Valiant Effort: Like This? You'll Like That – X-O Manowar, Archer & Armstrong Edition
By Jared Cornelius
In the summer of 2012 Valiant Comics returned from the grave, they rose not as shambling zombie, but as a glorious phoenix, but I didn't know that. At the time I had turned my nose up at X-O Manowar and Bloodshot, I scoffed at the idea that the 90's were back and expected another round of Malibu or Awesome Comics. But last year on a whim I decided to pick up a few of the Valiant branded comics and guess what, they were fantastic. I was shocked, I remembered reading the first issue of X-O Manowar back in 1992 and thinking it was wordy, poorly drawn, and worst of all boring. Picking up the first few issues of 2012's X-O Manowar series made me forget how bad the original was and got me excited for what could be done with the concept. After my revelation I sought out the other Valiant titles and made a similar discovery. Archer & Armstrong, Bloodshot, Harbinger: they were all really good. It also helped that they had updated aesthetics and writing styles, and were employing known quantities like Duane Swierczynski and Robert Venditti.
But this got me thinking: are there more people out there like me? Have people been overlooking Valiant titles for another flavor of Justice League or Avengers? So in an effort to promote overlooked comics, I thought I might try a little experiment. I'm going to talk about a couple of the Valiant titles and recommend them based on other media. You like this movie/show/comic, you might like this Valiant title. So why not start with what may be the flagship Valiant book, X-O Manowar.
X-O Manowar is the story of Aric of Dacia, a 5th century Visigoth prince. The Visigoths were a Germanic tribe famous for both battling with and against the Roman Legions. Aric is leading a perfectly ordinary life when he and a group of his people are abducted by aliens called the Vine. Aric is demoted from prince to slave and after years toiling in the Vines intergalactic garden manages to lead a revolt. During the uprising he stumbles across a holy relic/weapon called Shanhara, an ancient suit of armor the Vine have been unable to use. Aric takes possession of the armor and escapes to Earth where centuries have passed since his capture. So with that said, I think you'd like X-O Manowar if you read Iron Man.
The long running Marvel comic starring billionaire inventor Tony Stark has never been bigger thanks to the summer blockbusters movies. The short version which I'm positive you're aware of, is Stark builds a suit of armor out of necessity and finds he has an incredible aptitude for both armored suit construction and super heroics. Iron Man has always been built around a theme of technology moving forward, with Stark's desire to create a newer more advanced version of the armor.
Specialized armors from deep sea suits, to Hulkbuster, Stark has a wardrobe for every occasion and is always looking at the next big thing in technology. X-O Manowar is in part about the ultimate suit of armor, with Aric controlling the Iron Man armor to end all Iron Man armor. The Manowar armor gives the wearer incredible fire power, flight, super strength, and can even regrow pieces like Extremis. Yeah I guess it's a little on the nose, if you like one guy in a suit of armor, you'll like the other guy in a suit of armor. A little reductive to be sure, but while both books share a common thread of an incredible weapon, they also star wildly different protagonists.
Talking about the armor is only one aspect of X-O Manowar. The armors inhabitant is a man from 402 AD who has the kind of ideals and values that you'd expect from a warrior and prince. So you'd like X-O Manowar if you like Conan The Barbarian.
Conan follows the tales of the titular barbarian as he searches the world for battle, riches, and women. Conan's stories have taken him to fabled lost cities, seen him do battle with eldritch horrors, and even become a king. Created by famed author Robert E. Howard, Conan has been doing battle since the 1930's in pulp magazines, comic books, television, and film. Conan's long presence in fiction include a comic book series running almost continuously since the 70's, two movies in the 80's and three television series in the 90's. I think arguments can be made that Conan's importance to the pulp hero genre are almost as important as J.R.R Tolkien's contributions to fantasy. Conan himself is loosely based around the Celtic and Goth tribes that the Visigoths were part of. Aric and Conan share 5th century sensibilities and mannerisms with both being comfortable with a sword in their hands. I've often thought that Conan could be Aric and vice versa while reading X-O Manowar, so if you like the idea of future Conan I'd recommend X-O Manowar in a heartbeat.
It also occurred to me that a fundamental of the series is that Aric is using a piece of technology that he has almost no understanding of, which made me think of Ben 10.
It might be hard to believe, but the Cartoon Network series is almost 10 years old and certainly children who grew up watching the cartoon could find enjoyment in X-O Manowar. For those not in the know, Ben 10 stars Benjamin Tennyson, a child who gains control of the alien omnitirx that allows him to change into a menagerie of different aliens. The Man of Action created series has spawned three additional shows, video games, toys, and an Alex Winter directed movie! While Ben 10's story is a little less subtle than X-O Manowar, both share themes of struggling to use and understand technology that is far beyond what humans in general are expected to be capable of. Aric's primitive understanding of what the armor is and can do plays a huge factor in how the story progresses.
So let's say you don't like barbarians in super future armor, (you monster) let's say you're more in to comedy duos then fantasy sci-fi mash ups. You're sitting here right now thinking does Valiant have a title for me? Well good news dear reader, they have two, but let's talk about one for the moment, Archer & Armstrong.
Imagine what would happen if a Christian fundamentalist Taskmaster tried to kill Hercules, then befriended him. Voila you have Archer & Armstrong. Meet Obadiah Archer, a young man with the power to mimic the skills of others and raised to be a master assassin by his Creationist theme park owning parents. His target is the super strong, immortal, drunkard and poet Armstrong. After thwarting Archer's assassination attempt the two become unlikely friends with a goal of stopping a group of secret societies from destroying reality and or controlling the world. The bizarre dressing and backstory serves as a launching pad for action and comedy, so you'd like Archer & Armstrong if you like mismatched comedies!
The Wrong Guys, Rush Hour, Hot Fuzz, and of course The Odd Couple. Every one of these movies shares the theme of mismatched duo's and dueling personalities putting up with each other's messy ways, stuffiness, or by the book routine. Archer and Armstrong are on similar ground with both characters being worlds apart in personality. Archer's stuffy Christian upbringing ends up being the ultimate foil to Armstrong's immortal deviancy. Not unlike Felix Unger's clean neurosis to Oscar Madison's messy drunkenness, or Sergeant Nicholas Angel's by the book rigidness to PC Danny Butterman's take it easy demeanor. Archer and Armstrong often find themselves in situations that play off each other's unique dispositions to classic comedy gold.
I already made allusions to Archer & Armstrong sharing a theme with characters owned by a certain large comic's publisher owned by an even larger corporation, but it's for a good reason. So you'd like Archer & Armstrong if you like Marvel Comics.
Specifically Marvel Comics written by Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak. If the theme of a talented young man and a lecherous immortal seems familiar, maybe it's because you read and enjoyed Pak and Van Lente's run on the Incredible Hercules. When the Prince of Power took over the Incredible Hulk in 2008 it became an instant cult sensation among Marvel fans. Hercules wouldn't carry the title alone as he was joined by Amadeus Cho, the seventh or eighth smartest person on the planet depending on the story. The duo would delight fans for over two years and proved that Pak and Van Lente could do an ongoing book full of action and comedy. While Armstrong shares some similarities with Hercules such as love of wine women and song, both characters are different enough in their world views and personalities that Armstrong feels like his own individual character and not a rip off. Meanwhile Archer is completely unique in personality but shares a similar power set with another Van Lente written fan favorite character, the Taskmaster. Archer and Armstrong often seem to revel in the weird and fantastical and shares tone with Jason Aaron's Wolverine and The X-Men as well. With a strange and diverse cast of characters and weird circumstances, Archer and Armstrong could go toe to toe with the beloved X-Men run any day in my book.
Strange and diverse is a good place to go for our last recommendation, because you'll like Archer and Armstrong if you like The Venture Brothers!
Adult Swim's Johnny Quest parody has taken on a life of its own, currently in its 5th season, the Venture Brothers has been hailed as one of the best animated shows ever with its mix of satire, pop culture references, action, and rich continuity. Revolving around the lives of Doctor Thaddeus S. Venture, his sons' Hank and Dean and their bodyguard Brock Samson/Sgt. Hatred the family goes on bizarre adventures, encounters strange beings, and often find themselves in sitcom-esk misunderstandings.
With a supporting cast ranging from a costumed criminal named Brick-Frog to albino quiz show host Pete White, the Venture Brothers has a wonderfully diverse and interesting universe. The Venture Brothers is part situational comedy, part pulp anthology much like Archer and Armstrong with both going on globe hopping adventures. Both series share main characters that have an almost childlike naivety with Archer and Hank and Dean Venture being almost blissfully ignorant, (In the first few seasons at least). Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer's weird world of characters include other strange supporting cast members like Phantom Limb and Captain Sunshine while Archer & Armstrong's antagonists include a group of evil one percenters, henchman who partially communicate through emoticons, and Nazi Lamas (the monk not the animal). The Venture Brothers and Archer and Armstrong also share themes of dysfunctional families playing a central role with both Archer and the Venture brothers being the subject of strangely broken homes.
That's it for this time, I hope that some of you might be interested in picking up X-O Manowar or Archer & Armstrong based on my recommendations. The first trades of both titles are available for $10 apiece and Comixology also has the full run of both series as well. If you have suggestions on other pieces of media relating to X-O Manowar or Archer & Armstrong please leave them in the comments. Next time I think we'll talk about Bloodshot and Harbinger so keep your eyes peeled for that. Keep reading Bleeding Cool for the other things I do like Typing on The Dead our Walking Dead recap and Live(ish) From The Games Shop where I go over the new game releases every week.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from New Jersey's coast whose favorite flavor is booze. If you'd like to discuss drink recipes contact him @John_Laryngitis on Twitter.