I have to keep reminding myself at times that Fred Van Lente co-wrote “The Incredible Hercules” at Marvel, which he and Greg Pak had made in many ways a spiritual heir to the original “Archer & Armstrong” comic. The reason I need to remind myself this is because when Van Lente and Emanuela Lupacchino serve up a massive chase/fight scene comic in the form of “Archer & Armstrong” #5, the end result is far funnier and more entertaining than you’d have ever expected.
The plot for “Archer & Armstrong” #5 is really straightforward: Gilad the Eternal Warrior is trying to kill Archer because of his family’s role in the death of the Geomancer last month. Armstrong is trying to get the pair of them to run fast enough to stay ahead of Gilad until they can find the new Geomancer to calm Gilad down. It’s very simple, no real complexity. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t need anything more than that.
Van Lente and Lupacchino understand that you don’t need something very intricate when you’re planning on using comedy as your secret weapon, and that’s what they serve up. There’s a lot to laugh about in this comic, after all: the Calcutta rickshaw driver’s various reactions to Armstrong, attempted death by Christmas lights, even a reference to a famous Bill Cosby stand-up comedy sketch. Gilad may be genuinely trying to kill our hero Archer, but the mood never gets too dark thanks to the light touch brought to the comic.
There is some actual drama here, mind you. We get a well-placed flashback showing us what happened to the Qin Emperor some 2200 years earlier when he made the mistake of trying to capture the Geomancer, for instance, and it’s not a pretty picture. And when Archer explains who his family really is, it’s an important turning point for “Archer & Armstrong” as a whole. But Van Lente never wallows in these moments; we get them, we take a deep breath, and then start running some more. And quite frankly, that’s just how “Archer & Armstrong” should be.
Lupacchino steps on board as artist for “Archer & Armstrong” #5, and her art is a good successor for Clayton Henry. Like Henry, Lupacchino draws clean character designs and has crisp ink lines. It’s an easy to follow style, and it’s clear and uncluttered. She’s definitely a talented artist, and her ability to bring the humor out of Van Lente’s scripts through goofy expressions and smirks makes her a good match. I don’t know if she’s the new regular artist or just on board for a couple of months, but either way I’ll enjoy her time on the title.
“Archer & Armstrong” #5 continues another installment in a strong title for the company. This is a creative team who understands the strength of the buddy comedy genre and how to make it work. To borrow a phrase, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll eagerly await the next issue. That’s exactly what you should want from a monthly comic.