“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple…”
― Albert Einstein
2016 was (mathematically) the best year for the comic book industry (in terms of sales) sales since 1997 with Unit Sales for Diamond’s Top 300 Comic Books totaling almost 90,000,000 copies for the year (source: Comichron).
2016 was also a year in which Valiant Entertainment launched a number of high quality comics (both artistically and written) to include Imperium, Divinity II, Divinity III: The Stalinverse, Bloodshot: Reborn, Faith, Wrath of the Eternal Warrior, Rai, 4001 A.D., Ninjak, Britannia, and Savage. Each of these titles featured captivating stories, visually stunning artwork, and were connected to the larger Valiant Universe. As a key title within the Valiant Universe for nearly 25 years, the announcement that a third volume of Archer & Armstrong would be published monthly in 2016 gave hope to long time readers and fans of the series.
A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #1 was first released at the ComicsPro Annual Membership Meeting in February of 2016 as an Exclusive Retailer Edition before the title officially launched in March of 2016. Not surprising, (2016) A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #1 sold more copies than (2012) Archer & Armstrong #1 by a margin of approx. 4,000 copies (or a +17% increase in sales). Things appeared to be off to a good start.
An expected drop in sales occurred with (2016) A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #2, with issue #2 selling approx. half of what issue #1 sold. This type of sales drop is normal, as #1 issues typically sell well (due to a number of factors) in comparison to subsequent issues (NOTE: this reality is in large part why publishers restart titles so often, as it boosts sales which helps keep comics in print and publishers in business). However, as the title continued, the sales suffered more and more in comparison to (for example) sales for (2012) Archer & Armstrong.
When you review the sales history for (2012) Archer & Armstrong, they were amazingly consistent from issue #2 through #10 with only a slight drop over time; whereas (2016) A&A #1 through #10 simply did not perform nearly as well (see comparison chart below).
(NOTE: Comixology numbers are unavailable, and therefore NOT factored into Comichron’s sales figures)
What was the cause of this? The sales numbers for A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #1 indicate that a larger potential audience existed for A&A in 2016 than in 2012 (no doubt due to the success of the latter), and we already know that 2016 was the best year for the comic book industry (in terms of sales) sales in nearly two decades. So what caused the significant drop?
Many long time readers and fans via social media and forums have cited the writing, dialogue, direction, and artistic style.
To be sure, Archer & Armstrong has always existed with a strong layer of humor, as it should be. Humor is a large part of what allowed Archer & Armstrong to work so well as a title for so long. However, humor must be balanced and proportioned appropriately or a potentially strong title to become overly silly, absurd, or confusing. It works best as icing on a well crafted story that focuses on progressive character and plot development.
As a series, (2016) A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong existed mostly outside of that balance. The series certainly had its moments; however, for the most part was simply overflowing with about 200% of the silliness and absurdity required for this title to work. Archer & Armstrong is not exactly supposed to be 100% realistic by any means; however, it is also not supposed to be cartoonish. Character additions like Davy the Mackerel, Bacchus the God of Wine, and a wizard who enjoys making “fashionable designer handbags” did not appear to fit with the title or the Valiant Universe really. The series also lacked an emotional connection with readers, which is a huge piece of the puzzle that has historically made Archer & Armstrong a winning title. The humor was funny at times, but often in a forced slapstick sort of way that was difficult to take in.
The first four issues were artistically unlike anything the title had previously seen, and featured blocky, cartoonish artwork by David Lafuente with the majority of the story unfolding inside of a magical bag. Artist Mike Norton took over with issue #5 and beyond, and was able to provide interior artwork that was more in line with readers were accustom to. Many of the Mary Maria and Sisters of Perpetual Darkness sequences, drawn by artist Ryan Lee, employed an art style that was met with mixed emotion by readers and fans.
A recommendation would be to bring writer Fred Van Lente back onto the title with artwork by Pere Perez, Clayton Henry, or Emanuela Lupachino (possibly Mike Norton). Colorists Allen Passalaqua, David Baron, Andrew Dalhouse,and Brian Reber always produce strong products. These creators (any combination) would be a “dream team” for a future Archer & Armstrong, Neela, Timewalker, or Mary Maria project.
A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #12 does accomplish the goal of wrapping up loose ends and bringing the series to an close, and writer Rafer Roberts most certainly provided a commendable effort on this series from start to finish; however, it is uncertain as to how memorable this series will be several years from now. Roberts included so much dialogue along with so many jokes that at a certain point oversaturation set in and the overall impact of each moment was reduced. Less would have been more for the title, and while peppered with interesting plot concepts and ideas, over-saturation led to confusing plot lines and objectives. Artist Mike Norton’s pages and panels are good (with a classic Archie artistic quality), though towards the end of the series, rough at times and not as clean on this issue when compared to Pere Perez or Clayton Henry’s work on (2012) Archer & Armstrong.
Colors by Allen Passalaqua, David Baron, and Andrew Dalhouse all work quite well as a team, and do a fantastic job bringing life to each page. Epilogue One by artist Joe Eisma (colors by Andrew Dalhouse) is short, simple, interesting, and perfect for a quick moment of something different. Epilogue Two by artist Marc Laming (colors by Ulises Arreola) is hyper-detailed with moments of strong color contrast.
A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #12 concludes with a tidal-wave of action. While a bit over the top and silly at times, it is enjoyable with a promise of future greatness. The best is yet to come for Archer & Armstrong.