It may come to no surprise to anyone out there that I’m a big fan of Archie Comics. In fact, it was through those characters and the Archie heroes that I landed this gig. Archie as a company has been a kind of revitalization I’ve only ever seen at DC and Marvel, and the results have been tremendous. New characters, new creators, new storylines… Archie is still the much loved company they always have been, but their new energy has been great to watch and participate in.
I don’t know if I’d say the “Archie Gets Married” storyline started this renaissance, but it certain helped put the company back into the public’s eye. These storylines have been continued in the “Life With Archie” magazine. It’s a refreshing change of pace to see the teens of Riverdale experiencing the pains and rewards of growing up. Issue #12 continues these themes and is successful, for the most part.
The first thing I noticed about this issue was that, aside from main cover and the two covers that open each story, Norm Breyfogle was noticeably absent. One thing that keeps me coming back to this book is his art and his unique take on these characters. The fill-in artists – Fernando Ruiz and Al Milgrom on the first story, Pat and Tim Kennedy on the second – did a great job of subduing their own unique styles and continuing the feel of Norm’s work on the title. If I hadn’t have read the credits, I may not have known there was a change of artists. I could get used to them, but hope to see Norm’s return to the title next issue.
And of course Dan Parent’s pinups are always fun. I’ve also grown to enjoy Suzannah Rowntree’s features, even though they’re written for the Teen Beat crowd and not an older comic book reader. Ahem.
“The Trail of Reggie Mantle, part 6” is a combination of hits and misses for me. It opens with Hiram Lodge and the enigmatic Professor Doiley comparing some notes about another character that seems to be plotting against them. One of the problems I’ve had since this title’s inception is the portrayal of Hiram Lodge as a ruthless businessman. If this were a natural development of Hiram we’ve never seen before, I could accept it. In fact, that’s why this portrayal works so well in the second story. But so far, writer Paul Kupperberg portrays Hiram as Lex Luthor, which doesn’t ring true. Hiram even goes as far as to sabotage his daughter’s marriage without a second thought and a disturbing hint of glee. I keep waiting for some kind of payoff to explain all of this, but it never comes. The Hiram I’ve always read about protected his daughter above all else… not so much here.
Archie left both Veronica and his job at Lodge Industries in the previous issue. I was hoping he’d move into a hotel or rent a small apartment while he figures out his next move. Instead, he moves back in with his parents. That just seems like such a step backward for the character that it nearly threw me out of the story.
On the other hand, I loved the interaction between Archie and his parents about his situation. I won’t spoil it here, but it comes across very realistically.
Betty and Veronica also share a moment in the Chocklit Shoppe that I thought was well done.
And I can’t say enough about how much I’ve enjoyed Moose’s development in this series. He continually surprises me and grows each issue. And Paul’s dialogue throughout this book is fun to read. He’s really getting a feel for how the characters interact.
That said, the trial against Reggie ends very anti-climatically. After a five issue build up, some new “evidence” discovered by reporter Polly Cooper – evidence concocted by Hiram Lodge, the same man who framed Reggie in the first place — quickly ends the story. It’s almost as if Paul got tired of the storyline and decided to drop it. The only thing that saved this sequence was Paul’s dialogue. And once again, Paul has separated Archie and Veronica. It seems about every three issues: they fight and are apart, then make up for about two issues, then fight and separate again. It’s getting old. At the end of Michael Uslan’s original “marriage” story, it showed Archie and Veronica working together, complimenting their differences and having a stronger relationship for it after their first year of marriage. So far, Paul has avoided that and it’s getting discouraging. Does he dislike this couple so much?
On the other hand, “Hot Times at Riverdale High” continues the great storyline of Archie and Betty, which plays to the drama of the cast without feeling as soap-operatic as the other story has become.
It shows that while Archie and Betty have problems, they approach them and resolve them as a team, which is very uplifting. Archie and Betty are still working into their new roles as teachers at Riverdale High, which places them in a familiar setting, but gives them new challenges.
Their new students and fellow teachers give them a supporting cast with numerous possibilities.
Similarly, Ronnie and Reggie are in fine form here, both of them coming into their roles as a savvy businesswoman and an investigative reporter respectively.
Hiram Lodge again plays the uber-heavy here, but unlike the other story he’s come off as more menacing and believable here. The strength of Jughead and Midge’s relationship is also represented well here, as it has been since the first issue. Only 2 minor complaints here: not enough Betty in this issue, and that something happens to Riverdale High, something that wasn’t conveyed dramatically through the art like it should have been.
Overall, 3.5 out of 5 stars. I’m still enjoying this book, but I want it to be better. Since the art isn’t the issue, the pressure is resting on Paul’s shoulders. He has a great opportunity here to chart new ground for these characters. Let’s see them live up to their potential in both stories.