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    “The Archies and Other Stories”

    By | September 15th, 2017
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    If you’ve been totally out of the loop or just want a refresher on “The Archies” and “Jughead: The Hunger,” this book will whet your appetite for things to come.

    Cover by Various Artists
    ”The Archies”
    Written by Alex Segura
    and Matthew Rosenberg
    Illustrated by Joe Eisma

    “Big Moose”
    Written by Sean Ryan,
    Ryan Cady and Gorf
    Illustrated by Cory Smith, Thomas Pitilli
    and Ryan Jampole

    “Jughead: The Hunger”
    Written by Frank Tieri
    Illustrated by Michael Walsh

    Join in the fun of THE ARCHIES along with BIG MOOSE along with the horrific JUGHEAD: THE HUNGER in this graphic novel collection spotlighting Archie Comics’ hit one-shot series!

    It may be helpful to think of “The Archies and Other Stories” (the new collection of three previously published one-shots) as a hamburger, fries and shake from Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe. Each item is unlike the others, fulfilling a different craving, but when you really think about it, the fact that they’re served together is totally arbitrary. That’s just the way it is.

    The first item on the menu is “The Archies,” an alternate origin story of Archie Andrew’s eponymous band. You’ll notice right away that the characters – as well as Riverdale itself – are edgier than normal. Literally. Illustrator Joe Eisma’s lines are angular, geometric and bold. Add some excellent color work and shading by colorist Matt Herms, and the updated look feels on point. Throw in a few great splash pages (practically stories in themselves) and the overall effect really hits the spot.

    This is anything but the soft, rounded, flat, retro-looking art you may have expected. It crackles with energy and it’s a refreshing change of pace. Even against scenes in which Eisma renders a fair amount of background detail, the characters stand out. When he draws simpler backgrounds, with little or no extraneous detail, they really pop. It’s not exactly punk, but it’s as in your face as the Archieverse gets, perfectly suited to the story.

    Same with Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg’s cheeky, wise-cracking dialogue. In this version of things, all of Riverdale’s core characters have a bit more spunk and sass than usual, but Archie and Jughead, especially, are much hipper, more worldly versions of themselves. And it totally works because Segura and Rosenburg set the tone right away by establishing the characters’ street cred. Archie namechecks a series two piece bands early in the story (including the White Stripes and Vaselines), only to have Jughead correct him moments later by pointing out that the Violent Femmes aren’t a two piece. These guys aren’t mere dabblers, they’re bona fide music heads, clearly deserving of the team-ups with actual bands that Segura and Rosenburg have in the pipeline for future issues.

    Chapter two is sweet, sticky goodness that tends to sit a little heavily in your stomach and slow things down. Here, we have three separate vignettes that all center on “Big Moose,” Riverdale’s lovable lunkhead and star football player, Moose Mason.

    Visually, artist Cory Smith tries to maintain a clean, contemporary look, but many of his panels end up a bit too crowded and cluttered with extraneous detail that doesn’t drive the story. Moose is a big guy who takes up a lot of space, but even he seems overwhelmed by the noodly level of detail Smith gives us in the library shelves and trophy cases, much less the overhead lights and wooden floor of the basketball court. In the panels where “less is more,” things flow really well. When Smith gets overly detailed, it all just grinds to a halt.

    Narratively, by contrast, “Big Moose” feels simplistic, as though these pieces were written in a more innocent time for a younger audience. In contrast to the world of “The Archies” in the previous chapter, this Riverdale is syrupy-sweet and largely conflict free. The biggest problems that Moose faces, apparently, are getting enough to eat in the course of a school day, trying to find balance while living the “gotdanged American dream,” and navigating a newfound friendship with a differently abled classmate. With no real narrative problems or obstacles to overcome, it all starts to feel a bit flat – even preachy – like a generic after school special. Especially in light of the book’s final chapter.

    Continued below

    Needless to say, “Jughead: The Hunger” is like a raw, bloody hunk of meat. It’s also far and away the best story here and a genuinely shocking departure from the Riverdale we thought we knew. Make no mistake, this is a straight-up horror comic, not some sort of cartoony, sanitized spoof pretending to be scary. This is the real deal. It’s dark, it’s creepy, it’s gory and it’s absolutely wondrous.

    It also raises the question, who are Riverdale’s “red shirts?” Clearly, there will be bodies. Who will pay the price? I mean, on pages one and two, already there’s a beheading. This book isn’t playing around. The body count will be high, as Michael Walsh’s art immediately suggests. His lines are thin and dynamic, drawn with an almost feverish intensity that barely contains his bright, high-contrast colors. Virtually every scene is layered with tension and high stakes drama. Even the lettering is off the charts, with thumps scrawled in pulsing red and guttural animal howls etched in a pulpy yellow.

    One look at the art and you know you’ve found yourself immersed in a strange, alternate reality Riverdale that you barely comprehend – or even previously imagined. Even then, as you struggle to find your bearings, searching for something familiar, the script takes you further afield. You learn Riverdale High’s best friends are mere players in a centuries’ old conflict, locked in a bitter struggle of good vs. evil, which everyone seems destined to lose.

    Well, except for comic book fans. For us, it will be a great ride.

    Final Verdict: 7.0 – “The Archies and Other Stories” is a mere sampler platter. The real fun is yet to come. For now, I say save your money for “The Archies” and “Jughead: The Hunger” when they come out as regular series this fall.


    John Schaidler

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