A nun who is also a ninja would probably be known as a "nunja."
There's probably a reasonable explanation for just about anything that's happened in history. Sometimes it's natural phenomena, sometimes it's greed as a motivation. There's pretty much always a reason why things happen. It's when the explanations get strange and hard to find that things get complicated. That's when we get strange, half-cooked theories and wacky allegations that muddy up the waters and kind of stand in the way of deeper exploration and understanding.
Thankfully, writer Fred Van Lente and pencil artist Clayton Henry aren't interested in reasonable explanations. In Archer & Armstrong, their monthly comic from Valiant, Van Lente and Henry imagine a world where just about every single crazy conspiracy theory out there is completely correct. The wackiest, most out-there explanation is the most logical explanation. Occam's Razor is dulled, and has probably been stashed away in a secret library under The Vatican. That's where Van Lente and Henry's titular intrepid adventuring duo find themselves as they search for pieces of The Boon, a world-destroying device being also sought by The Dominion, which is a subgroup of The Sect, a secret fundamentalist Christian organization apparently bent on ruling the world. The various pieces of The Boon are hidden throughout the world, and Archer and Armstrong need to find them before The Dominion, run by Archer's parents, can get their hands on them (yeah, there's a lot going on in this series). So, in the Vatican's Secret Library, where the church hides all the things they find sacrilegious and gross, Archer and Armstrong find out the hard way that they have to get past The Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, a group of warrior nuns who are guarding the place, in order to get at the pieces of The Boon. Things get even more complicated from there (we told you there was a lot going on).
Three issues in, the best elements of Archer & Armstrong are the character interaction and the world the whole thing takes place in. Archer, who was raised to be a Christian warrior by The Sect and originally sent to kill Armstrong, now stands with his former target. He finds out that everything he was taught is a lie, but his faith is resolute anyway. Faith is a big topic in Archer & Armstrong, and it's handled wonderfully, with Van Lente never taking any stand himself in the text. Armstrong, an immortal whose experienced everything there is to experience in the last 10,000 or so years, repeatedly claims that religion is pointless and that God is a sham. Archer, shocked at the words, wants his nun ally, Sister Thomas Aquinas, to rebuke Armstrong, but her response is the strongest show of faith Archer has ever experienced. It's a moment in the story that illustrates the "everything's possible and everything exists" cosmology of the world (indeed, of the Valiant Universe as a whole) while also elucidating character motivations and construction. Throughout the book, human nature is writ both large and small. We get insights into the origins of the universe, and we constantly get to know our main characters better and better with each page.
Restless and lively, Archer & Armstrong #3 is a comic book that's in constant motion. It continuously throws more and more information at the reader and opens up the narrative wider and wider, allowing for more possibilities and more excitement. Van Lente's natural playfulness shines through pretty much throughout, and his ear for dialogue and moments of pathos are just as strong. He pairs up very well with Clayton Henry (who gets an assist here from Pere Perez) and Matt Milla. Henry could have been accused in the past of rendering figures who looked too stiff and posed, but with Archer & Armstrong, his characters exhibit much stronger gestures and their facial expressions bring early Kevin Maguire to mind (Maguire being a master of facial expressions throughout his career). His page design is another strong suit. Henry ably employs larger panels for a moment of great action and utilizes close-ups for an intimate character moment with equal aplomb. Perez takes over a few pages at the end, and his art meshes so well with Henry's that the transition between the two artists is barely noticeable (which is good, since it doesn't distract from the poignant tragedy that occurs late in the comic). Milla brings the appropriate vibrancy to the story, and his textures and tones carry the comic through the narrative wonderfully (one standout panel occurs early in the issue, in which an indoctrination ceremony is being carried out in a room lit only by torches).
Archer & Armstrong is a comic with a lot of humor and heart to go along with its high-concept premise. It's a comic with big ideas and so much story possibility that it's pretty easy to get excited about where the book may be going. Van Lente and Henry pack a lot of information into each issue, and the book feels like it's always firing in one direction without ever feeling rushed or undercooked. It's a balanced, weighty read that has gotten off to a hot start. The third issue gives a small sample of the expansive narrative palette the creators are working with. It's explosive, exciting and just a lot of fun. Fans of big action-adventure comics should be really happy that Archer & Armstrong is available to them.
Written or Contributed by Royal Nonesuch
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