Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Born again after seventy-five years: ARCHIE review

 

ARCHIE Volume 2, #1:  (Archie Comic Publications, September 2015)  Story by Mark Waid. Art by Fiona Staples. Coloring by Andre Szmanowicz with Jen Vaughn. Lettering by Jack Morelli.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a rule that will never make it’s way into the mission statement of the two largest comics publishers - - Marvel and DC.  Even newer publishers like Valiant have dipped their creative hands into the re-boot pool  (Bloodshot Reborn, for example).  Now one of the oldest comics publishers remaining, Archie Comics, takes a calculated risk and attempts to re-invent an iconic character with a 75 year history.

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After reading the first two issues, it appears that the major changes are 1) in the look of the characters and the art style, and 2) the story themes and background detail. At its heart, ARCHIE has always been about a teenager experiencing the usual anxieties over high school life as well as determining which of two different and attractive girlfriends to chose from.  This new version, scripted by veteran writer Mark Waid, seems to be a return to those roots.   That should please the core of long-time Archie fans and also serve to attract some new and younger readers to the title.

This is not the first time that attempts have been made to update ARCHIE.  It’s just the first time that the publisher has been motivated to start a brand new volume, back to Issue #1.  (The cynic in me understands the attractiveness of new #1 issues).  Rather, followers of the title would argue that Archie was already  modernized by the introduction of gay characters (Kevin) and a willingness to tackle controversial themes in its storylines. I’ve read a few of those tales (most written and illustrated by the very creative Dan Parent) and have been impressed with their relevancy.  However, during all those changes the appearance of the characters did not stray from the cartoony look that has been a mainstay of ARCHIE since the 1970’s.

A good choice to redesign the look of  Archie and Riverdale was made with artist Fiona Staples, a master of facial expression who cut her chops on the popular sic-fi SAGA.  Archie has a new haircut and a more mature looking face with just a hint of the famous freckles.  He still wears the Riverdale letterman jacket.  Jughead continues to wear a Burger-King like crown/hat, but has more of a snarky/cynical/scheming look than the dopey expressions he has traditionally worn.  Reggie seems to be as greasy as ever but a bit more stand-offish, now seen wearing a black leather jacket more often  (so far).  Betty and Veronica are still gorgeous, but Staples takes extra steps to point out how different they are by their clothing styles.  Betty wears practical attire, work-on-the-car sweatshirts and casual clothes while Veronica looks more sophisticated, stylish and fashionable.

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Issue #1  begins with Archie breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the reader, a refreshing introduction and nice feature that also continues in Issue #2.  Here’s hoping that Waid uses this method more often.  It’s a great way to get into the head of Archie and understand him better.

The relationship between Archie and Betty is broken, due to a “lipstick incident” referred to several times but never defined.  I expect Waid to continue to tease readers by mentioning this in future issues, with an eventual reveal in the months to come.  This break-up seems to upset the natural order of things at Riverdale High as several friends of both Archie and Betty try to devise ways to bring them back together, culminating in the Homecoming dance where we are introduced to Archie’s electric guitar proficiency.

There are plenty of gags and one-liners making for an amusing first issue. There is no mention of Veronica, except for a billboard on the last panel featuring her father’s image and a notice about Lodge Industries moving into town.  Archie returns to speaking directly to the reader on the last page, and asks for suggestions on how to get over Betty. Of course, we are all expecting the introduction of Veronica to assist with that.

ARCHIE #2 (October 2015) Story by Mark Waid.  Art by Fiona Staples.  Coloring by Andre Szymanowicz.  Lettering by Jack Morelli.

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Issue #2 opens in a discussion with Jughead on why Archie needs a job and we learn about his accident-prone nature (something established in the very first Archie story in 1941 that Waid will utilize in this new version).  Archie speaks directly to the reader again, and gives us the low-down on Jughead’s sad history  (family wealth lost in bankruptcy). 

Archie lands a job (temporarily) with Lodge Industries in construction and gets a far-away glimpse of Veronica and is immediately attracted to her.  Archie has a job accident (he’s not hurt, but the job is damaged). Veronica (Ronnie) makes eye contact and sparks ignite.

Betty tries to begin again with new dates and is disappointed. At the urging of friends she tries to update her look and is frustrated.

It’s more teen angst, regrets and loneliness.  Good stuff.  This is a likeable book and fun to read.  

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