit, so don't necessarily expect to see us go page-by-page this time!

Thanks to Fred for coming aboard! Away we go...

The first thing is, the cover is beautiful but why not simply give that job to Clayton?

What do you mean? This comic had 17 different covers and one of them was by Clayton! He did the 2nd printing variant cover too, which should be in stores soon enough.

I don't recall--was Mrs. Archer a congresswoman in the original?

No. The original Archers were evangelist child rapists who didn't hesitate to murder their son (Obie) when he discovers their crimes.

The only way I could think of making them worse was to make one a member of Congress. (RIMSHOT)

What went into the decision to begin the story with Armstrong?

It had to do with wanting to begin the story with The Boon, and making everyone understand what that was, and why The Sect wanted it so badly. I wanted to connect it directly to Armstrong and his immortality, so there was a reason, a story reason why he doesn't die, other than "He was born like that," which was the original explanation, which always seem like a cop-out to me.

I feel like we got a lot more insight into Armstrong this time around; in the previous version he was mysterious for longer.

Right. That's a bullet you can only fire once, and Barry Windsor-Smith did that in 1991. It's kind of like reintroducing Wolverine: The bone claws, the Weapon X program, the longevity lives forever on the Internet, so there's no point in being coy about for too long. You as a writer should always know more than your audience does.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how important is that the story takes place on Tuesday? Honestly it kind of reminds me of Douglas Adams.

I guess the answer has to be 42, then.

I was lucky enough to see Douglas Adams speak at my college (Syracuse) around 1994. He was a terrific speaker and a writer that was a huge inspiration to me. I often wonder what he would have made of social media and the direction the Internet has taken. Real life Babel fish?

The guidebook thing is kind of cool. Will you continue to use that device in future issues?

You mean the definitions that appear when Archer uses his powers? Yup. That's a pretty significant clue to what he actually is, and how he does what he does. He thinks he can just mimic the skills of others, which is only part right. All will be revealed before the year is out.

Of course you realize some jerk is gonna send you a bunch of annotations saying you picked the wrong martial art for any given move, right?

I don't know why. I sent Clayton reference on the specific moves in the sequence for each martial art and he matched them pretty accurately. Only the savate one is really off model, and that's more due the necessity of the shots required.

I developed a project at Marvel that never got off the ground about the 616's martial artists fighting each other so I did a lot of research into the different styles. The History Channel's "Human Weapon" series is pretty amazing if you're into that sort of thing.

I've studied aikido and boxing too, so the fairly accurate depiction of martial arts in the book is something that's important to me.

How big of a theme is Christianity in this book? You jump right from a Bible verse to the theme park here.

Religion, faith versus doubt, theism versus atheism is the major theme of the book, as represented by Archer and Armstrong, respectively. Not just the radical right wing fundamentalism of The Dominion, but they do play a major role in this first arc. No one side will be privileged and no assertion will go unchallenged, either from skeptics or believers.

With the kind of in your face criticism, or exaggerated nature at least, of the park goers are you concerned at all about alienating a certain demographic?

Not when East Coast liberals are criticized a few pages later in the same book. I don't have much patience for people so myopic they only notice or care when their own group is made fun of.

To be this place is mostly terrifying because it seems so plausible in light of some of what we are seeing in the south these days. Was it meant to be somewhat plausible or was it meant to be so preposterous it seems impossible?

Are you kidding? It's way more than plausible, there's an actual theme park -- I forget the name -- in Florida very much like this. The Archers' Promised Land is a combination of that place and the Creationist Museum in ... Kentucky, I believe? (My apologies, I'm typing these responses on a train and don't have all my reference materials in front of me.)

You make it a point to name all of the other cultists when Archer says goodbye. Will we see some of them in the near future?

You mean his foster brothers and sisters? Oh, yes. Yes he will. (laughs evilly)

Will we learn the origin of that device that Archer used to track down Armstrong You mean The Fulcrum? It's a lost piece of The Boon, as Armstrong says. As for what the origin of The Boon is, I guess we'll just have to wait and see, huh?

So for a book with so much comic relief, you took the high road for most of the issue...and then there was that projectile-vomit thing. Just testing the waters?

Testing the waters? For what? A projectile-vomit spinoff series? Reality show? Food Channel competition?

Was it a conscious choice to have Archer's parents spend so much of the issue disembodied, talking to him and others through the intercom? Voices on a box like Charlie?

People like the Archers prefer others do their dirty work for them. You never saw Osama bin Laden strap a bomb to himself.

And to that point, no physical abuse or overt attempt to kill the son this time out. Or is it just that you used the 1% and their cronies as tools to tell the same story, but bigger?

Are you making a comparison to the original? I wouldn't try and make a lot of predictions about where the story is going based on knowledge of the original run. This is a remake, yes, and you'll continue to see elements of the original -- the monastery at Ladakh, the ninja nuns -- but they're going to be deployed in vastly different ways. That's so new readers can jump on board without any prejudices against them.

In fact, I think if you use the original series as a guide to this one, old-timers are going to start to get very, very confused... (grin)