In the backmatter for Archie #5, writer Mark Waid calls Reggie Mantle “The Grinch of Riverdale”. This is because he’s wealthy, sexist, rude, and just plain unsympathetic as a character. He also is the star of this issue as Waid positions him as kind of a Big Bad in the second arc of Archie, which also introduces new series artist Veronica Fish. Fish’s artwork isn’t terrible, but it lacks the sheer beauty and vibrance of Fiona Staples’ work on Archie #1-3 or the raw emotion of Annie Wu’s in the previous issue. Her lines are chunkier, and her faces and character designs wouldn’t really work in a more serious story.
Lucky for us, Archie #5 is filled with some incredibly silly situations like Archie carrying Veronica through the mud while Betty and Jughead tell Reggie that he needs to date someone who respects him. (Their alliance with him up is the old superhero teams up with supervillain to defeat a larger foe trope, but in a high school soap opera.) Seeing Riverdale from the anti-Archie’s point of view is fun for a while, such as when Reggie questions why the female students of Riverdale are all over him, but a lot of the attempts at humor in Waid’s script gets tired pretty quickly like a not particularly funny joke about a centipede that he tries to use to encapsulate Veronica and Archie’s relationship.
However, one thing that Archie #5 actually does well is showing that Veronica has real feelings for Archie and doesn’t only want to use him. This happens in a really surreal roundabout way as fashion/photography enthusiast Sheila (She is one of the background students from the past four issues that gets a bigger role in this issue for plot reasons.) accidentally shows Veronica pictures of Archie in her locker, which gets her super jealous. But then she gets pushed into a classroom and finds out that Sheila was just using Archie as a muse for some new fashion designs, which Veronica really enjoys and realizes that she loves Archie’s freckles. The freckles part is the one emotionally poignant part of this issue.
The best parts of Archie #5 are the weird parts, like when Fish draws characters having hellfire eyes when they get angry with bright, primary colors in the background from Andre Szymanowicz. Her faces are already on the grotesque side compared to Staples and Wu, and one wonders whether this was an artistic choice to show the kids of Riverdale as the superficial, friend backstabbing airheads that they are by stripping them of the physical beauty that was a huge part of the relaunch. And teaming up with Reggie is just no-no Riverdale behavior for Betty and Jughead as Archie turns right around and berates him for manipulating them and gives him the silliest fake ID this side of McLovin. I could read a whole comic of versions of the final page as Reggie keeps getting denied entrance into various clubs while the college girls he hopes to attract laugh at him.
Archie #5 lacks the visual panache of its first four issues and makes the interesting, if unfortunate story choice of focusing on its least likable character. Villain-centric stories can be supremely fascinating (See Hannibal, Breaking Bad, or even Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s Darth Vader), but this is the equivalent of spending an entire issue on the douchebag lead of an Axe bodyspray commercial. And touching moment between Veronica and Archie and closure for Betty aside, the issue has really to add to the teen genre and falls behind both Jughead and books like Giant Days in the surreal humor department.