EXCLUSIVE: Van Lente Wages "Sect Civil War" in "Archer & Armstrong"

It's been a tumultuous friendship for Valiant Entertainment adventuring duo Archer and Armstrong under the pen of writer Fred Van Lente -- and it's not about to get easier. Beginning in October's "Archer & Armstrong" #14, Van Lente and artist Khari Evans launch the first mini-event of the series when "Sect Civil War" pits most of the major villain organizations of the Valiant Universe against one another -- with Archer and Armstrong on opposite sides. The creative team plans to bring back previous factions of The Sect to "Archer & Armstrong," including The One Percent and fan-favorites the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, as well as new factions co-designed by artist Michael Walsh, like the Master Builders, the Hashish Eaters and the Black Block.

CBR News spoke exclusively with Van Lente about what to expect from "Sect Civil War," how Archer and Armstrong end up on opposing sides of the conflict, how the current "Far Faraway" arc leads in to the mini-event, bringing together the many villainous factions of the Valiant Universe and more. Plus, exclusive art!

CBR News: "Sect Civil War" is a four-part storyline set to explode in "Archer & Armstrong." What's the general idea behind the event and how does it get set into motion?

Fred Van Lente: "Sect Civil War" -- not of course to be confused with "Sex Civil War," which might move more copies (say it really fast and you'll get weird looks at your comic book store) -- is the villains of the Valiant Universe declaring war on each other. This is something we've been building to in "Archer & Armstrong," which is the title that's kind of stepped aside a bit from the rest of the Valiant Universe, but I think people have noticed as we've gone along that it's integrated more and more into the universe as a whole. There are definite connections between Project Rising Spirit, which is one of the main villainous movers and shakers -- at least, one of the darker movers and shakers of the Valiant Universe as we've seen in "Bloodshot" and "Harbinger Wars" -- and Archer. We've also established a connection between Project Rising Spirit and The One Percent: the Wall Street devil worshippers that are a major faction of The Sect, the main bad guys in "Archer & Armstrong."

We learned in the most recent installment of "Archer & Armstrong" that The One Percent betrayed Project Rising Spirit when they sent Archer's crazy sister and love interest Mary-Maria into Area 51 to invade it. Project Rising Spirit hasn't forgotten this, and decides to take action against The One Percent. That in itself leads to a much larger conflict between all the other factions of The Sect as well.

The One Percent have played a significant role in your run of "Archer & Armstrong," as have a few other factions and the core Sect. Which other factions of The Sect will readers get a chance to see during the civil war? What other villains are you bringing in to this piece?

Well, I'm hoping to use as many of the Valiant Universe main villains as possible. We have alluded to the fact that The Vine, who are the extraterrestrial main bad guys of "X-O Manowar," are deeply involved with The Sect themselves. We see a lot more hints of that in "Sect Civil War." We also reveal that the Brethren, who are Master Darque's criminal contingent in "Shadowman," are involved in The Sect as well, and they'll appear in "Sect Civil War." But you also see a lot of The Sect members from "Archer & Armstrong," including the fan-favorites Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, AKA the nunjas, who make their triumphant return to stab their way through the Valiant Universe.

We'll see even more factions [of The Sect], including the Master Builders, who are the direct decedents of the Masons, so Alan Moore fans can dust off their copies of "From Hell." There are lots of references to that. There are going to be the Hashish Eaters, who are the stoner assassins. We saw some of them in the Eternal Warrior arc, but we'll be fleshing them out a bit more in this arc. Even better, there are my personal favorites, the Black Block, who are a little hard to describe. They're kind of Dadaist, anarchist terrorists. The One Percent is one end of the spectrum, the Black Block is the other end of the spectrum. They're a satire of Occupy Wall Street and some of the nuttier aspects of the Left. We're an equal opportunity offender here at "Archer & Armstrong." We try to go after everybody and point out their individual foibles.

What about Archer and Armstrong themselves -- with the two of them caught in the middle of a civil war, will they also choose a side?

That's a little hard to explain without getting too spoilery about the end of the third arc, but suffice to say something happens that puts Archer and Armstrong against each other to the point where you might even be able to re-title the book "Archer Versus Armstrong." Unfortunately, I can't really reveal more than that, but it's something that's been building for a while and will explode rather messily in the issues that precede the beginning of this arc.

While readers may have seen different factions of The Sect in "Archer & Armstrong," this is the first arc that's really dealt with the organization as a whole, their origins and their inner workings. How deep are you planning to delve into that during the arc?

The arc opens with the origin of The Sect, which dates back to ancient Egypt. Those who know a lot about the Masons, they claim to trace their origins back to the pyramid builders in ancient Egypt, and so does The Sect. In fact, they trace their origin back to the time of the pharaoh Akhenaten, who is beloved by conspiracy theorists because he overthrew the polytheistic religion of the Egyptians up until that point. He's sort of thought of as the founder of monotheism. We also learn in a very roundabout way, he's also accidentally the founder of The Sect, of course with the help of a certain drunken immortal, who happened to be around in ancient Egypt as he has the tendency to pop up like a bad penny throughout history.

You're joining forces with "Harbinger" artist Khari Evans for this arc. Is he bringing a different voice to these characters you've been writing for a while now?

