Welcome to Top of the Stack— a new feature where I review the best comic to come out on a given Wednesday. This week’s comic at the top of the stack? ARCHIE #3 from, you guessed it, Archie Comics, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Fiona Staples.
For a long time, Archie Comics garnered a reputation among comic fans circles for being… well… old-fashioned. That’s not really a bad thing, considering the company has provided consistent family-friendly content for over eighty years, making the characters household names and veritable archetypes in their own right, on top of maintaining an instantly recognizable and timeless house-style of art in the vein of Dan DeCarlo. But for some, myself included, so often dismissed Archie Comics, seeing it on supermarket spinner racks and having very little interest in the “teen-age shenanigans” and classic love-triangle plotlines our parents remember reading growing up. In a few short and recent years, the Archie line has been making stride with a lot of bold direction choices and interesting titles to spice up the shelf. From a few What If? style stories where he gets married in LIFE WITH ARCHIE, making headlines by introducing Kevin Keller (and even giving him his own book!), to the spectacularly scary fan-favorite AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE and still wackier things like ARCHIE VS PREDATOR, the name brand alone has been coming back in a big way. Now we’re here, coming off the summer of 2015, and we’ve been given this absolute gem of a book: a re-imagining of Archie and friends you’ve almost certainly already heard about. And if you haven’t, this third issue is a perfect time to get on board!
Despite the wonderful main cover by Staples, this issue’s story focuses on introducing Veronica Lodge into the cast, the raven-haired high-society rich-girl upstart that historically occupies one-half of our titular hero’s affections. And right from the moment her limo driver nearly mows down unlucky everyteen Archie Andrews just outside of Riverdale High, she occupies one-hundred-and-ten percent of his attention. From carrying books, to giving her the grand tour of the hallways, to even holding her purse and waiting outside the ladies’ room, a smittenly obsessed Archie is turned into Veronica’s veritable lapdog. And it’s not just Archie caught in her spell– Veronica’s style, flair, and local fame endear her to pretty much everybody at Riverdale, with aloof non-conformist Jughead Jones as a notable exception. The normally easygoing Juggie doesn’t take too kindly seeing his best pal put on a leash, and tries to get girl-next-door gal-pal Betty Cooper in on the plan to undo this terrible fate. Betty and Archie have a long history in this iteration of the franchise too, with them having just broken up as a couple shortly before the start of the story due to the as-yet-revealed ‘lipstick incident’.
Veronica’s day takes a tragic turn when she indulges in Riverdale’s cafeteria food, taking a bite of a sloppy joe before promptly vomiting on herself in front of everyone. As she pridefully exits the public eye to only then break down crying in the bathroom, vocalizing her distress in a phone call to her father, the good-natured Betty takes pity on her and helps to clean her up. When Betty gets her a clean outfit, a gesture that goes unappreciated and even mocked by Veronica, she decides to team up with Jughead to save Archie, if not take the Lodge family heiress down a peg in the process. And that’s where the issue hits us with a perfect “To Be Continued”, a historic moment unfolded right before our eyes, and to anyone even passingly aware of these characters, it’s all familiar territory; this is the onset of the hallmark love triangle between Archie and Betty and Veronica, and the establishing moment of the two girls as both friends and fierce rivals. More than that, we see the mutual distaste between Veronica and Jughead develop as well, and the start of classic pet names ‘Ronnie’ for Veronica, and ‘Archiekins’ for Archie.
Mark Waid’s dialogue is on-point in every way that counts. He’s already been given the extremely tough task of reinventing these characters in a more modern context while still keeping them true to their origins, a task writer-artist teams in Archie have struggled with for years. He achieves this masterfully, demonstrated in so simple a scene as Jughead and Betty texting each other in the middle of class. There’s also his direction in how much can be said by the characters with just the right amount of dialogue, evident when Archie helps Veronica out of her car, and the staredown that ensues. Fiona Staples’ art adds so much life and personality to the characters, and as a creator is a huge draw for readers who probably couldn’t care about Archie in the first place. She captures the expressions of Archie and the gang perfectly, staging the story as if you, the reader, is right in the thick of all the drama and events happening at Riverdale High. And since Veronica is the highlight of this issue, Staples drawing her as drop-dead gorgeous is as about as good as it gets, whether she’s sneering incredulously or covered in ground beef and barf. As a team, Waid and Staples deliver a comic that fires on all cylinders, which is no surprise for one of the most esteemed industry veterans and one of the most unique artists in the business. ARCHIE #3 has the right amount of laugh out loud moments where the story entertaining but not distracting; the character interactions all feel realistic, natural, and genuine. More than that, it’s just plain fun.
At the end of the comic, we’re also treated to a reprinting of Archie’s first meeting with Veronica waaaaay back in a 1942 issue of PEP COMICS. I’d never read this before either, and it’s actually pretty funny: Archie gets a busboy job at an upscale restaurant to help him wine and dine a high-class girl like Veronica on their first date. In true unlucky fashion, when it comes time to pick the restaurant, Ronnie picks the very same one Archie works at. Since Archie’s wearing his his work uniform tuxedo to the date, his boss tells him to either bus tables or lose the tux. Our all-american teen does his best to keep control of this dinner date with Veronica, balancing a work shift and passing her off to dance with two other guys, before ultimately screwing everything up in full slapstick.
My take on it all? If there’s some restaurant still out there serving an avocado crabmeat plate for only five bucks, let me know!
If you’re looking to read more by this creative team, Mark Waid’s been writing comics for at least 25 years, from creator owned properties IRREDEEMABLE and INCORRUPTIBLE to hallmark runs on THE FLASH, KINGDOM COME, THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, CAPTAIN AMERICA, FANTASTIC FOUR, and maybe his finest work to date, DAREDEVIL. Fiona Staples has gained no small reknown for working on SAGA, the hottest space-operatic comic put out by Image Comics in recent years.
Next week Archie Comics is putting out JUGHEAD #1 by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson. Should be a blast, but will it make it to the Top of the Stack? Stay tuned!