It is a bold new era for Archie Comics’ flagship series and their entire Riverdale universe. Bigger name creative talent are being attached to current and upcoming projects, and their comics have rarely been so cutting edge. Urged by their success with risky projects such as “Afterlife with Archie” and the “Life with Archie” magazine, the company have recreated their classic cast of high school teens from the ground up. The first two issues of this relaunched series by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples (and colorists Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn) have been nothing short of revolutionary. Their collective and imaginative recreation of Archie Andrews and the rest of the cast around him have quickly established a hilarious and fresh new take on the beloved icon. Despite setting the bar quite high for themselves, this third issue may be the best yet – which suits the heroine (or anti-heroine) who gets this month’s official introduction well.
As with previous issues, each installment offers a done-in-one story, although the overall arc plays out in reoccurring subplots and a gradually unfolding narrative. The social structure of Riverdale High was shaken by the sudden split of Archie and his literal “girl next store”, Betty Cooper, and not even over the top ploys by their classmates have reunited them. An attempt to earn some money to fix his ride saw Archie getting a gig helping construct the mansion for his town’s newest members, the Lodge family. Although he practically destroyed the home in a manner which would have stunned even Jerry Lewis, he immediately caught the attention of Veronica, the spoiled daughter of family patriarch Hiram. Now on her first day at the local public school, Veronica capitalizes on both Archie’s infatuation and fear of her father’s wrath to manipulate him into practically becoming her servant. Her antics (and Archie’s submission to them) disgust both Jughead and Betty enough into action. Meanwhile, Veronica may have quite a facade, but does her flamboyant demeanor hide a troubled soul?
Like previous chapters, this issue is a near masterwork of comic timing, character interaction and reactions, and a savvy understanding of the world as it is today for most teenagers. Veronica is practically a celebrity, who quickly becomes the subject of the local TV media (especially in a sleepy town like Riverdale which likely has little else to sensationalize for ratings). Jughead’s status as the oddball who seems to call everyone out on their baloney and juggling being a loyal friend with being an outcast makes him one of the most fascinating characters in the book. Veronica gets quite an introduction here, but Waid is wise to give her a dose of humility to reveal a crack in her armor. As he explains in the column at the end of the book, he’s seeking to create a more contemporary dynamic between Betty and Veronica beyond simply competing for Archie (as well as Archie’s ambiguity towards picking one of them). Fiona Staples’ artwork is on top form, with her showing as much passion and creative vigor as she does for regular issues of “Saga”. One wouldn’t have exactly picked Staples for a comic which involved visual comedy, but her mastery of facial emotions, backgrounds, and wacky poses allows her to almost make it look easy. She seems to be in perfect sync with Waid’s scripts, which show the same passion and fondness for this franchise and its characters, alongside a willingness to revise them, that he’s shown in previous work on “Daredevil” and “Fantastic Four”. How often can one say that an issue of Archie passes the “Bechdel Test”?
Some of the rest of the supporting characters get their moments to shine as well. Annie Wu in particular gets quite a scene with Veronica. Iconic faculty of Riverdale High, such as Miss Grundy and Principal Weatherby, also get some of their first major lines. In fact, the only major character of the classic “gang” who hasn’t had much to do so far is the mischievous Reggie Mantle. He gets a line here and there or a moment in a panel (such as beaming about a humiliating moment for Veronica), but he remains on the fringes of the series so far. Considering how critical he is to the main cast and especially the public’s perception of the franchise (to the point that he’s mentioned in the theme song to 1999’s “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” cartoon right after Archie himself), it is somewhat surprising that he’s contributed so little to the series so far. However, Waid has been wisely methodical about this reboot and has taken careful thought to all of the characters her. Since he’s as close to an antagonist that the franchise usually has, Waid is likely biding his time with him.
Finding a flaw with this issue is almost impossible unless one simply doesn’t like the franchise at all. Archie himself can at times be insufferable or over the top, but that’s always been one of the freckle faced kid’s trademarks. Jughead’s never been cooler and Betty has managed to avoid the stereotype of being a “sweet blonde beauty”. It’s Veronica Lodge who gets to shine here, and she proves why she’s been such an iconic and long lasting character in her own right. She and Betty, after all, have had their own successful spin off series to themselves for decades for such a reason.
In an era where it seems faded franchises never go away and reboots of anything and everything in comics, TV, or film is everywhere, it can be tough to find the diamonds in the rough. Veronica would be able to find them easily, and so should readers who give this run an honest try. As the last issue of Staples’ regular involvement with the series, she manages to go out on quite a bang. Month in and month out, the new “Archie” is quickly becoming a treasure all its own.