Collecting the first six issues, Archie Volume 1 hits the reboot button on the Archie franchise with a new series by writer Mark Waid and artists Fiona Staples (issues 1-3), Annie Wu (4) and Veronica Fish (5-6). Is it good?
Archie Vol. 1 (Archie Comics)
I should probably admit right off the bat that I have never been what you might call an Archie “fan.” Sure, I like the little I know about the franchise that I’ve gained through cultural osmosis, but other than that time the Riverdale kids got mixed up with the Predator, or that time they met The Punisher (which has been called the greatest inter-company crossover of all time, which I’m inclined to agree with), I really haven’t read much of the mainline Archie series that has existed for almost three quarters of a century.
So, why did I suddenly get the urge to become this weird guy that got into Archie in his twenties? Part of it came from the fact that, this being a fresh start for the characters, what better time than now to see what all the fuss is about? But mostly, it was because of Mark Waid and Fiona Staples.
Waid may seem like a surprising choice for the new Archie writer. He’s won multiple Eisners, has worked primarily in superhero comics, and he’s in his fifties. That may not sound like the kind of creator that would be interested in the adventures of a goofy teen whose biggest problem is that he can’t choose between two equally beautiful girls (even though we can all agree that he should pick Betty, right?), but one of the things that Waid has always done well (and he does a LOT of things well) is proving to have genuine affection for all of the characters that he’s writing.
“First of all, there’s nothing wrong with Archie.” That’s what Fiona Staples, in her introduction to this volume, says that Waid told her during their first call together. It’s clear from the first issue that he didn’t want to “fix” anything about the series, and instead he just enhanced what was already great about it.
My younger sister used to read a lot of Archie comics, and I remember how she once explained to me that a large part of the appeal is that nothing bad ever really happens in Riverdale. Sure, the teens get into wacky hijinks, but nobody ever gets seriously hurt, and there are rarely dire consequences. Waid understands that you can change the way Archie stories are told without doing much to change the fictional universe that surrounds him.
Waid, playing to his strengths as a writer that has always had a strong emotional core, gives the characters more emotional weight without making them too angsty. He shows us why Archie is initially attracted to Betty, and makes Veronica appealing in a way that I never knew that she could be. The characters employ contemporary slang and pop cultural references in a way that feels genuinely current rather than forced. I could keep going about all the things that he does right, but I need to save some praise for when I review volume 2, and it’s about time that I talked about how wonderful the art is.
Perhaps one of the biggest risks that the Archie reboot takes is that it strays from the classic Dan DeCarlo style that the publisher has perfected through so many different artists over the past several decades. And once again, Fiona Staples is a surprising choice. I don’t mean to imply that award-winning critical darlings like Staples shouldn’t be working on an Archie book, but up until recently, the Archie series, for as beloved as it is, never seemed to be the type that screamed “award-winning talent” (which, again, is not to say that the people working on these books have never been deserving). Plus, she’s been pretty inseparable from Saga since that series began, only popping her head into other books to do the occasional cover or two. And even if you don’t know any of that, you have to admit that her art style is quite a bit different than what the “Archie” series is used to.
Yet she makes it work beautifully. I’ll get to the other artists soon, but Fiona Staples deserves a great deal of credit for establishing the “new look” of the Archie universe. Again, I don’t want to put down the previously established style. I love the clean-lined, colorful bounciness of it, and from the few glimpses of Archie art that I’ve seen over the years, the artists do seem to make an effort to keep up with the times as far as fashion goes, while maintaining the timeless style. And I’m glad that Archie, as a company, will continue to publish comics of that classic style in digest versions even as the rebooted universe dominates comic book store shelves.
But Mark Waid has developed a new tone here, and thus, a new art style is appropriate. For one thing, for the first time that I can remember, Archie himself looks genuinely handsome, like the kind of guy that two beautiful girls would be fighting over. And for their part, Bettie and Veronica have never looked so good, with distinctive facial features that weren’t quite as possible with the older, more clean-lined style. Every other character looks great, too, in their own way – even Jughead looks like he could be a real person! All the while, Staples plays to the same strengths that she does with Saga: simple layouts, distinctive body language and believable facial expressions. It’s a shame that she can’t continue to work Archie into her busy schedule with Saga, but we’re lucky she contributed to this comic at all.
Annie Wu of Hawkeye and Black Canary fame drops by for the fourth issue, and while it may seem like an abrupt stylistic change, I don’t think too many people will complain. Wu’s work has just as much energy as anybody, and while her style isn’t quite as realistic, it works just as well for the Archie universe.
Veronica Fish closes out this volume, and now that she’s been announced as the new permanent, ongoing artist for the series, she may be the most important piece of the artistic puzzle. Luckily, Archie is in good hands with her. Fish’s work actually reminds me a lot of Staples’, but the lines are a lot thicker and the figures more cartoony. It’s really important for the artist of a book like this to be able to play up the comedy, and Fish achieves that beautifully.
With all these artistic changes, colorists Andre Syzmanowicz and Jen Vaughn, as well as letterer Jack Morelli, are the glue that keeps this book consistent, though they adjust their styles beautifully to match each artist. The colors are vibrant and the letters are clear, well-placed, and expressive.
I should note that this volume includes the first issue of Jughead by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Erica Henderson. I don’t want to get too much into that because that should be getting its own collection soon enough, but it’s a funny, well-drawn comic that serves as a nice cherry on top of this already delicious sundae.
Is It Good?
Archie Volume 1 respects the franchise’s history while moving forward in a smart, interesting direction. This series has a bright future ahead of it.