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Exclusive: ARCHER & ARMSTONG’s Fred Van Lente on His Final Arc, AMERICAN WASTELAND

Globe-sweeping conspiracies. Murderous religious cults. Secret cabals wielding ancient eldritch powers. Drunken immortals and more martial arts than you can shake a stick at. If any of the above piqued your interest, then I can guarantee you’ll love Valiant’s excellent Archer & Armstrong, written by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Pere Perez. Following 18-year-old Obadiah Archer, a wunderkind raised by a secret religious sect to assassinate the immortal known as Armstrong, and the aforementioned immortal Armstrong, a boozy, bearded man who has existed since time immemorial, the book is a delightful mixture of conspiracy theories, pop culture references, and unbridled ass-kicking that makes for a seriously compelling comic. Now, after two years on the title, Van Lente is gearing up to make his leave with one last epic arc entitled “American Wasteland”, which brings our heroes to Los Angeles in search of Archer’s true parents.

Focusing on a cabal of supposedly dead rock stars who reside in the Hotel California, “American Wasteland” will find Archer and Armstrong in their toughest predicament yet as they must stop the nefarious Lizard King before it’s too late. Or at least before it’s time to check out. Regardless, I caught up with Fred Van Lente to pick his brain about what to expect from “American Wasteland”, update us on his Quantum & Woody crossover, The Delinquents, and much more.

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Archer & Armstrong #20 variant cover by Shawn Crystal

N: Let’s talk about Archer & Armstrong. I’m a little late to the Valiant game, but I read the first trade last night, and now I just want nothing more than to read more Archer & Armstrong. I’m angry that I have to be at work and not reading this book.

FVL: Excellent. Glad to hear it.

N: So where are Archer & Armstrong heading into this arc? I know you guys just put out the zero issue that sort of reveals Archer’s background, but where are they? Where do things stand right now?

FVL: Well, I’m trying to think of the least-spoilery way of putting this. We’ll be coming right off of “Mission: Improbable,” which is our crossover with Bloodshot and the H.A.R.D. Corps where Archer learns a lot about his true parentage, which you saw some of its climax in the first part, which you read last night; you know that one of the big reveals that Archer doesn’t really find out at that point, is that Archer himself is adopted, and not the biological son of the Archers, as he was led to believe. Well, (at) the beginning of “American Wasteland,” Archer and his drunken immortal sidekick Armstrong-or Archer is the repressed, born-again Christian assassin sidekick of Armstrong. I don’t think either of them really – I think both of them would say that the other is their sidekick.

N: [laughs] Exactly!

FVL: [They] descend on Los Angeles to find Archer’s true biological parents, and so most of the story lines that I’ve set up in the first arc, this is sort of the grand climactic arc.

N: Cool. So is this going to wrap up their story effectively?

FVL: This, yeah – this is going to wrap up my run of the title.

N: Gotcha.

FVL: It’s going to hit – answer all the major questions that have been boiling for the last two years.

N: Nice! So you’ve been on this book for two years now. How has it evolved since you began? How has the response been from readers?

FVL: Well, you know, it’s been pretty awesome, because it started out as a mini-series. That first arc was supposed to be really the only series we did, but because of the response, we turned it into ongoing, and it’s been totally super fun. We’ve been able to tackle a lot of different-each arc kind of tackles its own brand of conspiracies, and with “American Wasteland”; it was my original pitch for the book in general, but after discussing it with Warren Simon, one of the great editors we have over there, it evolved into something slightly different. But now Archer is coming full circle, and after dealing with religious conspiracies and historical conspiracies and government conspiracies, the series experiences, we’re embarking on another beloved and fascinating realm of conspiracies, entertainment industry conspiracies.

N: Perfect! One of the things that I really like about this book is that it’s chock-full of conspiracies, and these sort of secret cabals, and hidden sects and groups, but it’s also just littered with these obtuse pop culture references. 

FVL: Right.

N: So “American Wasteland” seems like the perfect blending of those two. I know this revolves around the Lizard King and his rock star cronies, but how do they stand apart from some of the other cults and sects that we’ve met previously?

FVL: Well, Jay Douglas Morrison is this serious figure also known as the Lizard King who has been mentioned a couple of times during the series, and then in the first chapter of “American Wasteland” we finally get to meet him in the flesh, as it were, and he may or may not be, according to my lawyers, a very famous pop culture figure, who himself is wrapped in a whole-several layers of conspiracy theory. And he runs an outfit called The Church of Retrology, which is a very popular, sort of New Age-religion. Some people might call it a cult. They’re very secretive.

N: Right, right.

FVL: They’re very active in the celebrity community. Whether or not – again, my lawyers tell me that there is no relationship to any well-known modern 20th century religions founded by science fiction authors that you may know of today.

N: Yes, of course.

FVL: But as many of the groups in the sect, in the overarching super conspiracy, they may – the church of Retrology may have a nefarious reason for coveting the famous, and celebrity itself may be a new conspiracy, with a hideous secret behind it.

N: Oh, my! 

FVL: That only Archer and Armstrong can stop.

N: There’s no better duo to tackle that job. 

FVL: Exactly.

N: So these guys are actually – they’re headquartered inside the actual Hotel California, correct?

FVL: Correct! The Scientology Celebrity Center is actually in a former – it’s not a former hotel, there is a very famous hotel in California called the Chateau Marmont.

