Comics has an accessibility problem. After decades of existence some books can be really hard to ease into. That’s why the infamous “jumping on point” was created — single issues designed to garner new readers and lure back old fans. Each week brave surveyors Luke Miller and Jamil Scalese will venture into the comics abyss and let you, the consumer, know just which series are worth JUMPING ON, and which are better left to be revisited at a later date.
A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #1
(Rafer Roberts; David LaFuente; Ryan Winn; Brain Reber)
Jamil: Hello, comic fans! Less than a seven days ago we oiled the tracks on this new column by taking a look at the start of a new arc of a series deep into it’s run. Today we’re going to examine the more contemporary way to attract new readers: blowing the whole thing up and starting afresh from uno.
One of the points of this column is not only expose old franchises to new readers but also to genuinely examine the utility, futility and all around ability of the popular business practices intended to increase sales. The subject material this week is a franchise that is over twenty years old but one in which I’ve never read a single panel of: Archer and Armstrong!
Well, A&A. Or maybe it’s A+A like it says on the cover? Then again the indicia on the inside cover says A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong. A relaunch is essentially a rebranding, or at least an opportunity to, so it’d be nice if the actual title of this was a touch more clear.
What is clear is what this comic about. The recap page is very handy in explaining the peculiar dynamic of the titular pair: Archer is a young martial arts expert who is also a bit of a goober. From birth he was trained to fight a great evil and that enemy turned out to be Armstrong, an immortal vagabond who is a little more jovial than one would expect. Over the years they’ve quashed their differences and have become great partners in adventurism.
I was actually a little surprised at how fast I warmed to this premise, it seems like a lot of fun! Luke, before we go headlong into the meat of this issue I was wondering what your impressions of the characters and set-up were? How familiar are you with Archer and Armstrong?
Luke: Well, I’d heard the name before, but if you’d asked me to explain the difference between Archer and Armstrong and Quantum and Woody, I couldn’t tell you. Somebody actually did once. I couldn’t tell them either. Shame ensued. Anyway, I hadn’t read a panel of this title before either, and like you, I was pretty jazzed with the recap page.
Personally, I’m a sucker for the “lone, immortal warrior/gunslinger/drunkard” character trope. Be it Vandal Savage or Christian Walker, I just love the idea of a man who can’t die and how much that would screw with a person. So to read Armstrong is a 6,000ish-year-old dude from Ur, I was on board. Then I read Archer was basically a doofus version of Iron Fist and I was a little more “meh” on that idea. Then I read Archer’s sister is named Mary-Maria and runs a cult of ninja-nuns.
The ninja-nun cult was a real fork in the road for me. I could either get entirely on board and just roll with it. Or I could get my cynical cap on and scoff at the whatever-you-want-to-call-the-powers-that-be that came up with that idea. (I’m going to ignore the final intro line of Davey the fish for now because it kind of gives away a plot point I’m sure we’ll get to in a bit.) But before I give away my thoughts on the ninja-nun cult, Jamil, I wanted to hear what your gut reaction to that little tidbit of backstory was.
Jamil: I feel you. The concept started to break down at a certain point, and the idea of a troop of nun warriors is slightly entertaining but pushes the tone to a zone that feels a little unwieldy. I grappled a bit with that aspect. How outlandish or grounded is the world of Archer and Armstrong? Not very much apparently as the focus of this new story by writer Rafer Roberts and artist David LaFuente is about a journey into a pocket universe residing inside Armstrong’s magic satchel, a place populated by goblins and other oddities. On one level that’s awesome, but on another I had a hard time grasping the seriousness of the situation. Are either of the protagonists in trouble? They seem like they could be thrown into a volcano full of cyborg pirates and survive. Maybe that’s issue two.
I suspect there’s a heightened sense of ceremony in regard to entering Armstrong’s bottomless bag. Something about the way the issue is framed makes me feel like setting the story there is a big friggin’ deal.
Luke: I hated the ninja nuns. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it just doesn’t seem like that’s something you open with. Maybe build to that. Like, make them a big antagonist later on? I don’t know. Bringing them in on the intro page makes them seem like this is about as run-of-the-mill as it gets for A&A – and maybe that’s the way it has to be for a reboot, but I thought it would’ve played even just slightly better as a reveal later on, even if long time readers already know all about Mary Maria and whatever sisterhood that is.
As for the bag? I liked the bag. Some sort of infinite storage space/pocket universe is a cool idea. However, like you said, does them going in matter? I feel like setting it there means they’ve never gone in before, but we have no way of knowing that. It seems like it should be a big deal but it doesn’t feel like it. Is this a prison? A trash bag? Did Armstrong invent it? Is this thing infinitely older than he is and there was already an established universe in there when he found it? Do most of the creatures in that thing even know they’re in that thing, or is it just regular every day life for them – born, raised, and died in the bag? Clearly there’s stuff in there that’s bigger than the opening of the bag itself, but how it got it in there is a mystery to me.
And then why are the ninja nuns after this bag? How is it powerful? You could rule a pocket universe I guess, but I guess I don’t see how you could influence anything on Earth with it (other than to threaten to throw it in there, I suppose.) Really, this issue just raised too many questions for me. Questions of the “how does this work?” variety and not the “what’s going to happen?” variety, and I don’t feel like that’s a good sign for this book going forward.
Jamil: We are digging into the inherent problem of relaunches: somehow trying to bring in new eyes while appeasing the old ones. Maybe some of this stuff was explained in a previous series? Maybe some of it so inherent to the Archer and Armstrong mythology that Roberts doesn’t feel the need to give loads of context? I mean if a person read a Spider-Man comic for the first time I could imagine one could get hung up on why JJJ is so vile to the protagonist, but everyone who is familiar with that franchise knows the why doesn’t matter. Jonah is mean to Spidey, it’s a running gag. That’s all you need to know.
I mean the first issue A&A: The Adventures Of Archer And Armstrong #1 isn’t weak, it establishes the two mains quickly and jumps right into the thick of the premise. I suspect the comic might not be such an easy read if it was bogged it down in recap or synopsis. It’s just that those fantastical elements are a touch too jarring, particularly after the more grounded opener featuring Armstrong and a friend busting up a mob front (and stealing rare alcohol) in the 1950’s. Similarly, the art is both and sturdy and bouncy. David LaFuente fits the mood of the book with a lively style that also holds the ability to depict imagery that’s both grotesque and cartoony. Following suit the colors by Brain Reber are bold but muted. They speak to the weird mix of serious/silly that’s going on here.
What did you think, Mr. Miller? I believe we had some problems with this first issue, particularly with the accessibility of the world. We both seemed to enjoy the main characters and the general premise though. With that in mind I’ll say that this is not a series I’ll be diligently picking up BUT I am definitely interested in the franchise now. I could certainly see myself moving backward and checking some of the previous Archer and Armstrong comics or even giving the next inevitable reboot a try.
Luke: I’m right with you, Jamil. This was by no means a bad comic, but it just wasn’t my bag. (You see what I did there? Groan if you must, dear readers.) I’d be interested in revisiting it once it finds its footing a little bit or even picking up the first deluxe edition of the 2012 series to see how that holds up. I can’t really tell anyone to jump on with this issue, but I imagine established fans of this series probably loved this.