Advance Review: ‘Archie’ #1 is an accessible, visually striking relaunch

Archie1-666x1024Archie #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Fiona Staples
Published by Archie Comics

After 600+ issues, Archie is going the way of most comics and getting a new number one issue. And a slice of life comic hasn’t looked this gorgeous as Saga artist Fiona Staples gives all the inhabitants of Riverdale a fashion facelift along with bringing rich colors and facial expressions to the new comic. However, she hasn’t abandoned the stylized elements of the Archie mythos as the letter jacket and Jughead’s crown shaped cap remain intact. This mix of classic and new finds its way into Mark Waid’s script. The plot of the first issue (which stands on its own with a tiny bit of serialization) is classic Archie filled with romance, pranks, and high school pitfalls, but Waid adds someĀ  fourth wall breaking humor and revamps the characters of Jughead and Reggie to make them less annoying than their older incarnations while keeping some of their core elements.

Archie #1 has the kind of heightened reality found in classic teen films, like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with Staples’ semi-stylized art style and the use of montages and voiceovers from her and Waid. Riverdale still remains an idealized version of the American high school experience, but Waid and Staples aren’t afraid to delve into universal teenage problems, especially relationship troubles and things getting blown out of proportion. The event being blown out of proportion in Archie is the break up of Archie and Betty Cooper, who have been a couple since elementary school. (Staples’ faded art style and photo frame panels capture the joy and pain of very young love without a single word.) The attempts of various students to bring them back together forms the plot of the first issue, and Waid doesn’t reveal much about what actually went down and wisely shows both Archie and Betty’s POV on the situation.

Archie #1 throws readers right into the fully developed world of Riverdale with its diverse cast of teenagers and a few Archie2015_01-15adults on the margins. The main focus is on Archie and Betty, but Waid fleshes out Jughead and Reggie along the way. Jughead will probably end up being the breakout character of the ensemble with his dry, laconic wit, wisdom beyond his years, and a continuing love for food of all kinds. His “I don’t care what people think about me” attitude is a breath of fresh air in the drama filled halls of Riverdale. Reggie doesn’t get much panel time, but Staples has transformed him from boorish jock to wannabe greaser: the baby-faced love child of the Fonz and Danny Zuko. He is also a visual and verbal homage to the era where Archie would probably be considered a “square”. He has a shared interest in cars with Betty that could make him a viable romantic rival.

Unfortunately, the other characters introduced in Archie #1 are just moving pieces for the plot and a few of Waid’s trademark continuity jokes, like the early zinger “Up is down. Right is left. Dilton is Moose.” However, Fiona Staples gives each student at Riverdale High a distinct sense of style that looks like something a 21st century teenager might actually wear and hint at endless story possibilities for this microcosm of teen Americana. (Well, maybe not Jughead. But he’s Jughead.)

However, this is just a incredibly small issue with what is an accessible and visually striking launch. Mark Waid’s writing is self-aware, and he deals with actual problems in interpersonal relationships while riffing off Archie‘s soap opera plot roots. Fiona Staples brings her design chops from Saga to the halls of high school USA and wrings every last emotion from her figures’ faces while subtly showing how Archie always ends up being the center of the drama using panel positioning. With added character depth, a dash of fourth wall breaking, and superb storytelling, Archie #1 proves that Archie Andrews and his pals are a timeless property and can be more than relevant in 2015 and beyond.

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