Review: Archie Vol. 1

Up until recently, if anyone wanted to check out a modern-day version of Archie and the kids from Riverdale there were a few stipulations to the best story. Firstly, you had to love the color scheme of black with orange and then you had to read a straight-up zombie book. Which actually wasn’t even a very hard sell because Afterlife with Archie is a quality book in many ways however, there still had to be a way to bring these icons of strong morals and perfect teeth into today’s world. At least more thoroughly than the various progressive and headline-grabbing story arcs featured in the traditional Archie comics line. By the way, this is just the long way around of declaring just how great of a job Mark Waid has done in this first volume of the so-called Archie reboot series. The main source of Waid’s success being that he didn’t fall into the various traps that updating any set of characters automatically opens up. Don’t expect any kind of grim-dark  ‘edgy’ versions of Archie and Veronica as say, coke-snorting sexual deviants straight from some CW television series from the year 2009. Waid’s versions of the characters maintain the original traits that endeared them to many a generation while also possessing just the right amount of depth and growth.

This version of Betty is complex and confused--she really feels like the kind of teenage girl one could recognize as part of their own lives. A young woman facing the dichotomy of being the girl the boys want to be friends with all while inhabiting a time of her life when that can start to mean something a lot more complicated for all parties involved as these teenagers become young adults. Using this to explore why, at this point in their lives anyway, Betty and Archie need to be apart. Sometimes in the past it’s seemed like these two women throw themselves at Archie because that’s all the moves they were allowed to make as characters. But in this reboot it seems just as likely that neither will end up with Archie and that’s okay for them and him. I also have to applaud Waid’s writing choices avoiding what may have been the easy route of turning Archie into more of a pushy jerk just for the sake of the drama it could create. Waid's version of the character is still a klutz in matters of the heart and elsewhere but at least he really seems to give a damn about both Betty and Veronica.

Archie Vol 1One downside in the characterization of the lead trio is that Veronica still suffers a great deal from the classic ‘poor little rich girl’ trope. My hope is that future issues give her a chance to rise above and show why the audience should care about her desire of Archie. If Mark Waid puts forth more of the subtle addition of further character traits he has with others than Ronny could rise above her designer dresses and stretch limousines.

The first issues of the volume feature art by Saga queen Fiona Staples (by the end of the volume the art duties are given over to Veronica Fish and she doesn’t need to feel like she’s in Staples shadow as her artwork is more than suitable). Back when the book was first announced, Staples’s contributions were as eagerly looked forward as anything else about the new Archie. That kind of excitement is well deserved as Staples provides versions of the characters with great personality exuding from their very character designs. Likely in an effort to avoid how damn similar basically any denizen of Riverdale looked in the past if you just imagine them swapping haircuts. She manages to come up with updated versions that still greatly respect their aesthetic origins. Yes, some of the characters have facial piercings, but it doesn’t come off like a decision made in a corporate boardroom to try appealing to those fickle millennials. This just happens to be what teenagers in even the smallest of towns that still have an honest to god ice cream shop with a soda counter look like. It doesn’t hurt that someone can pick up this book and find at least one character in it that they can see themselves in.

I think that’s really why this version of Archie is a stellar read.I care about what happens to these characters in future issues and this version of Riverdale presented with a sense of optimism that provides escapism not to a better time but just to a nice place--one that still has its problems but also a community dedicated to being there for one another. The characters and the events that happen in their lives have a sense of authenticity to them people can relate to. Now, I’m usually the first person to rail against the seeming requirement of relating to the morality of a character and how it affects their decision-making as being completely necessary to enjoying any kind of fiction, but in this instance it just shows that Mark and Fiona Staples made flesh and blood from ink and words.Call it corny but sometimes it’s nice to have an option on the bookshelf that invokes the same feeling as indulging in a classic sitcom where you’re pretty sure everything’s going to be resolved at the end of the issue yet you want to come visit the characters again to see what shenanigans they get into next time. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy this Instagram-filter version of Archie and his friends in between long-awaited chapters of the aforementioned horror incarnation of Riverdale.  

Score: 4/5

Archie, Vol. 1 TPB Writer: Mark Waid Artists: Fiona Staples, Veronica Fish Colorists: Andre Syzmanowicz and Jen Vaughn Publisher: Archie Comics Price: $19.99 Release Date: 3/16/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital