Rafer Roberts, David Lafuente, Ryan Winn, Brian Reber
Archer and Armstrong are back! Helmed by writer Rafer Roberts, penciler David Lafuente, inker Ryan Winn, and colorist Brian Reber, the duo’s latest caper takes us down the rabbit hole for an adventure in a wonderland of sorts. The quirky story and animation cel-style art make this book a fun read.
Roberts has some big shoes to fill as he takes over the Archer and Armstrong mantle from writer Fred Van Lente, who wrote the 25+ issue series since its 2012 launch. Fans have been eagerly awaiting the return of the dynamic duo, but not without some trepidation. There’s a delicate balance of humor and seriousness to the beloved characters. Tip too far one way, and the characters devolve into a goofy mockery of themselves.
Other writers have used these characters with varying success. There is a tendency to overemphasize their silliness. It’s tempting to write slapstick humor for this odd couple, but that’s selling them short. This is not Dumb and Dumber or even Quantum and Woody. Archer is not physically clumsy – he’s a lethal weapon, and his social clumsiness can only go so far before the hyuk-hyuk Opie-esque jokes get old. Armstrong isn’t an oblivious party animal. He’s spent millennia enjoying life, but he’s also been a protector, soldier, friend, and brother. They’re an unlikely pair of friends from different walks of life, and it’s their differences that make their banter entertaining.
Roberts gets these characterizations right. Armstrong is portrayed as a drinker, but there’s more emotion in his relationships with others. Readers are treated to an excellent flashback which sets up the story in the present. Outwardly, it looks like just another drink and brawl adventure, but there is depth of character here. The interactions between Armstrong and his friend, and even the reason behind their misadventure, is telling. Armstrong is a lush, but he’s got a conscience and heart. Just like in real life, alcohol can diminish these better qualities and cause him to make regrettable mistakes. Roberts acknowledges this without turning Armstrong into a one-dimensional drunk. He makes Armstrong likeable and relatable, which is key in keeping readers feeling invested in the character.
As for Archer, he’s back to being a competent fighter. It was good to see some continuity between this and the original series, such as the use of boxed definitions explaining his various moves. Archer also reminds us that he is a master with the ability to learn just about anything quickly, a nod to his ability to access the Akashik record. Some of his funnier moments occur as he invents polite ways of cussing. Just when you feel that he’s venturing too far down the “Opie” path, Roberts pulls him back and gives him substance with some heartfelt revelations.
The concept of an adventure in Armstrong’s magical bag is unique and fun. Roberts stretches our imagination, taking us into a world with rules and even physical laws that we don’t understand. Archer is the mythical Alice here, on a chase through a wasteland wonderland. There’s some laugh out loud moments as he makes his way to Armstrong. The interesting thing about the bag is while it is holding a world of objects and creatures within it, it also represents the emotional detritus of a messy mind. It’s emotional baggage.
David Lafuente’s art is a perfect match for the tone of the story. Art in Valiant titles varies drastically, from the realistic renderings of Lewis LaRosa to the more animation-style lines of Lafuente. Valiant got this team-up right. A more photorealistic rendering wouldn’t do justice to the hijinks of A&A – it would have made the jokes fall flat.
There is still plenty of acting and emotion in Lafuente’s work. While many panels employ a bit of overacting on the characters’ part, there are some lovely subtle moments that stand out. There is one panel featuring Archer and Mary-Maria that illustrates this beautifully. This quiet scene of downcast eyes and bashful, reminiscing smiles portrays more complicated emotions than in the louder reactionary panels.
Ryan Winn’s excellent inks add to the detail. Winn is a chameleon of sorts. Some inkers leave their own personal style in the ink, obscuring a penciler’s style. Not so with Winn. It’s a testament to his skill that he can ink such varying styles without leaving his own fingerprint behind. A&A is a dramatically different style of art from that of Divinity, which he also inked, yet both titles appear as if they could have been inked by the penciler.
Colorist Brian Reber paints a colorful canvas for the A&A world. Here again, the style compliments the artwork. Reber uses less texturing than in some of his other books, instead using bolder colors that emphasize the action and the animation cel effect of the art. That does not imply that it is a simplistic look. Highlights, lowlights, and shadows are all used naturally and effectively. It is the color palette and the clarity within the panels that create the animation effect.
Unconventional and novel, this buddy adventure will catch you off-guard and have you saying “that’s my bag, baby.” A&A hits shelves March 16th.