I love Khari's work on "Harbinger!" He's such a great character actor. I think he really gets the emotions of Pete Stanchek and his kids to a T, and those kinds of folks always do great with comedy. I'm really looking forward to him continuing with the character work, which is so important in a comedy like "Archer & Armstrong," but he'll also get to draw huge battles, the pyramids of Egypt and all these "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-esque set pieces. In many ways, this is "Archer & Armstrong" going back to the roots of its first arc, which we go on another crazy quest with another cosmic MacGuffin that The Sect is after and Archer and Armstrong not necessarily together are after. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he does with that -- I'm sure he's going to kick ass.

While Khari Evans will be doing the interiors, the character designs were done by Michael Walsh. What was the process like in collaborating to come up with each of these new Sect factions?

It was fun. Josh Johns, our editor, did a great job of finding Mike and putting us up together. He'd shoot over an image and I'd say, "Hey, what about this?" At some point, we came up with the idea that the Master Builders would have these archaic, 19th century masonic aprons and all that stuff. "I know! They should have mutton chops and handlebar mustaches like they're hipsters!" They're this weird combination of masonic symbolism and Williamsburg/Portland hipsterism, which is super fun.

The Black Block was also a lot of fun. He came up with the idea that on their little block heads they would have little emoticons, which would shift like Rorschach's mask. Even though they don't speak and you can never quite figure out what their motivations are, you can at least gauge their reaction at any one point in time.

You just started a new arc in "Archer & Armstrong" about the Far Faraway, which seems like it's a slight tonal shift from the "Sect Civil War." When we first spoke about "Archer & Armstrong," before its debut, you mentioned you wanted the series to be like an adventure graphic novel -- you likened it to "Tintin," I think. When the characters are so consistent in personality, how does the major changes in setting affect how you write them?

Well, there's an old creative writing truism: If you have a good enough character, having a scene where they go shop for groceries is, in itself, enthralling. Imagine going grocery shopping with Sherlock Holmes and Watson, or going grocery shopping with Batman. It's grocery shopping, but it could still be a fun ride in the right hands. To me, that's the same thing. The strength of Archer and Armstrong's characters allow me to put them into these different situations. The first arc was this very "Da Vinci Code"/"Assassin's Creed"/"Raiders"-kind of conspiracy story about religion. The Eternal Warrior arc was about the historical conspiracies and even more globetrotting. The third arc is about these 20th century myths about disappearances and aliens and the military industrial complex. "Sect Civil War" is very much back to being a "Raiders" thing, maybe even more so. There's a big element to it that we haven't discussed because it's big spoilers for "Archer & Armstrong" #12. It'll become increasingly obvious what makes this fourth arc different from the others once all the pieces of the third arc fall into place.

One of the major revelations of "Archer & Armstrong" #10 was the reappearance of Mary-Maria. Assuming she survives the trip to the Far Faraway, how do you hope to integrate her further into the series, if at all?

I don't think I will be spoiling much to say, yes, she survives and she becomes the third major character of this duo. They say three's a crowd -- and that may be what I'm getting at in terms of the "Archer Versus Armstrong" stuff.

Valiant is billing "Sect Civil War" as a mini-event, and it's easy to see why. You've got all of these villains from across the Valiant Universe sort of coalescing together, reinforcing the fact that Archer and Armstrong are a big part of this universe. With all of that in mind, how does this storyline affect both "Archer & Armstrong" and the Valiant Universe as a whole?

I think the most obvious one is this: a lot of what's coming up in "Sect Civil War" is itself a direct outgrowth of the events of "Harbinger Wars." We in comic books love wars, I'm not quite sure why. [Laughs] They tend to crop up with incredible frequency. You're going to see Project Rising Spirit and the mysterious head of Project Rising Spirit becoming more and more of a greater force across the entire Valiant line. You know, if Harada from "Harbinger" is really the major big bad in the Valiant Universe as a whole -- and of course, describing Harada as a big bad isn't really something he would agree with. There's a very moral ambiguity of these characters where they're not simply heroes or villains. The various factions of The Sect are supposed to be doing what they think is best for the greater good. Not all of them, but many of them.

To a certain extent, what you're seeing here is the pervasiveness of Project Rising Spirit getting its claws in all these different aspects of the Valiant Universe. If they succeed, as they try to do in "Sect Civil War," which would basically going to wipe out the rest of the Sects, that would leave a power vacuum into which Project Rising Spirit could easily step.

Obviously, Archer and Armstrong is one of the more recognizable duos of the Valiant line -- along with Quantum and Woody. Considering these are the two big duos of the Valiant Universe, is there any chance we'll see them intersect at some point?

Wow, you even managed to work "sect" into your question! Yeah, without a doubt, since you're only the 8000th person to ask me that, I feel like we have a mandate to! [Laughs] Obviously, I don't think "Quantum and Woody" #1 is even out yet, but once that book has a chance to get on its feet, then most definitely. I'm lobbying for a number of "Archer & Armstrong"-related crossovers. We will see which one of my various editors I break down into tears and they say, "Yes, fine! You can do a crossover!"

What about closer to the present -- anything coming up that fans should look out for?

Let's just say in "Archer & Armstrong" #11, we have a major revelation about the nature of the Faraway, which in itself leads into a major character return in issue #12, one year from the book launching. It's a very appropriate one. I think fans will be super excited.

"Sect Civil War" begins in October with "Archer & Armstrong" #14.

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