Archer & Armstrong

"Archer and Armstrong" #0 by Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry is an origin story for the Anni-Padda brothers: Ivar, Aram and Gilad, better known as The Timewalker, Armstrong and The Eternal Warrior, and it's also first glimpse of The Faraway, a.k.a Utnapishtim or the Garden of the Sun.

"Archer and Armstrong" #0 is a well-timed prologue. Readers have seen enough of Aram and Gilad's brotherly relationship at this point to be curious about their younger days. Also, more crucially, Van Lente uses "Archer and Armstrong" #0 to give readers information about The Boon before he launches into the next big storyline, in which a parentally-possessed Mary Maria is determined to travel to The Faraway.

Van Lente's dialogue on the first page is strong, with Archer primly informing Armstrong of his stance on premarital sex, mixing in an allusion to Shakespeare. The contrast between Armstrong's buddy-like colloquial speech and Archer's deliberately stilted dialogue still has its charm, as Archer responds to Armstrong's "Watchoo got there?" with "I sense the mocking of me by you to be imminent."

However, once the story turns to the past, the dialogue loses a lot of its snap and text boxes take over more of the page. Overall, Van Lente shows instead of tells the bulk of the story in Sumer, but the story lacks emotional depth. The plot has the feeling of a classic fable, with three brothers, a ruler with dubious intentions and a quest with tragic results from the brothers' youth and arrogance.

Van Lente and Clayton Henry do a good job with de-aging the brothers' appearances and personalities to portray the days when they were young, cocky and mere Ancient Sumerian mortals. It's fun to see a young Armstrong as a poetry-writing dreamer and little Gilad as an overly-impulsive, pouty proto-Eternal Warrior.

Clayton Henry's elegant, clean linework makes "Archer and Armstrong" #0 consistently attractive from page to page. His ancient animals look great, and his camera angles are challenging and dynamic, especially because they are enriched by David Baron's vivid jewel-tone colors.

However, like fables, the characters feel two-dimensional, and the action feels like moving chess pieces from Point A to Point B, without real suspense. The relationships between the brothers feel less fresh than in the modern day. Ivar, Aram and Gilad seem to revert to stereotypes about birth order type (the eldest being the most responsible, the middle being creative and open, and the youngest being wild and immature). Also, Van Lente's dialogue doesn't entirely lose his usual light touch, but the brothers' squabbling and the climactic scene of tragedy feel rote instead of real.

"Archer and Armstrong" #0 wraps up Armstrong's recollections to Archer on a melancholy but Epicurean philosophical note or moral, in keeping with the fable tradition. It's a well-crafted moment, because it tracks the change in Armstrong's values and pursuits and also serves to nearly loop the story back to the opening conversation and Archer's reference to Armstrong's predilections for women, wing and song.

I enjoyed how Van Lente wove in the classic tale of Gilgamesh into the world of "Archer and Armstrong." It's clear that Van Lente is heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell's theories about mythology and archetype, in particular the idea of the hero's journey. These references enrich "Archer and Armstrong" #0, but ultimately, Van Lente and Henry's origin story for the Anni-Paddas lacks pathos and meaning that transcends its influences.

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