More than any other high school drama of recent memory, I’ve wanted nothing more than to hop in and attend Riverdale High despite the absence of some of my favorite words. There’s nothing fantastical going on at the school, but the drama is permeable, the people are uniquely charming, and the teachers are oblivious. My favorite aspect about this comic is that everyone feels worth getting to know even Veronica, who I always found the least uninteresting back in the days of reading Archie Digest. And now that there’s some apparent tension to this run, I’m excited to see where Mark Waid and Ming Doyle takes it next since Fiona Staples wraps up her arc with this issue. After getting a quick intro to Veronica at the end of last issue, this one gives us a hefty dose of the rich girl and former reality TV star. From her arrival in her towncar, Archie sets out to win her over only to realize that Veronica recognizes him as the person who destroyed her house in one of the most impressive bouts of clumsiness and bad fortune. Knowing she can get Archie to do anything she likes in order to prevent her from revealing his actions to her father, Veronica loads him books, calls him Andy, and has him follow her car home by foot to avoid the smell of her own vomit-stained outfit (a victim of the grossest sloppy joes this side of The Olsen Twins classic It Takes Two). Meanwhile, Jughead tries to enlist Betty in figuring out a way to get Archie from under Veronica’s thumb.
Mark Waid and Fiona Staples do a spectacular job once again this issue in creating believable teens thanks to Waid’s authentic dialogue and behavior, and Staples’ astonishing ability for facial expressions and versatile teen fashions. Most obviously, they solidify the case here for why Jughead is getting his own book by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson. Waid and Staple’s Jughead is the best friend EVER, and they depict him as an effortlessly cool dude unimpressed by much and running aspects of the school to work in his favor. My favorite moments this issue involve Jughead being Jughead, such as dryly responding with “I had a pony like that once” after a reporter provides him physical details about Veronica and inquires about his opinion of her, or when he tells Archie that he took “the right pictures of the right people” in order to get out of gym class. Jughead is beyond the love struck and awkward feelings experienced by his peers, unfazed by anything but the thought of a diet. And Staples makes that crown look totally appropriate on his head (Costume of 2015 maybe?). In addition to Jughead, Waid and Staples do a wonderful job of using all their available tools to distinguish every character. Each person smiles differently, talks differently, and the variety of bodies and ethnicities are so satisfying to see in a high profile comic.
In previous issues, I was a little worried that the comic may be absent of any long running emotional stakes, but that’s clearly addressed in this issue with Veronica disrupting the steady calm of Riverdale. Waid states in the afterword that he wasn’t interested in retaining the love triangle aspect of the 70’s and 80’s version of the character, and I think that’s a great move on his part. Instead, he focuses the tension on Veronica’s current manipulation of Archie and its impact on his relationship with Jughead and Betty. It’s a situation entirely relatable to anyone who’s had a close friend become entangled with a romantic interest who may not have their feelings in mind. What makes it even better too is that Veronica doesn’t come off as a complete antagonist, displaying genuine distress in one scene at being the new kid in school who’s uncertain about the authenticity of other’s interactions with her due to her family’s wealth. I’m genuinely interested in seeing how these relationships evolve as the characters continue to interact, and move past some of the more petty feelings characteristic of teenage insecurity.
Sometimes I feel like I’m approaching burnout in writing about a comic after three issues with it, but in the case of Archie I feel very capable of continually deconstructing the ongoing activity at Riverdale. I’m bummed to see Staples leave so soon from the comic, but super glad she took this book on in addition to her work on Saga. The great news is that with Ming Doyle taking over next month, readers will continue to be treated to amazing art to accompany these fun and fabulous stories of teenage life.
Archie #3 Writer: Mark Waid Artist: Fiona Staples Publisher: Archie Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 9/30/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital