Fred Van Lente’s Archer & Armstrong, part of the inordinately strong Valiant relaunch, might just be the best of a very good bunch.
As someone who has been reviewing comics for five years now, I’ve always hated one response that I seem to get regularly when I criticize certain fan-favorite writers for slack storytelling skills. Essentially, “You’re just overthinking it. Can’t you just turn your brain off and have fun?” It’s just never seemed like a good reason to excuse bad work – I love turning my brain off and enjoying something like Crank 2: High Voltage or Zoolander, movies that are exceptionally well-made bits of fluff, that know exactly what they want to do or say and dedicate every resource they have to achieving precisely that effect. It’s what separates, say, Blazing Saddles from Epic Movie – both may be in the same genre, neither requires too much thought to enjoy, but one (Blazing Saddles) clearly loves and understands the genre and tropes it’s parodying, while the other coasts off of recognizing obvious references. There’s no joke, just the thrill of being ‘in’ on it, whatever it is. Just because your job is to get me to relax and have a good time doesn’t mean I should forgive you for being bad at it.
All of which is to say that Archer & Armstrong: The Michelangelo Code is simple, turn-off-your-brain escapist entertainment – and it is very, very good at doing what it sets out to do. Like with many of the classic Mel Brooks or Zucker-Abrams-Zucker spoofs, it absolutely errs on the side of broadness at times, of throwing too many gags at the wall and hoping some will stick, but as you read, you can also feel just how much fun writer Fred Van Lente and his crew are having. In his excellent run on The Incredible Hercules, Van Lente showed that he knew how to make a mismatched pair of friends bounce off one another in entertaining, endlessly readable ways, but he really seems to kick things up a notch here. Divorced from Marvel continuity, Archer & Armstrong gets weird – and fun! – in ways The Incredible Hercules never could.