Fan-favorite writer Fred Van Lente talks to The Outhouse about his upcoming revival of Valiant's Archer & Armstrong!
Fred Van Lente has amassed a solid body of work in a few different arenas of comicdom. Having written for The Amazing Spider-Man and The Incredible Hercules, as well as other high-profile superhero properties at Marvel, Van Lente also embarked on two historical non-fiction projects, both with artist Ryan Dunleavy. The first, Action Philosophers!, was adapted into an off-broadway play, and Comic Book Comics, which was recently renamed and collected into a handsome hardcover by IDW.
Van Lente will next be bringing his aptitude for indelible characterization and an effortless sense of humor to the revival of Valiant Comics. As writer of Archer & Armstrong, which debuts this August, he brings together a pair of lead characters who share almost nothing in common but are bound together to do great things. Van Lente recently stopped by The Outhouse to briefly talk about the new book.
The Outhouse (OH): You've said that you missed out on Valiant the first time around. What made you want to be a part of the revival?
Fred Van Lente (FVL): They asked me! (laughs) Really it's as simple as that -- Warren and Hunter approached me during last year's New York Comic Con to tackle Archer & Armstrong, and it was really an honor to be entrusted with one of the most beloved of the original Valiant series.
OH: Having not read Valiant comics in the time they were originally published, you're probably not writing Archer & Armstrong from a place of nostalgia. Do you see that as an asset in how you write the book?
FVL: I do. I think that it allows you to take a fresh look at the series and pick out only that which was really working -- the friendship, the mix of personalities, the ninja nuns (who doesn't love ninja nuns) -- and discard the rest without much hesitancy. You need to be brutal and unsentimental with your own writing; stands to reason you should do the same with other people's.
OH: From what we've seen so far of Valiant, it varies as to how closely the rebooted titles hew to their original incarnations. X-O Manowar is a very close retelling, while Harbinger is a much looser adaptation. Where does your Archer & Armstrong fall on this spectrum?
FVL: Somewhere in the middle. Armstrong is as he always was, an immortal strongman from ancient times who's walked the Earth boozing and womanizing. He's pursued by a sinister secret society known only as the Sect. Archer is a cloistered martial artist almost totally ignorant of the outside world. He hates his fundamentalist parents. But beyond that, all bets are off.
OH: In creating the backstory of the two main characters, you'll effectively be creating a "history" of the Valiant Universe, since Armstrong is immortal. How have you approached that task? Are there definite points that you've mapped out, or is that the type of thing you put together as you go, seeing where the story takes you?
FVL: Again, a mix of both. I can't go into much detail, but Armstrong has had a major impact on most of the major events of the Valiant Universe, often in unexpected ways, that we'll be revealing as the series goes along.
OH: What kinds of directives were you given from Valiant in terms of what they wanted to see out of Archer & Armstrong? Certainly they want you to come in and create, but since they're effectively launching a new comics universe, were there specific things they needed to happen in the book?
FVL: Their look, obviously, was updated by David Aja -- before I came on board. So they wanted to move away from Archer as a Hare Krishna, which is fine with me, as I didn't want to offend anybody dealing with a religion I don't really know much about. So instead he's from a rabidly right-wing fundamentalist creationist cult from America's heartland. That can't possibly offend anybody, right?
OH: You've worked on buddy action/comedy books featuring hilariously mismatched partners before. Is this a specific character dynamic that appeals to you?
FVL: It is. As with Incredible Hercules, Archer and Armstrong are going to be at odds at first. I want their friendship to grow organically, rather than just thrust them together as part of the buddy genre. Armstrong is a little MSNBC, Archer is a little Fox News, as I like to say. Their life experiences and values are completely different. But they are thrust together by a coming goal -- not wanting the world to end -- and that's where their comradeship begins.
OH: What will the book look like structurally, at least early on? You're focusing on two protagonists who come together from very different backgrounds to create their own joint story. That said, will there be more of a focus on one character or the other in the first storyarc or so? Will there be stories or issues where one character's individual story dominates a little bit more than the other guy's?
FVL: No, the title of the book is Archer and Armstrong, and we're going to focus on them pretty much equally. They're both racing across the globe to some of the world's most exotic and sacred places after the same thing, but for very different reasons. Each arc feeds into the story of the other, and that just goes on strengthen their friendship.
OH: You're working again with Clayton Henry, with whom you collaborated on Incredible Hercules. Talk to us about how your collaboration works. In what ways does he effectively translate your scripts to visuals?
FVL: Clayton's strengths are his acting, his ability to do humor, and to draw lots of people screaming at each other at once. Also, vomit. There's lots of that in this book.
OH: When launching something new, does it help in any way to work with an artist you have a prior relationship with?
FVL: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I wish I could say I'm tailoring it to fit him, but since Clayton can do anything, that would be kind of a lie. (laughs)
OH: Ultimately, what do you hope to get out of the experience of writing Archer & Armstrong? What are you looking to accomplish, big picture-wise, that maybe you haven't before?
FVL: Well, it shouldn't be any surprise to anyone who read the first run, but Archer & Armstrong, while ostensible a buddy adventure book, is really an action/comedy in which we get to make fun of pretty much anything and everything we can think of: fundamentalists, Satanists, creationists, New Yorkers, nudists, martial artists, politeness, rudeness, Wall Street fat cats, academics, homeschoolers, Carl Sandburg... And I'm still in the first issue. It's a pretty unique title, and I'm very happy Valiant's given Clayton and I the opportunity to go nuts. Hope people check it out.
OH: Action Philosophers! has been adapted to an off-Broadway play, and the collection of Comic Book Comics is out now. How is Action Presidents coming along? Also, what else do you have coming up that we should look out for?
FVL: Well, the Comic Book History of Comics, that collection of Comic book Comics you mentioned, sold out almost instantly and the second printing should be back in time for Archer & Armstrong's debut in August. Hulk: Season One, with art by the amazing Tom Fowler, premieres next month in July. I have more stuff in the pot cooking but nothing I can announce just yet -- there's quite a big thing coming this fall, but it isn't comics...
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch