Tag Archives: Jim Shooter

Opposites Attract: Archer & Armstrong (Presented by SBTU)

Hello, Legions of the Unspoken!  It’s me, Dean Compton, back again once more!  I know it’s been some time since I dropped by here, and believe-you-me, I have missed this place and all of you!  Life comes at you fast, and even The Flash himself wouldn’t hit as fast as the way life has hit me over the last year.  I’m about to embark upon my second move in 14 months, which will result in the 4th state I have lived in in that same time!  It’s enough to make my memories seem like they stretch back to the beginning of time, Mr. Fantastic style!

Of course, my memories don’t really do that.  I am blessed to have a good memory (although all that results is in me recalling every time someone was mean to me — I’m looking at you, Mrs. Jeffries, my fourth grade teacher!) ,but I can only remember what I have learned in my decidedly short lifetime.  For someone who is eternal, though, having an even average memory means recalling details of thousands of years ago from great historical moments to what it was like to shit next to Woolly Mammoths.

Which brings us to the Super Blog Team Up theme this go-round: Immortal.  Living forever or being eternal has its ups and downs, and between all the topics you’re gonna see around SBTU, we’re gonna hit every one of those highs and lows harder than Armstrong hits the bottle!   90’s comics were chock full of Immortals, but the Valiant Universe’s triad of immortal brothers has always appealed greatly to me.  Gilad the Eternal Warrior, Ivar the Timewalker, and Aram…the drunk?  They are brothers who are bonded by somehow being immortal.  They can be killed, but it would take utter vaporization to keep them from being healed from most other wounds.

To be fair, Aram (whose name has evolved into Armstrong as time goes on) is much more than a drunk, although that is the image he puts forth most prominently.  Having seen so many deaths and so much violence, he has seemingly retreated into debauchery.  I mean, why not?  The path of excess will lead to the palace of wisdom, or so I have been told. And when you this hard to kill, there’s lots of paths that lead to lots of excess that will surely end up in lots of wisdom, correct?  Aram seems to think so.

Archer, on the other hand, isn’t immortal, isn’t nearly invulnerable, and isn’t a drunk.  His parents were evangelists who engaged in awful torture and molestation of the younger members of their congregation, all without Archer’s knowledge.  Archer, you see, believes wholeheartedly in his parents, their beliefs, Jesus, and himself.  This belief enables him to sometimes become otherworldly in his ability to accomplish physical feats that would be impossible.  After he catches his parents in their gruesome rituals, they attempt to kill him via burning the house down with him in it.  He heads for the light, only to realize that someone needs to deal with the evil that is his parents.  Archer heads back for reality.

Archer & Armstrong #000_Archer & Armstrong 000-07
Well this is just fucking awful

His powers kick in, and he gets away, only to be hospitalized for smoke inhalation. With his parents lingering and waiting to kill him, he escapes from the hospital and somehow makes his way to a monastery in Asia, where he masters martial arts, marksmanship, and everything about their philosophy except for letting go of the pursuit of vengeance.  To be fair, if my parents tried to kill me, I’d be all about some fucking Ghost Rider style vengeance too (probably with less flaming skulls, though).  Archer leaves the monastery to get his vengeance, only to learn that his parents were arrested about two weeks after he ran away.

I know what you’re thinking: these two fucking belong together.  Lucky you, buddy, because Valiant is giving you just that with Archer and Armstrong!

Archer & Armstrong #000_Archer & Armstrong 000-00fc
You really can’t go wrong with Barry Windsor-Smith.  This is one of my favorite covers of his.  Also, I just now noticed Archer is barefoot.  Take my badge; I’m off the force.

Created by Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, and Barry Windsor-Smith, you’d be hard pressed to find a funnier or more fun buddy comic than Archer & Armstrong.  The book is sort of the superhero version of the relationship between Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat from the “Opposites Attract” video.  If you have not seen this video, goddamn, man, what are you waiting for?  If you have and you are not smiling at the thought of it, you are a Terminator.

The song highlights a relationship between two people who have little in common.  These differences start with the fact that one is a hot choreographer turned pop star and one is a cartoon cat and eventually end up much more mundane, like who makes the bed and who messes up the sheets.  Archer and Armstrong, believe or not, have a similar dichotomy.  Archer, the ultimate pious man who eschews vices, and Armstrong, who will seemingly live forever and never met a vice he didn’t enjoy twice.

Like many odd couples, these two meet on accident, with both of them living up to their ideals.

they ,eet
And rest assured, Armstrong is more than willing to take his last five.  And yours.  Give it to him already, will ya?

Armstrong sees this act of magnanimity as something to celebrate, and Archer has nothing better to do with his purpose gone.  Armstrong promises to hear about Archer’s troubles, but instead does nothing but drink and tell what Archer perceives to be tall tales.  You’d be hard-pressed to blame him for not believing Armstrong about the stories he tells.  He often talks of long dead historical luminaries like Hannibal, and he looks like a cabbie from a 1970’s exploitation film.  The only thing that differentiates him from other tellers of tall tales is that his are mostly true.

There’s no way for Archer to know this, though, so he departs from Armstrong, but not before Armstrong convinces him to look for a job as a bar bouncer.  Archer’s naïveté disqualifies him from this job, despite his physical ability to perform it.  His performance does attract a strange man named Mahmud, who seems to know a lot about Archer.  He convinces Archer that there is a great evil that needs to be taken care of.  If you guessed that said evil is Armstrong, then you have read a comic book before.  Congratulations!  They’re fun.

Over time a group of people have formed The Sect, a cabal dedicated to destroying Armstrong.  Over the many years he has been alive, people of varying religious faith have determined that Armstrong is Satan, or at least a Satan.  This makes sense. How many times over the years has this large cabbie dude bumbled into a village/town/city, gotten mega drunk, seduced some ladies, beat up a bunch of dudes, and then destroyed heavy property with the strength of a rhino? So, yeah, I bet some people have thought he was the devil, or at least close.

The Sect only manages to get Archer on their side for a bit, until Armstrong points out that he is only trying to get away, compared to The Sect, who is trying to kill him and  don’t care who gets caught up in the collateral damage.  Finally, our heroes are together and ready to make a stand!

Archer & Armstrong #000_Archer & Armstrong 000-25
The shirtless cape is a bold fashion choice, but I have to say Archer is making it work for him.

The Sect has to wait, though, since at this very moment, Armstrong’s brother arrives on the scene, using Solar’s hand to find Armstrong to help battle the MotherGod during the events of Unity! (Which I still consider to be the best superhero crossover of all time.  It’s mindblowingly amazing and seamless, even if you can’t read every part.)

 

Archer & Armstrong #001_Archer & Armstrong 001-01
As someone who has a brother, I can attest that whether in a car or with a veritable God’s hand, they will only ever show up unexpectedly at awkward times like this.

This is truly the moment where the two are cemented together as partners.  Being whisked off on an adventure that they really didn’t choose sets the template for the series.  Archer & Armstrong  is just one long buddy road trip story, and I mean that in the best possible way.  I reckon this is also the moment that they become partners because Archer literally fucking says so.

pardners
Archer enlisting Armstrong in causes of moral righteousness also sets a template for the series.

I’m not going to tell you everything that happens to them during Unity or beyond, but I do want to take a moment to show the encounter between Turok and these two.  After A&A botch an assassination attempt on Mothergod in the land of Unity, the would-be God sends Turok after our diametrically opposed duo.  Just to see how opposed they are, look at how they differently they handle captivity:

opposed philsophies
The true odd couple of superheroics.

It’s funny to think about, but Turok is almost certainly the most well known Valiant/Gold Key character in mainstream circles, due to his exploits on the N64 after his well-received game came out.  I have lost count of the number of times I have manipulated a conversation into the realm of Valiant Comics (yes, this is something I do; don’t act like you don’t too), and the only character non-comics fans know is Turok.  Perhaps that will change with the impending Bloodshot movie and all; only time will tell.

Before his N64 conquering days, though, Turok was a badass in the Valiant Universe.  Everything he did just seemed and looked cool. and when he decides to take up arms in the service of the Mothergod with his cool fucking bow against Archer and Armstrong, it was must see.  Could this Native American with somewhat advanced technology take out the Immortal and Quasi-Invulnerable Armstrong?  Could he deal with the martial arts prowess of Archer?

Um, yeah, more or less.

turok vs armstrong
Jesus, even armored and immortal that has to hurt. It reminds me of the heartburn I had last night after eating WaWa meatballs, which, coincidentally, were also served to me via flaming arrow.

After showing our own dysfunctional duo that he could honestly drop them just about anytime, Turok asks Archer why he shouldn’t.

turok conscience
The Fat One is my new nickname for Armstrong forever.

Archer is able to convince the world’s greatest dinosaur hunter that he and his rotund and immortal pal aren’t the enemies here by appealing to Turok’s innate and devout sense of right and wrong.  Archer always tries to appeal to the better nature of humanity.   Sometimes, that costs him, but I find it inspiring that no matter how many times he is betrayed or how many times he is let down, Archer refuses to stop believing that there’s a better part of all of us.  He insists to Turok that one day, a good man like Turok will realize MotherGod is evil. If Turok has to kill them this day, go ahead, but Archer implores Turok to take up arms against MotherGod on the day he inevitably figures out MotherGod is an evil deity.

In this case, it works out for Archer, as Turok has had a sense of Archer’s righteousness from the start due to his own connection to the Earth.  He spares the  duo and goes off to do his own soul-searching, but he realizes MotherGod ain’t the way.

Archer & Armstrong #002_Archer & Armstrong 002-21
Armstrong always looks on the bright side of things.

That’s the end of the first three issues of Archer and Armstrong.  There’s so much more ahead, but that’s for another day.  I can’t get enough of the antics between these two.  There’s nothing like the polar opposites in your group of pals that seemingly never stop arguing but also never stop getting along.  Here we get to see all of that, plus they are involves in the high stakes world of the Valiant Universe.  For superhero buddy comics, it just doesn’t get any better.

Make sure and check out the rest of the SBTU gang at the links below, and hopefully, we’ll see you around here again really soon!

 

Chris Is On Infinite Earths: Podcast Episode 26 – Resurrection Man 1997 & 2011

Black, White and Bronze: What Price Immortality? A Review of Red Nails

DC In the 80s: Young Animals Bug

Between The Pages Blog: Big Finish: Doctor Who’s Finest Regeneration

Comics Comics Comics Blog: Dr. Fate

The Superhero Satellite: Mephistos Whisper: The Immortality Of Peter and Mary Jane (One More Day)

Comic Reviews By Walt: TMNT and Highlander

 

 

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Its Title Speaks for Itself: Magnus, Robot Fighter by Emily Scott

Sometimes, you hear the name of a comic book title, and it piques you interest, even if it doesn’t give you many clues what the comic is actually about. Maybe specifically because it doesn’t give you a lot of clues. Sometimes it’s an enigma. Sometimes it’s a comic literally called Enigma. And then sometimes, just sometimes, you get asked to write about a comic called Magnus, Robot Fighter, and you don’t need to know anything else about it. Why would you? It’s called Magnus, Robot Fighter. Even if you, dear Legions of the Unspoken, have never heard of this comic before this moment, I’m guessing you are more inclined to read about this unfamiliar title than if it were called, well, just about anything else.

And if this comic contained nothing of value but a man named Magnus fighting robots, I would not have been the slightest bit disappointed. I would have felt I received exactly what I was promised.

Mangus Chop
Well, that was cool — oh, there’s more?

Magnus fighting robots, though, is not all you get in his comic. Far from. Sometimes Magnus doesn’t fight robots. Sometimes Magnus feels conflicted about fighting robots. Sometimes Magnus refuses to fight robots. Sometimes Magnus talks to robots instead of fighting them. Sometimes Magnus fights people who want him to fight robots. And it’s terrific. Seriously, it’s really terrific reading about Magnus both fighting and not fighting robots. I cannot speak for the other incarnations of the character, but Jim Shooter and the folks at Valiant Comics do a bang up job of paying homage to the character’s origins with its retro futuristic look and feel while crafting conflicts and ideas and questions that we still wrestle with today.

Magnus, created by Russ Manning, first appeared in 1963 in a title from Gold Key Comics, which was published until 1977. Shooter obtained the rights to Magnus in 1991, along with two other Gold Key characters, Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom and Turok, Son of Stone, both of whom make appearances in Valiant’s Magnus and received their own Valiant titles. The character would later have titles published by Acclaim Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and Dynamite Entertainment, all with their own takes on Magnus with one very important consistency: dude fights robots.

Valiant_Magnus_01-00fc
Look at that. He is so good at fighting robots, he can karate chop one of their heads off, without looking at it, as an afterthought on his way to fighting the next one.

At the start of the first issue, Shooter quickly catches up readers not already familiar with Magnus, who is relatively new to the hero business. 1-A, the robot who raised Magnus as a foundling, recounts the story of how and why he decided to mold the human into a robot killing machine (not an actual machine, of course, although it does make one wonder why 1-A wouldn’t just make one of those instead of dealing with diapers and puberty). 1-A gains sentience some 400 years before the events of the comic, due to a power surge during a battle in the Martian uprising. (Every part of that sentence is cool.) The same surge causes one of his fellow robots to become violent and murder their human commander. 1-A has a good, long think about the possibility of another robot gaining free will and turning on humanity, and so he decides to make Magnus to be the savior of his people.

An inquisitive reader might wonder what 1-A does for the rest of those 375 or so years, whether Magnus was his first attempt to create a robot fighter, whether his motives might be more than they seem, and so on. These issues will be addressed later on in the comic, but for now all we know is that 1-A trained Magnus to fight and destroy robots, but he does not consider the act to be murder, nor does he consider himself or other robots to be alive, despite his many centuries as a sentient being acting of his own free will.

Magnus Leg
An inquisitive reader might also wonder how 1-A can build a giant underwater house and train a human meat bag to karate chop steel but can’t, say, FIX HIS OWN LEG.

 

 

We also learn from Magnus that an ever increasing number of robots have been gaining free will due to repeated power surges from a malfunctioning “tech-rob,” and their numbers could be as many as ten million. All of these rogue robots have kept Magnus’ punchin’ hands busy, but they have also given his brain a workout, causing him to speculate that with so many robots now having free will, they surely couldn’t all be hellbent on murdering humans. Of course, a robot name 0-1X chooses this moment of introspection to send out a message to all the robots who now have free will to tell them that they could easily succeed if they joined together to become hellbent on murdering humans. (“Blood rivers crushed from human meat will flow through the streets” are his exact words, a sort of beautifully poetic description for robots massacring people, which, if you ask me, just lends credence to 0-1X’s assertion that robots deserve to be treated like the sentient beings they are.)

In an attempt to keep the peace, Magnus heads back to North Am, the dystopia he inhabits where the upper crusts live softly and obliviously in huge, vertical “milespires.” He and his girlfriend Leeja Clane, a senator’s daughter with a touch of telepathy, are immediately attacked by a kamikaze robot, and Magnus momentarily and understandably forgets about the idea that not all free will robots are out to get them.

Magnus Squee
I like that dying robots make the same sound effect as tween girls when their ship becomes canon.

The president of North Am wants to negotiate with 0-1X and the other free will robots, but Senator Clane and Magnus have other ideas. Senator Clane receives a visit from 0-1X, who approaches him because the president is losing the support of his people and Clane’s popularity is on the rise after speaking out against negotiations. 0-1X pleads with Clane to work with him because many will die if they fight, and unlike humans, who can reproduce, each robot life is irreplaceable. While this is an interesting perspective on the value of the individual life and the opposite of what we tend to hear in the man vs. machine debate, Clane gives the response to negotiating that you would expect from the politician gaining popularity for coming out against negotiation. 0-1X returns to his fellow rebels and tells them that, “Human leaders are careless with the lives of their kind,” a notion I’m sure not going to argue with.

Meanwhile, with Leeja tagging along, Magnus decides to search for the rebels in the part of North Am where the dregs of society live, the Goph Lands, otherwise known as the ground. They find the rebel meeting, and Magnus confronts 0-1X and asks if he genuinely believes himself to be alive. 0-1X senses that Magnus is sincerely struggling with the choice between starting or preventing a war, but before their conversation can productively progress, the soldiers accompanying Magnus for back up prematurely burst in and start shooting up the place, as the goon squad so often does. Leeja is badly hurt in the ensuing struggle, and with no further adieu, the robot war is underway!

Magnus Damn It Timbuc
Damn it, Timbuc.

Magnus very quickly becomes very busy fighting robots as they engage in guerilla tactics to take down North Am, but even if he is able to burn through them like a hot robo-knife through whatever they eat instead of butter in the year 4001, it is still ugly, dirty, and unpleasant work, as the header image to this article demonstrates. The robots don’t particularly care for being punched to death, nor do they particularly care for being dissected while still sentient to figure out what gives them free will. Magnus demands that one such robot be released from such treatment, still struggling with the morality of his profession. Another free will robot gives his comrade the gift of mercy and attempts to flee, but when he realizes Magnus is present, he destroys himself rather than be destroyed.

Magnus Torch
Seriously, what is up with these robots being so graphically poetic about humans dying?

The incident clearly leaves a sour taste in the mouth of Magnus, who is unable to muster any enthusiasm for the war at a dinner Senator Clane holds to celebrate Leeja’s recovery. After telling off his fellow diners, Magnus hesitates long enough for a rogue robot, who had just attempted an attack on them, to escape. That robot, W-23, shows up at his apartment because of a common trait: they both dislike that it is their duty to kill the other. During their conversation, Magnus notices that W-23 has a slight vibration, the lone trait that differentiates a free will robot from those still under human control and the key to robot genocide. Magnus has no desire to report his discovery but correctly surmises both that other humans will notice and that 0-1X will launch an all-out offensive once he figures it out himself.

On cue, a metric fuck ton of robots show up, and Magnus is attacked. He fights his way to 0-1X and attempts another conversation, but 0-1X believes it is too late for talk since the longer they wait, the more likely it is that humans will discover the vibration. Clane shows up with some North Am soldier robots and orders Magnus arrested for letting 0-1X escape. Magnus is all like, “Nah, bro,” and heads off to the Goph Lands, where they again try to arrest him. W-23 helps Magnus escape, and the human tells the robot he must convince 0-1X to stop his attack.

W-23 may have a tough time reasoning with 0-1X, though, since the free will robots are doing a pretty splendid job taking over North Am. While they engage in their final push to take over the mainbrain, North Am’s super computer, and with it control of North Am’s thirty-two billion robots, the human leadership gets a status report detailing just how dire the situation has become: over three million defense robots have been destroyed, two human commanders slightly injured, and four human commanders fainted! The horror! With defeat looming as an ever increasing inevitability, Clane tells the president he should gives the robots what they want, but the president tells him that it’s too late. He gives Clane his job and says he plans to fuck off to the moon to wait the whole thing out. His retirement, unfortunately, is short lived.

Magnus Bugger Off
Hasn’t he ever seen a cop movie? He’s supposed to get shot in the face right BEFORE he retires, not after.

The humans use every robot they’ve got to stop the free wills, and they are able to stave off defeat with the help of Magnus, who reenters the fray to prevent humanity’s destruction. He still refuses Leeja’s pleas to help weed out the rest of the free will robots and says he would rather go live in the Goph Lands than kill again. Shockingly, she refuses to join him.

