Black Canary and Hawkeye artist Annie Wu comes to Riverdale for Archie #4 to depict the much discussed “Lipstick Incident”, which has been the cause of a lot of strain in Betty, Archie, and even Jughead’s relationship through the first issues of the all-new Archie. Theme-wise, writer Mark Waid digs into the coming of age story aspect of Archie and spends much of the issue building up Archie and Betty’s lifelong friendship/romance and then dismantling it ruthlessly.
Wu’s art style is raw and loose and is perfect for capturing the raw nerves of teenage emotions, but sadly Waid’s script doesn’t follow suit as he goes for teen movie cliches and forced metaphors instead of authentic feeling. Or maybe even with a fresh coat of paint and fashion forward redesigns, the Archie universe is just that silly, and Archie is less on the joke than someone like Jughead. In the space of a few pages, the comic goes from a friendship affirming story with a tinge of wistfulness about growing up to She’s All That Riverdale edition. But then sometimes Waid and Wu just let the images talk, and the montage panels are the strongest part of Archie #4 and will remind readers of childhood friends, who they moved farther away from as they grew older. Cue “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac.
Archie #4 is all about shaking up the comic’s decades long status quo by creating a rift between Archie and Betty. Colorists Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn do this by introducing red in the later bits of the comic as the story builds up to the actual “Lipstick Incident”. The sky also gets progressively darker as Betty and Archie’s perfect day continues, and their lives change when they run into some not nice people when they are cleaning off chocolate bar mess off themselves. (This comic will made me want a comic full of Archie and Betty hijinks.)
But while the comics last, Annie Wu gives readers an energetic look at a platonic, yet romantically charged friendship between two young teenagers. Her poses are organic and not stiff or forced as Archie and Betty go from running down a hill in a race to get milkshakes and burgers at Pop’s to falling in each other’s arms. The glowing look in their eyes show the obvious chemistry between the pair even if there being literal fireworks going on at the same time is a little too heavy handed. This moment creates some excellent, unspoken sexual tension, but instead of having Archie and Betty have an honest conversation about their feelings, Waid introduces some pointless melodrama featuring tertiary members of the Archie cast. There’s nothing wrong with a little soapy drama, especially in a title like Archie, but the characters used by Waid are just there to service the plot and have rarely appeared in the first three issues. The ongoing plot with Veronica is a little better as Waid explores whether she’s just a rebound for Archie after the lipstick incident, or if they’ll have a true, lasting relationship.
Archie #4 is an excellent showcase for Annie Wu’s energetic depictions of friendship, romance, and heartbreak with subtly powerful colors from Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn. Sadly, Mark Waid’s script gets bogged down in a cycle of dated and cliched teen melodrama instead of exploring the relationship and falling out between Betty and Archie in more depth. However, Jughead is funny as ever, and Veronica lights up the few pages she appears in.