N: Yes, I’m familiar.

FVL: Sofia Coppola’s great movie Somewhere was shot there.

N: Yeah.

FVL: And the Celebrity Center is actually a different chateau – the name of which actually eludes me, and it is wrapped up in one of the oldest Hollywood conspiracy theories, which is the case of Thomas Ince, which you can still Google, who was a very famous and successful silent film director who was murdered, supposedly, on William (Randolph) Hearst’s yacht.

N: Hmm.

FVL: When Hearst was shooting at Charlie Chaplin for banging his girlfriend, and this sort of ended up falling into the hands of the Church of Scientology, which of course has a connection to Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn movement.

N: Oh, I love a good connection to Aleister!

FVL: Which of course has a connection to one of the founding leaders of rocket science. So, you know, you just kind of go down the rabbit hole with this book, and that stuff, as I said, is all actual conspiracy theories, and you can just keep going and going and going.

N: Yeah. Well that’s cool, that’s kind of a lot of the fun. You just get to keep extrapolating and building on these intertwined theories, so it’s really cool to see them play out on the page.

FVL: Yes.

N: So I know there’s going to be supposedly-dead rock stars in the book, in this arc.

FVL: Right.

N: Were there any rock stars that you wanted to include but couldn’t manage to squeeze in? I’m keeping my fingers crossed for some Morrissey action, even though he’s not dead.

FVL: Well, you’ve got to be dead, unfortunately. I hate to disappoint Courtney Love fans, but she won’t be in there.

N: But she’s dead inside.

FVL: Yeah, right? If you’re dead inside, it doesn’t count. You know. There have been just so many serious and suspicious celebrity deaths, beginning with Marilyn Monroe, going all the way up to Biggie and Tupac, you know – all of them, it turns out, are interrelated into this grand conspiracy, this cult of celebrity and personality, the purpose of which is nothing less, my friend, than the eradication of the human race.

N: Oh, no! Isn’t that always the case?

FVL: Well, you know, I don’t want to encourage people to, if they see celebrities, to run screaming and start shooting-but! it might be in their best interest.

N: Duly noted. This also seems like a fairly research-intensive book, with all the-obviously you have to do all your research to find threads for these different conspiracy theories. How much do you have to do before tackling each arc? Do you kind of outline and then go back to fill in any blanks you may have?

FVL: I’ve always been a sort of a fan of weird – I grew up on Leonard Nimoy and Bigfoot and In Search Of, so I’ve always been sort of into weird U.S. myths and culture. But you know, like a lot of, a lot of the bones of conspiracy theories is they connect seemingly inter-unconnected elements, and so this – we knew we wanted the whole sort of idea behind this arc was that the Hotel California was a documentary, you know, not an album.

N: [laughs]

FVL: I never knew we were never going to connect Scientology to it, but what I had no idea of (was that) the actual celebrity center was in a hotel, or in this apartment building, that’s very similar to this other famous hotel, that had this very dark conspiracy theory attached to it. And I knew about the connection between some of the weird rituals of Scientology that involved Aleister Crowley and sex magic and the Golden Dawn, and it’s almost one of those things where you have to decide sort of when to stop. It’s very hard to start cutting. We can just go too far down the rabbit hole, you know?

N: Yeah.

FVL: But because we’re basically making fun of conspiracy theories, you know, I always like sort of projects where we can screw everything to the wall and see what sticks.

N: Very nice.

FVL: And that’s definitely the case here.

N: Yeah. I imagine that’s also part of the fun, seeing how crazy you can go, then sort of dialing it back to fit the book. So how many issues is this arc going to be?

FVL: Four.

N: Four – OK, cool.

FVL: And Michael Walsh and Shawn Crystal, two great artists, are doing rock album homage covers – album covers – for every single issue.

N: Yeah, I’ve taken a look at some of those. They look awesome!

FVL: The last one – the last issue – is going to be a very famous group shot, and will be very, I think, highly prized by the book’s fans.

N: Awesome. So is this going to take you right up to The Delinquents in August?

FVL: Correct.

N: Are there any tidbits or hints you can offer us about that book?

FVL: I’ve never laughed harder than on the Skype call with James Asmus coming up with this storyline.

N: Fantastic!

FVL: If anything, The Delinquents out-Archer & Armstrong Archer and Armstrong, and out-Quantum & Woody Quantum & Woody in the level of insanity involved.

N: Well, I’m pretty stoked for that book. And last but not least, Archer & Armstrong to me kind of screams “television show,” or at least animated series. In a perfect world, who would you want to play Archer & Armstrong?

FVL: Armstrong, you’ve got a couple – Nick Frost would be my first choice, really. Although I could certainly see Seth Rogen or Jack Black doing a great job of it. Archer’s a little trickier. His name-I imagine when I say this the kid who plays Joffrey on Game of Thrones.

N: Oh, yes! Jack Gleeson.

FVL: Definitely he would make a terrific Archer.

N: Yeah, that would be a dynamite pairing. I can imagine him and Nick Frost running around. [laughs]

FVL: It would be very much. I wonder if he’s freeing up anytime soon…

And because we love you, here’s a galley of the “American Wasteland” covers, which are modeled after famous album covers.

Archer & Armstrong: America Wasteland kicks off this May. You can snag issue #20 on April 2nd at your local comic book store.

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