During the final battle, W-23 helps 0-1X escape to a wildlife preserve that the free wills have been using as a base. He tells W-23 that they will be hunted one by one till no free will robots remain and shows him the hidden remains of T-1, a think-rob who became the first free will robot, powerful enough to override any human command. 0-1X wants to use circuitry from T-1 to improve his own mind and avert their demise, but it is a risky endeavor, since tampering with the mind of a free will robot has previously resulted in their losing their autonomy.

The procedure seems to be unsuccessful (or, as we later learn, was intentionally sabotaged by W-23), and W-23 moves on with a new makeover courtesy of a passing scavenger named Elzy. He renames himself Tekla and models his new form after Leeja, believing humans (and, let’s be honest here, Tekla, Magnus in particular) will find it pleasing. Tekla intends to become the new leader of the free will robots and hopefully prevent their extinction, but just as Magnus, done with fighting for North Am, pledges his help, they receive an unexpected surprise:

Magnus Swerve
I sure hope those are just the four humans who fainted…

Turns out Elzy, with no knowledge of who she was helping, gave 0-1X a jolt to revive him, after which he has no trouble taking over the mainbrain and all of North Am’s billions of robots. With humanity now basically helpless, Tekla makes the case to allow the humans to live. 0-1X agrees, but only on the condition that Magnus surrender. If he does not, he will put a billion humans to death, a thousand for every robot killed. Clane sends out a plea to Magnus to turn himself, and even though he claims to no longer care for his own species, he decides to see things through at the request of someone he does still care about: 1-A.

Magnus What is Love
I will never be able to hear that question and not immediately think, “Baby, don’t hurt me.”

Magnus fights some more robots, but in the end he is able to dispatch 0-1X pretty easily with a decapitating karate chop. He destroys the mainbrain for good measure, prevents Timbuc from killing any more rogues, and once again offers Tekla his assistance with the other free will robots, but Tekla does not think the others will so readily accept help from 01-X’s killer. Magnus also gets a message from 1-A, instructing him to continue his hunt of the free will robots, on a device 1-A implanted in his head so that he could receive and understand robot transmissions, but it seems Magnus has developed some free will of his own.

Magnus Metal
Wow, Magnus, that’s really (pun completely intended) metal.
Magnus Man
Magnus….Robot Adjacent

OK, now the story’s really over, right? I mean, what is Magnus, Robot Fighter without a guy named Magnus fighting robots? Fear not, Legions! Just because Magnus is done being North Am’s resident robot killing thug, it does not mean there are no more robots to fight. And humans to fight. And robots and humans to prevent from fighting each other. You get the idea.

In all seriousness, this was a comic I wanted to continue long after I’d read enough to write about it, which isn’t always the case, even for comics I really enjoyed. The art is beautiful, and the writing is sharp. The subject matter doesn’t feel tired, even though a lot of its content has been told in different ways in different formats many times over. The comic is far from brainless but also contains a plethora of the simple pleasure of seeing a guy repeatedly put his fists through robots’ faces. What more could you want?

A robot named Grandmother who contains and nurtures the entirety of the nation of Japan and later turns into a fire breathing, alien fighting lizard spaceship? Well, Magnus got you covered.

Magnus Japan
Pictured: Japan.

A female lead who fakes her own death during the robot uprising and uses her family’s political background to help a newly liberated robot society establish itself? And also become a badass and save her ex-boyfriend and the world? All while wearing one of the least practical outfits I’ve ever seen a lady in a comic book wear, which is really saying something? Magnus got you covered.

Magnus Impractical
It would legitimately be more practical to just be topless.

There are dinosaurs and samurai and lasers and I don’t even know what else because eventually I had to pick a stopping point so that I could tell you about the cool things in this comic. Just make a list of cool stuff. It’s probably in here. Unless your list contains Jason Voorhees or Leatherface, who may not be in Magnus but who are in Jason vs. Leatherface, which you can soon read all about in Dean Compton’s much anticipated return to The Unspoken Decade. Until then, Legions!