Archer & Armstrong #6

In "Archer and Armstrong" #6, Fred Van Lente and Emanuela Lupacchino reveal both a new champion and a new villainous organization, as "Wrath of the Eternal Warrior" really gets going after the backstory and setup in the last issue.

Van Lente's pacing and storytelling in "Archer and Armstrong" #6 is well-structured, beginning with a short flashback to 1718 and another glimpse of the Eternal Warrior, then resuming in the present day with a new character, Kay McHenry. Her story is immediately interesting because the plants around her seem to talk to her, although she dismisses the phenomenon as hearing voices due to stress. Van Lente's short vignette of Kay's life makes a tidy analogy between words/meaning, public life/private life and outward success/inner emptiness. Immediately after, Kay's story smoothly links up with the larger story, setting her up for a collision course with our titular heroes.

Van Lente has handled the expansion of his cast well, introducing characters gradually. The internal thoughts he gives to Kay McHenry give her just enough dimension to be interesting before he puts her into play in the greater game being played. Although Kay McHenry's new role in the larger plot is easy to guess (and revealed in Valiant's marketing literature and interviews), the cast and the conclusion to "Archer and Armstrong" #6 comes together in a very satisfying way.

"Archer and Armstrong" #6 feels especially tightly written, tied together by themes of eternity and purpose, as Van Lente sets up the goals and philosophy of The Null as opposite to those of the Eternal Warrior in a deliberately mathematical way -- zero vs. infinity. Van Lente elaborates on this framework in a metaphysical trip for Kay McHenry that links nature to data and language to existence. The dream-like, surreal way that Van Lente presents these ideas reminded me of Grant Morrison's run on "Animal Man." Like Buddy's journeys in Morrison's "Animal Man," Kay McHenry's trip into another level of consciousness gives her not only new knowledge but new options that will directly affect the living world.

Van Lente has also steadily deepened the world of "Archer and Armstrong" with references to current events, history, politics and religion, mixed in the re-spun mythology of the Valiant Universe, lending a distinctive sense of depth to a buddy comedy title.

As the core relationship of the title, Archer and Armstrong themselves are still excellent foils for each other, but Armstrong/Aram's brother, the Eternal Warrior is also an excellent (and longer-suffering) straight man to Armstrong's clowning. The single funniest panel in "Archer and Armstrong" #6 is where Armstrong's sibling rivalry gets the best of him, but I won't spoil the dialogue by repeating it here.

Emanuela Lupacchino's pencils continue to be excellent in her second issue of "Archer and Armstrong." Her clean lines provide visual continuity with her predecessor, Clayton Henry, but her backgrounds have more consistent detail and her characters' faces and body movements are more expressive and fluid. The comic and action scenes "Archer and Armstrong" #6 depend heavily on Lupacchino's skills for their excellent pacing and emotional effects.

Valiant made a great choice in bringing Lupacchino on to the creative team. Reportedly, Valiant specifically looked for a female artist to design Kay McHenry. I appreciate that Kay is busty without being a Barbie doll, with a generous waist and thighs to make those other curves realistic. Matt Milla's cheerful palette of reds, blues and whites keeps Lupacchino's art looking clean and bright, and his work enhances the scene when the wrathful Gilad finally shows up.

"Archer and Armstrong" #6 is a new high point for the title. "Wrath of the Eternal Warrior" is shaping up to be an especially rewarding new story arc, broadening the relationships, themes and the breadth of the Valiant Universe without neglecting the regular attractions of action, adventure and buddy comedy.

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