Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 5/50: Archer & Armstrong Vol 1

Review:
Archer & Armstrong Volume 1: The Michelangelo Code
Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, Matt Milla
ISBN-13: 978-0979640988

I was a big fan of the Valiant Universe in the 90s. It started off as an excellent alternative to the Marvel comics and, at least at first, they were more about substance and quality and less about how much money you might make collecting them. Eventually, the universe grew as large (and had as many expensive collector’s covers) as the Marvel universe I had fled, but for a couple of years at least, I picked up every issue of every Valiant comic.

Fast forward to the present and Valiant has been rebooted, but minus Solar, Magnus, and Turok. I avoided it for awhile, but Humble Bundle pulled me back in with their astounding Valiant Comics deal. (Seriously, when they have their comic bundles, get them. The deals are unbelievable.)

All that being said, I’ve finally started to dip into the new Valiant Universe, and Archer & Armstrong Volume 1 was an amazing place to start. This volume contains the first 4 issues and includes a handful of variant covers at the end.

The story starts in Ancient Mesopotamia with Aram (aka Armstrong) trying to convince his brother Ivar to not resurrect their slain brother, Gilad. That doesn’t go so well, but it does let the return reader know that the Eternal Warrior and the Timewalker are present in this reboot. Cut to 10,000 later and we’re introduced to the other half of the titular duo, Archer, who has been raised in a creationist theme park to be the ultimate warrior for a group known as the Dominion. His job is to assassinate He Who is Not to Be Named. One hint: it’s not Voldemort.

A lot of the fun in this first volume comes from the interplay between straight arrow Archer, who is horrified by life outside the amusement park and whose strongest language is the word “flippin’,” and the easygoing, drunken Armstrong.

Even more fun is the world of ancient conspiracies and modern secret societies that Van Lente has dreamed up, including The One Percent, a group of Wall Street elites whose name says it all, and the Green Dragon Lamas, a group of telepathic monks who are not your typical enlightened beings (their choice of mustache may give this away).

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The One Percent. This is what every news story about the economy sounds like to me.

The story in this volume quickly becomes a Dan Brown-esque chase around the world, with the fate of all humanity hanging in the balance. I could list off all the cool elements and scenes in it (ninja nuns), but I don’t want to ruin it for you. Bottom line: this is a great re-introduction to the Valiant universe and it has me eager to read the next volume and the rest of the Valiant books. I highly recommend it.

(This is my fifth entry into the Mother/Gamer/Writer’s Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge.)

Review: Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest

helentroyquestI used to read humorous fantasy all the time when I was younger: John DeChancie’s Castle Perilous Series, Craig Shaw Gardner’s trilogies, and Robert Lynn Aspirin’s Myth series being some of the books I read and reread several times. Somewhere along the way, though, I fell out of the habit of reading funny books.

Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest, by A, Lee Martinez, definitely falls into the humor fantasy category. I might not have picked it up except for it being the book chosen for a local book club I am going to attend for the first time. I won’t say it has rekindled my love of the genre, but it was good enough that I’ll sprinkle similar books back into my reading queue. (Since I’ve had Terry Pratchett recommended to me more times than I count, that seems like a good place to start.)

So who are Helen and Troy and why are they going on this epic quest? Without revealing too much, Helen is a minotaur and Troy is your usual perfect hero type. They live in our world, if myths and legends were true and the fantastical had long since become commonplace. Their Call to Adventure comes by way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, where they end up being tasked with a quest by an insane god.

In other words, just another day in the fantastical world Martinez has created. Of course, everything is taken so much for granted and treated with a dry, been-there-done-that attitude, that the book doesn’t have much of a sense of wonder. Instead, it’s a by-the-book quest to get the McGuffins, and it wears this on its sleeve. The characters themselves are aware that they are on a quest and must abide by certain tropes.

It’s done with a dry wit and gentle touch, spending as much time on building the friendship between Helen and Troy as on describing the mythical beings they encounter along the way.

Above all, it’s a quick read that kept me amused me and worked by itself and as a meta narrative on the nature of heroic quests.