I’ve heard a lot of good things about this series reboot, both from reviewers I respect as well as personal recommendations from friends. Having read volume 1, In the Bag, I have to admit that I don’t understand what all the fuss was about. The series isn’t bad, per se, it just isn’t anything special.
It’s a simple conceit, a tongue-in-cheek adventure romp with larger than life characters. A running joke within the story is that neither Archer or Armstrong ever have a plan – this is a story about winging it. Unfortunately, I felt that the story itself had that same feel. I never felt the story was heading anywhere specific or that the writer had much of a plan going in other than an inciting incident and the arc wrap-up.
For a comedic comic series, I didn’t find myself laughing out loud even once. The comedy was obvious and opportunistic, the characters predictable and one-dimensional, and the events neither believable nor over the top enough to benefit from entertaining ridiculousness.
‘He’s a large, bearded, probably drunk, possibly pantsless man.’
We are now into the third incarnation of Archer & Armstrong. Valiant first published the series, by Jim Shooter, Barry Windsor-Smith and Bob Layton, from 1992-1994. In 2012, the series was re-introduced by writer Fred Van Lente, only to have the series facelifted once again in March 2016 by Rafer Roberts.
The central premise of the series has remained fairly consistent throughout the various reboots, with changes sitting primarily with the characters’ backstories. Archer, an 18-year-old trained assassin, is sent to kill Armstrong, a man he has been told is the devil. When attempting to carry out his mission, Archer discovers that he has been lied to, joining forces with Armstrong instead. Armstrong, a nearly impossible to kill 10,000-year-old immortal, has a penchant for drinking and getting into trouble. The two travel the world, going on adventures, and saving the world from baddies – especially cults.
‘You want I should spill my guts? No problem, but I’d prefer to do it more metaphorical like.’
The magical satchel Armstrong carries around with him, reminiscent of Mary Poppins’ carpetbag, has been the MacGuffin of the series since its inception. So it is fitting that the rebooted series would focus the first arc on the mysterious and bottomless satchel. As writer Rafer Roberts puts it, ‘Armstrong has been around so long, he has this incredible emotional baggage and his satchel is the physical embodiment of that baggage. And now that he is inside of it and letting it all out, it’s causing quite a bit of harm.’
I’d argue this is a strength of the arc – for a reboot of a series that’s been around a long time as well as a character who has been alive for tens of thousands of years, digging into Armstrong’s past and the emotional baggage he has never dealt with does work. Armstrong inadvertently causes trouble as he tries to right a wrong with an old friend, something that immediately characterizes his personality and makes for this arc a good place for new readers to jump in from. And to further that, the fact that the ‘god of partying’ has spent thousands of years devising a revenge plan when Armstrong doesn’t even remember him, is genius. Unfortunately, I found the other characters far less interesting.
The character of Mary-Maria is meant to be fickle and morally ambiguous, but instead of presenting her that way, she comes off as nonsensical. I really couldn’t work out what she was about. She was supposedly the leader a group of female assassins in a kind of cult but I had no idea what they were about. A penchant for stealing seemed the only trait I could nail down, and there was no ‘why’ behind even that characteristic. Meanwhile, Archer is very bland and has an irritating crush on his stepsister. They are non-characters to Armstrong’s burly, good-natured troublemaker.
‘Yeah, well I don’t actually have a plan. I suppose we could start punching and see where that goes.’
While it is nice to see a comic series take itself less seriously, The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong doesn’t have the quality gags or well-developed characters needed to carry an ongoing series.
Verdict: If you want a fun romp, go pick up Lumberjanes and leave The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong on the bookshelf.