Archie Comics for August 2008

Sorry this is late… I caught a summer cold that made it difficult to do any real writing this past week. I spent the whole time with my ears stopped up, feeling underwater.

Archie #588

Archie #588

The “Freshman Year” story continues with part 2 of 5. Last month, I said I had no idea how they’d fill five issues with these younger versions of the characters… now, my question is answered. They don’t. Instead, the emphasis moves to other cast members. First, it’s Principal Weatherbee’s first day in high school, too, and he’s in trouble with his boss. Then, there’s an older gang of stereotypical hoods that hassle “frosh” Archie. (They’re so flatly defined that the leader doesn’t even have eyes like the other characters, just dots. And does anyone say “frosh” anymore?) When you don’t know what to do with your leads, introduce new characters.

Or rewrite the old ones. Ms. Grundy is now teaching math instead of English or history. Veronica is too scared off by “the big kids” to enter Pop’s. (Veronica? Meek in a social situation?) Jughead is missing, so Archie is hanging with an eyeless nerd who only talks about TV. (He’s wearing a ski cap down to his nose over his long stringy hair.)

While I missed Jughead, the biggest thing I missed was the humor. Shouldn’t an Archie comic be funny? There are a couple of attempts at jokes here, but they’re few and far between, and too many of them revolve around making fun of the “Loss”-obsessed loser. Most of the story just plods along showing either the much-too-familiar or the out-of-character. (Yes, there is a third way. You can be true to the characters without repeating things seen too often before.) The huge chunks of exposition are boring. The truest thing about the issue is a caption on the first page that reads, “Riverdale High has basically remained the same place it’s always been… no matter what era!”

Betty & Veronica #237

Betty Veronica #237

In a followup to the previous issue, Nick St. Clair, stereotypical motorcycle-riding bad boy, is back in town. He says he’s come to apologize, but he’s really out for revenge. All the characters think they shouldn’t hold grudges and everyone deserves a second chance, so they’re quick to forgive. By the end, Nick’s had a sudden change of heart for no really good reason. He’s won over by everyone’s niceness and friendship and trust, so Riverdale is happy again, tra la, and Nick has lost any of his dramatic potential, since his one distinctive characteristic is gone. Maybe that means we’ve seen the last of him.

It’s times like these that I wonder how smart the change to issue-length stories really is. I’d have been happier with this issue if there were some other stories in the back with different characters, instead of putting up with Nick all issue. Variety can be nice.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch #96

Sabrina #96

Fill-in artist Lindsay Cibos does an excellent job mimicking writer Tania Del Rio’s art style this issue (probably aided by inker Jim Amash, who provides consistency). The over-arching story about the kids rebelling against the queen of the magic realm also receives significant forward progress. Taken together, the result is the best of the Archie comic line this month.

Pressured by her council of officials, the queen reluctantly agrees to a curfew after dark in the name of “protecting the people”. That will prevent rebels from meeting, and shutting down the children’s charm schools, where they learn better use of their powers, is an unfortunate side effect that will have to be tolerated. (Hmmm, I smell symbolism in sacrificing eduction to near-military expediency.)

We learn that a mysterious figure is threatening the queen, confirming that she’s not evil, just pressured. I was also glad to see Llandra actually use her powers; too often, Sabrina’s been super-witch, able to do anything, while everyone else stands around. I like when, in addition to being the voice of reason in the face of Sabrina’s emotion, Llandra also gets to move the story along. Plus, Cibos’ tiger image near the end is stunningly good.

Jughead & Friends Digest #29

Jughead Friends Digest #29

Jughead saves my day again! He’s become my favorite character because writers seem able to do more with him, with his collection of quirks and ticks. As a result, his books are the funniest of all.

The new lead story here turns on a goofy phrase — Veronica’s dad’s company is making toys, and instead of action figures, a Jughead-inspired inaction figure winds up being successful — but I like that it has a point to make as well. As part of her presentation on a new product, Veronica points out that today’s teens are over-scheduled and have awfully high expectations for themselves, what with school and activities and jobs. Plus, they don’t get enough sleep. It’s nice to have something real-world reflected as a basis for the humor.

(PS when the action figures debut at a “leading comic book store”, it’s Comics Unlimited, the outlet I write for, and owners Nancy and Jesse McCann cameo. Cool!)

The next tale continues the theme of relaxation (and what better concept for the end of summer timing?) as Jughead is forced to try and calm down even when confronted with his nemesis Trula Twyst. He’s smart around her, but she’s smarter, kind of like she’s Batman to his Robin.

There’s also a nice set of “That Wilkin Boy” stories included, most of which show the unique relationship between nebbishy Bingo and aggressive Samantha. I was surprised to note just how many thought balloons appeared… they’ve become an endangered species these days, and it was neat to note what they could do. (I also recently found out that at one point, Bingo Wilkin had his own band. Bet you’ll never guess their name. That’s right, “The Bingos”, from the company that brought you “The Archies”.)

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