It is patently unfair to hold Veronica Fish to the high, high standard of Fiona Staples. I know this and yet in reading Archie #6, I was reminded how unfortunate the change in artists has been for an otherwise great book. When the book began Mark Waid's take on Archie was sharp and charming but with a very familiar innocent sense of humor. As such, it was Staple's stylish, semi-realistic art that made the book feel wildly new. Veronica Fish's work is, by comparison, so stylized and cartoonish (and completely unlike Staple's) that the new tone lost entirely, making one wonder why the book has to avoid the Archie house style anyway. It is to be expected that Staples, who is in the middle of Saga with Brian K Vaughan, couldn't be the series continuing artist, but her work is so distinct that it seems like a blunder to let her create the new world of Archie without any plan in place to continue her style. The art, which I should note is good in its own right, is not the only thing making Archie #6 feel disconnected from the earlier issues. Mark Waid is on record as being a writer who believes planning a story too far in advance is a deficit, but as the focus continues away from Archie to less interesting side characters the main thread of the story threatens to lose itself in what feel like glorified tangents. Issue six begins with Archie being knocked unconscious by a baseball (accidentally hit by Betty), and his ensuing concussion makes him the catalyst for the events of the rest of the issue, but not an active participant. Veronica meets yet another new love interest, before being reminded, via Archie's injury, just how conflicted she feels about their break-up. Meanwhile Reggie takes Archie's absence as a means of getting close to Betty and ingratiating himself to the Lodge family.
Unfortunately, the Reggie/Mr. Lodge plotline, which takes up most of the issue, can't seem to decide exactly what it's doing as it oscillates between large comedy and oddly Machiavellian maneuverings. While Reggie's tone-deaf attempts to get Mr. Lodge on his side could be amusing, his use of his father's conveniently available newspaper articles as leverage feels oddly serious. Similarly, Mr. Lodge as a character is so nasty and powerful that his intrusion into the world feels like it has far too high of stakes. The concept of a powerfully rich, ruthless man going after an innocent teenager (using evidence of vandalism) violates the rules of the new world of Archie by being legitimately dark.
Perhaps this whole plotline would read better to me if I had a reason to care about the characters, but Reggie's motivations are unclear and, frankly, uninteresting. Previously, Waid managed to take other mostly one-note classic characters like Jughead and find their key qualities, but Reggie never goes beyond being a vile bully. We are told that he hates Archie, but we are not given any reason beyond the fake ID from last issue, and his actions don't fully fit with wanting revenge for that. There are some hints that he feels ignored by his parents and wants to use the Lodge's to increase his own status, but in a book defined by clean, light characterization, he feels oddly uncharismatic. As such the Reggie plotline feels like an off-tone tangent distracting from the charming book of the previous issues.
And when the issue is away from Reggie, it's pleasantly apparent that the original book still very much exists. The details in the lives of the main characters remains stunningly well-realized (and usually funny). Veronica's frustration manifesting itself as athletic prowess is perfect summation of her character and her genuine concern over Archie's well-being is sweet. Similarly, the realization that the supposed stuck-up Betty really love's Archie is a nice step towards establishing the love-triangle dynamic of the original series. I hope that this love-triangle is in some way resolved instead of dragging on for another 60 years, but that's really a mark of how much Mark Waid has made me care about the characters. Archie number six evinces how excellent the book can be when it stays rooted in its relationships. While the art and main story are giving me pause, it's hard not to be optimistic about the continued success of the series.
Archie #6 Writer: Mark Waid Artist: Veronica Fish Publisher: Archie Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 2/17/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital