A month after #thelipstickincident got people talking about Archie again, Mark Waid and Fiona Staples are back with the follow-up to their stellar premiere. This time around relying on slapstick for quite of a bit of its laughs, we’re at last provided a glimpse to Veronica, potentially setting up a new take on one of the longest going love triangles. After mostly getting over each other, Archie and Betty spend this issue trying to go on with the inanities and high stakes drama of high school. Archie scores another in a long line of disastrous after school jobs, and works construction at the new land development in town, a situation his friends predict can only lead to physical injury for their red-haired friend. Meanwhile, Betty tells a guy to shove off after he makes a move on her during a video game session in her room, and prepares for her birthday party despite the frustration she has at feeling pressured playing the part of a high school girl. As predicted, things go just as awry as they possibly can on the construction site, leaving Archie at a loss about how he can afford his car’s repairs.
Waid manages with this issue to tell a story in the classic Archie style while never appearing either dated or concerned with capturing the teen cultural zeitgeist. There’s nary a mention of social networking, or real world pop culture, both shortcuts creators use to give the impression of familiarity with current cultural trends when working on a book focused on young adults. Essentially, Waid tells a story that’s just at home in the 1940’s as it would be in 2015 (an idea reinforced by the Classic Archie backup Waid again includes this issue). What makes it current are Waid’s tweaks to the formula, such as making Betty an unabashed gearhead formerly responsible for keeping Archie’s car in working order and solidifying Archie’s status as an endearing everyman by way of fourth wall breaking narration that never feels tedious.
Like the first issue, this one doesn’t give us much insight into other students attending Riverdale High. There’s a brief exchange between Archie’s friends as they determine how best to go about preventing Archie from maiming himself or others at the construction site, but they’re left behind once shenanigans ensue. Despite their brief appearances though, Waid does a great job at giving them distinctive voices, which I hope he gives greater attention to in future issues. I was a big fan of Jughead’s characterization in the first issue, and I’m glad that we get a bit of background on this version of the character at the beginning of this one. Jughead’s past as a silver spoon kid makes him an even more likable character given his optimistic and zen-like attitude towards all things, and artist Fiona Staples illustrates him with a gangly grace that makes his trademark crown anything but silly. He doesn’t appear again following those pages, but thankfully I’ll soon be able to get my Jughead fix once Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson get going on their Jughead title in October.
Lacking the sci-fi madness of Saga, Fiona Staples channels her impressive talents into making Riverdale and its teenage residents simultaneously gorgeous and believable. I was really taken with her depiction of Betty who in this issue attempts ‘dress like a girl’ for her birthday party. Both after and prior to her makeover Betty is an obviously attractive person, and the makeover scene highlights just how daunting, and at times painful, such an overhaul can be. Staples has now sufficiently convinced me of the dangers a flat-iron and subverts the Pretty Woman take on the reveal scene, zooming into a made-up Betty’s face that’s flustered with her well-made hair and artificial nails. It’s a great few pages that ensure readers recognize Betty as someone other than Archie’s love interest, and I hope Staples and Waid maintain that characterization as Veronica enters the fold next issue.
I’m wary of the hype machine when it comes to reading comics, and it’s been a while since I’ve read anything regarding teenagers that I’ve enjoyed without cringing at the memories it evokes. Yet Waid and Staples craft a Riverdale that’s fun to visit even as it lacks the sort of deep philosophical or moral questions expected of important comic book titles. For both the jaded and newcomers, this new take on Archie offers an enjoyable respite that doesn’t feel the least bit cheesy. And you know once Veronica makes her proper appearance, shit is gonna go down.