EXCLUSIVE: Van Lente Explores Ancient History in "Archer & Armstrong" #0

Writer Fred Van Lente has taken "Archer & Armstrong" through religious conspiracies, scientific conspiracies and historical conspiracies, but this May, CBR can exclusively announce the writer of the Valiant Entertainment relaunch book will take readers to the past for a special zero issue exploring the origins of the Anni-Padda -- better known as Armstrong, the Eternal Warrior and the Timewalker. Rejoined by artist Clayton Henry, Van Lente plans to tell the ancient epic of Gilgamesh through the lens of the Valiant Universe, reintroducing the mysterious Faraway to readers and pitting the immortal trio of brothers against savage dinosaurs. The zero issue (which follows in the footsteps Valiant's "Harbinger" #0 by Joshua Dysart and Mico Suayan) leads-in to Van Lente's next arc of "Archer & Armstrong," which brings the titular duo to Sin City itself, Las Vegas, where a new adventure and conspiracy awaits.

CBR News spoke exclusively with Van Lente about his plans for the zero issue, including his exploration of the ancient story of Gilgamesh, delving into the relationship between the Anni-Padda, bringing Archer and Armstrong to Las Vegas and adding cyborgs, dinosaurs and aliens into the mix.

CBR News: Fred, "Archer and Armstrong" #0 is coming up as a sort of a lead-in to the third arc of the series. You're heading way back into history for this one -- what can you tell us about the issue?

Fred Van Lente: As you might guess from the numbering, "Archer & Armstrong" #0 takes place before "Archer & Armstrong" #1, which opens in the ancient city-state of Ur, before the Cataclysm. This issue is the real-life events behind the epic of Gilgamesh, which occurred slightly differently in real life than they did in the poem, which of course is generally considered to be the first work of literature in human history. In "Archer & Armstrong" #0, we learn who wrote that, what actually happened and what role the three Anni-Padda brothers played -- Ivar, Gillad and Aram, or as Valiant fans know them, Timewalker, Eternal Warrior and Armstrong. It's an epic adventure of ancient warriors fighting dinosaurs. What more do you need to know?

How much of this background for the Anni-Padda brothers did you have planned before coming in to "Archer & Armstrong" #1 last year?

A lot of the inspiration came directly from Gilgamesh. I modeled a lot of the characters off the characters there. There was never really an explanation why the three brothers were immortal -- they just were born that way, and that offends my anal, geeky nature where I need explanations for everything. I came up with this MacGuffin -- what ended up being the MacGuffin of the first arc of "Archer & Armstrong" -- this super-weapon called The Boon. Those who read the first issue know it comes from a mysterious land called the Faraway, which is also a direct reference to Gilgamesh. In "Archer & Armstrong" #0, we see the brothers go to the Faraway for the first time, we see the Faraway for the first time in the series and we learn what The Boon is and where it comes from.

Having worked in mythology before with books like "Incredible Hercules," what was it like for you to go back to this seminal work and adapt it for the series?

It's a surprisingly moving book because it's about Gilgamesh and his love for his best friend, Enkidu. It's really a very moving story -- it's fitting that the earliest surviving example of literature in human history was about death and facing your own mortality. How do you deal with that? Gilgamesh is on a quest to conquer death. It occurred to me since I was doing a book about an immortal like Armstrong, that would be a rich source to draw from.

The Boon is a concept from Joseph Campbell's "Hero of a Thousand Faces," which goes into Gilgamesh quite a bit. I've plundered from it before, including in "Hercules," and we profiled Campbell in my "Action Philosophers" series, so I thought I would steal from his corpse one more time. It's the gift that keeps giving.

The zero issue is also one of the first opportunities you've had to really dig in to the relationship between Armstrong, Eternal Warrior and the Timewalker. What was it like for you to really get in to that familial relationship?

#0 gatefold variant cover by Tom Fowler

What's fun about the brothers is early on we made the decision that one was the funny one, one was the smart one and one was the fierce one, the brave one, the warrior. Even though they're all related, they have radically different views on life. When you have characters that have a similar quest, but completely different ways of wanting to get there, it makes for fun scenes and fun interactions. It's great to be reunited with Clayton Henry, who nails all those character interactions perfectly.

That's right, Clayton Henry returns to the series after a break -- how did you find transitioning into writing for his art again?

It's very easy, just because he can do everything. You like to say that you write to an artist's strengths, but Clayton -- at least according to me -- has nothing but strengths. We mix very well together.

For the Anni-Padda brothers, do you draw from your own experience with siblings?

