Archer and Armstrong Vol.1
It's true. It's all true. The 1% are a shadowy cabal who control the economy, there are hidden societies inside the Vatican, using their wealth and influence. All the conspiracies are out there, working together - and against each other as they jockey for control of the world.
Beneath a creationist amusement park, Obidiah Archer, adoptive son of a preacher and a congressperson - and trained assassin - has just used his preternatural combat skills to defeat his brothers and sisters, the prize being a mission to kill He Who is Not to be Named - the evil one who stands in the way of their conspiracy.
Of course, things do not go as planned. He Who is Not to be Named is Aram Anni-Padda, immortal, poet, and drunkard, better known to the 21st century as Armstrong, currently working in a New York Bar as a bouncer for drinks, spending most of his time convincing young women to remove their bras to be nailed to the wall of the bar he works in. And when Archer meets him, they become embroiled in a bar room brawl. Of course, things go downhill from there, Archer discovers that his parents were more than willing to sacrifice him if it furthered their goals, and he realises Armstrong is a better man than he's been lead to believe.
And so begins the great adventure, as this mismatched pair - the world-weary immortal and the naive young man team up to defeat the sect, or at least stay a step or two ahead of them. And, well, it's really funny to boot.
The setup for the book - the interaction of the various conspiracies - is clearly influenced by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's seminal Illuminatus! trilogy, as all the best conspiracy theory stories are, but the madcap sense of humour (as opposed to Illuminatus!' wit) makes the book feel like the craziest session of Steve Jackson's Illuminati card game you've ever played.
The creationist theme park Archer grew up in has all these lovely details lampooning the actual Creationist museum (There's a dinosaur ride, "just like cavemen used to", and "junk science follies" with a chimp Darwin), the 1% want to stabilise the Euro by blowing up Greece, and rationalise the death of some henchmen as being able to replace them with contractors and pocket the dead mens' pension and insurance contributions, therefore transferring even more capital away from the poor. The parodies are very broad, so if you're a religious conservative or a free market capitalist you might be more offended than amused, but as a severe leftie I found these jokes hilarious.
Fred Van Lente's script balances the pointed humour with a lot of fun dialogue, Archer refuses to swear, calling things "flipping bullcorn" and the like, Armstrong is by turns poetic and sardonic, and their interactions sing. Clayton Henry's art has a nice style that's reminiscent of the clean lines of a lot of modern US cel animation, nicely expressive and willing to ramp up the detail where necessary. Archer's power is kind of a Taskmaster deal, he can reproduce any physical moves he's witnessed, and there's a very nice touch whenever he uses this power, where a dictionary definition of the different martial arts, anatomy quirks he exploits or other skills he uses are included in captions or superimposed on the panel
I really enjoyed this book, it's a great mix of serious and funny, to the point that it stands alone as a comedy book, but when it (or the characters) crosses over with more straight-laced Valiant titles, it's not incongruous - think back to that one issue of X-Factor where they fight the MLF, and they complain about all the jokes, and at least when they fight X-Force there's no wisecracks. So when there's an Archer and Armstrong/Quantum and Woody teamup miniseries (The Delinquents), it's a jokefest. But when there's a brief crossover between their book and Bloodshot (around volume 4 of both series), it's more like Bloodshot has to deal with these two guys who won't shut up - but they work well. The couple of issues in volume 2 where Archer and Armstrong are chased by the Eternal Warrior are amazing in that regard.