Wednesday, August 14, 2013
This Week in Panels: Comics Outside the Big Two
Archer and Armstrong #12. By Fred Van Lente and Pere Perez. Archer and Armstrong has been chugging along for a while now, and for what's basically a buddy comedy book, it's covered a lot of ground. The original plot was that Armstrong was an immortal layabout, and Archer was a boy trained to perfection by a cult to kill Armstrong and procure the secret to his immortality for the cult's leaders. Now, they're friends and go on various adventures to save the world. At this particular point, they've landed in a strange world where time moves differently, and they're currently trying to save a village of lost aborigines from a time-lost American admiral and his army of butt-obsessed grey aliens. Here, Archer is trying to convince a time-traveling spiritual sect based around teachings he hasn't written yet to join the fight on his side. As you can see, it does not go well.
All right, so that plot's dreadfully complicated and convoluted. It's to Van Lente and Perez' credit, then, that it never feels that way. Instead, the book stays at the level of action adventure buddy comedy, with occasional moments of weight and gravitas that lend meaning to both characters. It's really the only book being published at the moment that consistently makes me laugh. It's the writing that draws me to the book, but Perez makes his contribution too--the jokes above depend on conveying Archer's body expression. He's got a style that it's easy to overlook, but he knows what he's doing.
I chose this panel because I think it illustrates the difficulty in doing the art for Astro City. The cast is constantly changing, as is the scope; one page it'll be ordinary people, and the next, it'll be a super-powered splash scene. And the scene is never the main focus--it's almost always the smaller story that's the focus of attention. So Anderson is called on to render heroes and villains the reader is only passingly familiar with in big and bold terms, and convey an entire epic battle in a few odd panels. That takes chops.
That's it. Honorable mention goes to this week's Avengers Arena, in which previous Avengers Academy writer Christos Gage gets to take the wheel for an issue, and do the Herculean job of filling in the major plotholes raised when you have a series based on the premise of a dozen superheroes being kidnapped and no one noticing.