Review by Karl Verhoven
The original 1990s series of Archer & Armstrong starred a mismatched pair of immortal ancient carouser and naive teenage martial arts expert, and much the same applies to this updated version. The primary upgrade is that Obidiah Archer is also infested with a noxiously askew version of Christianity, trained from birth to kill someone identified as the antichrist. This is Armstrong, one of three immortal and immensely powerful brothers who re-set the world millennia previously. These days he’s happy enough being a bar bouncer, but those who’ve known his secret over the centuries are determined to re-set the world once more. Armstrong doesn’t consider this a viable idea. Archer’s sect is but one faction of an elite who believe its their destiny to enrich themselves no matter the cost to others, and despite an initial reluctance the evidence of his eyes is enough to dispel years of brainwashing. Although uncertain, he and Armstrong are soon a team aiming to prevent the world being re-set.
Fred Van Lente’s plot is fast-paced, action-oriented, and funny. He obviously enjoys working in the more extreme elements of Christianity, their twisted doctrine and odd practices. “It is the blood you will shed as the keeper of forbidden knowledge that will cleanse you of your sins.” You can’t go wrong with ninja nuns, and by the end of the book he’s throwing in leftover Nazis as well. With his tongue near stitched into his cheek with all this pulp material Van Lente simultaneously makes us care about Archer. There’s an amusing element to the rug being pulled from a lifetime’s indoctrination, but it makes for a more rounded character if there’s still an adherence to some form of faith.
This should be enjoyable material for any comic artist to illustrate, and Clayton Henry gives good action scenes, and accentuates the humorous elements to the right degree, never overplaying them. Except, perhaps for the Hitler moustaches, but that might be down to Van Lente. Henry embeds the cast into proper backgrounds, but does this in a relatively minimalist manner, leaving much to the colour. His greatest triumph is Armstrong. He takes his lead from the 1990s work, but this is one bear of a man that you can believe tears down walls with his bare hands.
Anyone who reads a bunch of other Valiant titles will quickly pick up on references and the identity of someone who has conversations with Archer, but that’s not the be all and end all, just one mystery thrown in. The Michelangelo Code is a spirited and fun adventure graphic novel that anyone should be able to pick up and enjoy.
The series continues with Wrath of the Eternal Warrior, but those with the budget might want to pick up the first Archer & Armstrong Deluxe Edition, which combines those along with the third paperback in the series.