By Justin Wood
Why do I do this to myself? Let's be honest, there is probably never going to be an Archie title that will itch what makes me read comics. A good critic tries his damnedest to approach things with an even keel, to give all kinds of art its due and day in court, but to ignore that we all come to the art table with different things that brought us there is to ignore what makes us individuals. It probably says a lot about me, but the mundane fictional human drama is not a genre that naturally attracts my attention. Non-fiction drama I can get behind, the intimacy those comics can draw out, like sitting with someone you only sort of know in a warm, quiet place and listen to them uncover themselves with unnerving immediacy. If it's all made up, the author has to be a master observationalist or wield a powerful handle of storytelling to sell me on the daily bustle of clumsy, awkward, utterly normal fake people. It's often like watching a staged football game, a pale facsimile of something I already had little interest in, to begin with.
Oh right, there's a fucking Archie book I'm supposed to be talking about.
Anyway, with a few spare hours in my evening, the day the miserably stupid looking Riverdale got it's first blue-filtered trailer no less, I thought it was somehow wise to read yet another Archie book, my fourth or fifth of the year. Why? Because they breed like rabbits and, produce plenty of #1s. Slow week on the spinner rack, let's get this over with.
Huh. This isn't awful.
Yeah, despite looking like the least valuable property the rebooted Archie line has published so far, with former Marvel Editor In Chief and veteran Archie writer Tom Defalco behind the wheel, the book is a decently straightforward Reggie portrait, albeit unusually old fashioned one. By far, Reggie and Me feels the least self-aware of the Archie books I've read, not so much the cheeky parody of the over half-a-century old Archie formula but rather a bluntly earnest embrace of the characters while writing them in an unfamiliar style.
Bizarrely, like the genuinely befuddling Betty and Veronica earlier this year, the story is narrated by a dog, the "me" in Reggie and Me being his pet Dachshund Vader. While Betty and Veronica went for Chip Zdarsky levels of lulz random with Hot Dog's ironically arch dialogue, Vader plays it more straight as an unfailingly loyal companion, invisibly observing and interpreting the events. The story is light, painting the broad picture of modern Reggie, a popular but vicious school trendsetter, privately wildly insecure and lonely, demanding respect and loyalty and punishing those that hurt him with their unconscious infidelity. The story is so slim outside of this characterization that any further synopsis would simply spoil what the book does have in terms of plot, so I'll leave it there.
This book, for being part of the reboot, is actually quite old-fashioned. The tone of the narration, the simplistic, stagey form of the dialogue, even the paneling, all feels like a comic from another time, but not a time readily associated with Archie storytelling. It has an 80's/early 90's vibe to the pacing, composed like a comic book rather than the styles that came later that put value on trying to capture the functions of other art mediums. While unusual from a publishing standpoint, I actually appreciated it here, DeFalco telling a story without pretension, and avoiding the swarm of tongues-in-cheeks that cluttered up many of the other attempts to reinvent Archie. I can't say this book makes Reggie an interesting or involving character, but the job was to tell a Reggie story, and this work does a functional job of it rather than trying to be cute.
The art similarly rode a fine line between functional and questionably engaging, but in the end, it did its job for me. Like the writing, it's old fashioned, not classically refined but straightforward about how it tells a story. The black linework has a certain thrust to it, even if it lets the book down any time it needs to represent unusual imagery like fantasies or Reggie's mischief, but for the majority of the book set in simple character interactions, it expresses clearly and without fuss. The colors as well run a wobbly line at times for me, sometimes feeling too hands off with broad gradients and untweaked white negative space, but a majority of the time the poppy saturated fills give the lines a sunny vibrancy and polish the pages nicely.
No, Reggie and Me didn't change my world, nor was it every likely to, but it told a story without feeling desperate to be different which is not what I've come to expect from the rebooted Archie line. The matter-of-factness about it made it contradictorily refreshing, never feeling confused, annoyed, or overly aware a panel was likely designed to be retweeted. If Archie scratches your itch, this is probably one of the better attempts at doing a standalone Reggie story as we could expect, even if it doesn't break new ground. I don't really expect any more, but even if you do, there is nothing about this that immediately precludes giving it a chance to impress you.
Reggie and Me #1
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Artist: Sandy Jarrell
Publisher: Archie Comic