Fred Van Lente has spent the last decade plus writing comics. He worked on the Silencers for Moonstone where we learned that no self-respecting mobster would eat at Olive Garden (okay, they called it Olive Hut). He went on to write Action Philosophers and Cowboys & Aliens before being picked up by Marvel Comics. With the House of Ideas he spent time doing the family friendly titles before helming the Incredible Hercules with Greg Pak, then he dug up the Marvel Zombies and worked on Powerman & Iron Fist… Perhaps it was his experience with ampersand connected titles that got him the gig on Archer & Armstrong, but more likely it was the high quality of his writing. Now going into his second year on the re-launched title/universe, I got Van Lente to sit down for a few minute and answer some questions.
BLEEDING COOL: In the original series, Archer has quite an arduous and personal journey before meeting a disheveled Armstrong by what appears to be happenstance. Now twenty plus years later, your take on the character has him being assigned to take out Armstrong. When you were giving the reigns to relaunch the title, how did you decide what to keep from the original series and what to change and what was the thought process behind those choices?
FRED VAN LENTE: It's funny, my original outline of #1 was more or less a remake of the Layton/Shooter/BWS first issue from the 1990s before my series then went into its own, new, weird direction. It was Executive Editor Warren Simons who really encouraged me to go further afield of what Barry had done. The Creation Museum was his idea — I turned it into a theme park.
Frankly, I was relieved. In the original series, Archer was a Hare Krishna, which I think most people only know from airports (at least in the 1980s/90s), so I was a little uncomfortable making fun of a religion I knew nothing about. But I was raised Christian, I was pretty active in my church as a teenager until I went to college and lost the faith, so there I was writing for experience. Also, it's something more relatable to our 21st century politics.
But in all cases, Archer was sent by The Sect to kill Armstrong. That had less to do with me not liking coincidental meetings (come to think of it, I like them quite a bit) than the idea that Warren originally pitched The Sect to me as being a conspiracy encompassing all religions, and they all wanted Armstrong dead because they thought he was The Great Satan. It's no fun if there's good religions and bad religions — everyone must be mocked equally! It's how we get away with murder in this business.
BC: The Sect plays a huge role in the new series including Archer's origin. But the Sect is splinter with various factions inside which leads us to the Sect Civil War. Were you already a secret order/conspiracy buff prior to taking the assignment? Where did the idea of going with the Sect as the driving antagonist force come from?
VAN LENTE: Sure, I was around in the 1990s, when "X-Files" was big. (grins) One of my Bibles for this series has been the great Paradox Press/DC time The Big Book of Conspiracies by Doug Moench. As nutty as the Nazi Lamas in #4 were, they were based in some the real-life weirder ideas of the white supremacist secret societies that informed Nazi ideology, as you can read about here. The Area 51 stuff was informed by this great non-fiction book on the subject (the truth is even odder than aliens).
All of conspiracy theory tends toward a Great Unified Explanation for Everything — whether it's ETs or the British Royal Family or whoever having their hands on the levers of power. In many ways, conspiracy theory is the religion of the powerless. So the Sect dovetails very nicely into that, and also gives us a nice hook to hang the whole series on, which the original kind of lacked (outside of BWS's amazing art and its own uniqueness).
BC: There seems to be a sibling thing going on in the series. Archer is raised as one of twenty-three kids, thought lied to by his parents. Armstrong is the middle among three immortal brothers. I'm assuming that it's not just a coincidence that you have twenty-two other trained assassins and two other immortals sitting around. What can you tell us of your plans for the various siblings?
VAN LENTE: Well, most of them, alas, were killed in the climax of the first story arc, although Mary-Maria, Archer's somewhat unrequited love interest, is the third most important character in the book next to the title heroes, and she has a major role to play in the Sect Civil War — though which faction she ends up aligned with may surprise you!
BC: When Valiant debuted in 1992, it was a cohesive universe and crossovers were common, even with other companies. How much of the new Valiant is interlinked and how much autonomy do you have when it comes to the short and long term story arcs? Do you collaborate with the other writers in the company or are you guys working stand-alone?
VAN LENTE: The connective tissue with the larger universe is there, but we've spooling it out a measured rate as opposed to, you know, having people spot X-O Manowar flying past a window or something. Project Rising Spirit will be playing a major role in Sect Civil War — as the patron of Obadiah Archer, of all people, how that comes about I can't tell you without giving away the ending of Vol. 3, but we know Archer has been trying to figure out his connection with PRS (and therefore "Bloodshot," and therefore "Harbinger") for some time … so how A&A fits in with the larger Valiant Universe will become clearer and clearer.
BC: You've been on the title over a year now, as you go into the second arc, how do you see the relationship between Archer and Armstrong having grown and what do you see as the future for the two characters?
VAN LENTE: Second year — fourth arc! :)
The prophecy about Archer put forward by the Seven Sages in the Faraway will get clearer and clearer — and more frightening.
Lots more Ivar, which means lots more Timewalking.
There's a major new villain who has only been referenced in passing so far — he will emerge to dominate the series' second year.
Did anyone say USA road trip? USA road trip!
Here is the prelude to the new story arc written by Fred Van Lente with art by Khari Evans:
And some very cool teaser images and character sketches.