I have a younger sister and we grew up together. She currently lives across the street from me in New York. It's a very universal situation. I think even people who don't have any situations obviously are friends with or grew up with pairs of siblings and stuff. Whenever you tap into those universal family bonds -- whether it's siblings or parent/child or husband and wife -- that's always a rich vein of drama. That's what I think something like fantasy really needs. The comic is about Conan fighting dinosaurs -- which is awesome, don't get me wrong [Laughs] -- but it's grounded in little brothers who are rebelling against older brothers and the middle brother is caught in between the two. You're seeing some of that now in the "Wrath of the Eternal Warrior" arc and it'll be explored even more in the zero issue.

After the zero issue, you've got a new arc starting with "Archer & Armstrong" #10 -- what's in store for the duo and how does the zero issue provide a nice lead-in?

The reason the zero issue is a great prologue to the third arc is because the third arc is the return to the Faraway. A character who disappeared after the end of "Archer & Armstrong" #4 returns and she is after the source of The Boon because she's figured out it's the Faraway. Archer and Armstrong pursue her into it to get [The Boon] back.

Archer and Armstrong will be in Las Vegas at the beginning of the arc, which sounds like a situation rife with potential -- especially considering the characters' polar opposite attitudes when it comes to debauchery. How will this trip continue to evolve their complicated partnership?

There's a framing device to "Archer & Armstrong" #0 that takes place in Vegas. We see how the two characters react to it differently, which is a lot of fun. What, of course, is near Vegas keeping in the theme of conspiracy theories, but Area 51? What happens in Area 51 stays in Area 51, my friend. There's an excellent reason for that. We meet a new villain, who is General Redacted. I'm sure you've heard of the military term "redacted" where you cross out words you don't want people to see -- [General Redacted's name] is where that word comes from. It's his name. Then, of course, there are aliens. So there are dinosaurs and aliens and cyborgs and General Redacted and Vegas.

What's been fun about "Archer & Armstrong" -- and it wasn't really intended this way, it's just how it turned out -- but the first arc was about religious conspiracies, the second arc, as will become increasingly obvious, is about historical and science conspiracy. The third arc is about mysterious disappearances and the Bermuda Triangle and Flight 19 and aliens and what did happen to Ambrose Bierce, the great American writer who disappeared in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century.

It seems like every story arc readers can expect to see new conspiracies uncovered.

Exactly. And punched in the face.

For the new arc, you're working with artist Pere Perez -- what makes his art a good fit for the story you have planned?

Pere pinch-hit on the first arc of the series a little bit, and the fans loved him and I loved him. I just saw what he did on "Harbinger" #0, which was terrific. Again, like Clayton, Pere does a great job with the character work and all the tech and stuff and I certainly hope he enjoys drawing monsters and alien greys because there will be a lot of that to go around.

Bringing things back to the most recently-published issue of "Archer & Armstrong," readers were introduced to the new Geomancer. How will she continue to affect the book as it moves forward?

She's a major character in the second arc. I don't necessarily want to give away the ending of that arc or even imply that she will make it out of it, but I certainly hope we see more of her going forward. If not in "Archer & Armstrong," then in other books. Just because she has a direct connection with Eternal Warrior, I think that might be a fun relationship or buddy book -- or have her be a supporting character in Eternal Warrior's story moving forward. She's definitely a super fun character that I definitely enjoyed creating. The response that we've gotten from the readers has been pretty awesome.

The Eternal Warrior has seen a lot of face time so far in the latest arc of "Archer & Armstrong" -- no surprise considering it's titled "Wrath of the Eternal Warrior." At this point, do you consider him a regular cast member in the book?

He's made a lot of appearances in the arc that's named after him, but we may be seeing a different brother taking center stage in the third arc, since there are three brothers, after all.

Beyond "Archer & Armstrong," you've also got some other work coming down the line -- most notably the "G.I. Joe" ongoing series for IDW. How are things progressing with that project?

Knowing is half the battle! Things are going excellently. We are more than halfway through at least creating our first arc. I'm super excited about it. I'm really excited to be doing it, I'm excited to be working with everybody on "Joe." I will plug that on Saturday, February 16, at The Comic Book Shop in Wilmington, Delaware, Larry Hama -- the Godfather of all things Joe -- and I will be signing. If you're reading this and you're in the Wilmington area, come meet me and Larry.

"Archer & Armstrong" #0 by Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry hits stores in May.

Tags: valiant entertainment, fred van lente, pere perez, clayton henry, archer and armstrong, tom fowler

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