Today, Spencer and (Guest Writer) Ryan Mogge are discussing Archie 2, originally released August 19th, 2015.
Spencer: First issues are meant to sell a title to new readers. The creative team is putting their finest foot forward, introducing their characters, world, and the conflicts and themes they wish to explore, but the one thing first issues aren’t great at is showing how the creative team is going to tell their story from month to month. It often takes a few issues for readers to start to get a handle on a series’ format, and that’s very much the case with Archie. Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ first issue wow-ed readers with its gorgeous, modern reinterpretation of Riverdale, but it’s issue 2 that gives us a clearer picture of just what kind of stories we can expect each month.
Archie 1 ended with the imminent arrival of Veronica Lodge, and while issue 2 does technically introduce Veronica, she’s a much smaller factor in this issue than I expected, only appearing in a handful of panels and not speaking a single line of dialogue. Instead, Waid and Staples seem to have two objectives with this issue: to tell a standalone slapstick story about Archie’s clumsiness, and to use that story to further some running subplots and characterization. In retrospect, issue 1 had similar priorities (although its standalone story was less about slapstick and more about Archie’s gig at the school dance), but those kind of patterns are hard to spot with only one issue on the shelf. Now we have a clearer idea of just what exactly to expect from Archie each month, which can be comforting to readers and help to temper expectations — perhaps more importantly, though, this will make it all the more effective when Waid and Staples inevitably deviate from this established formula.
But I feel like I’m getting awfully dry and technical here, and that’s not in the spirit of Archie at all, so instead, let’s talk about some of the details that make this series so dang charming in the first place. I made a claim when talking about Archie 1 that I didn’t expect to see too much slapstick in this reinterpretation, but Waid and Staples have proven me completely wrong this month. These scenes could run the risk of being too silly for this “modern interpretation,” but Waid and Staples save them precisely by rejecting any attempts at gritty realism and instead embracing their inherent absurdity.
Of course, Staples’ art could likely save any idea, no matter how ridiculous — regardless, though, this moment (as well as poor Archie’s unintentional rampages through the Lodge mansion) is just way too hilarious for anybody to object to. In a sense, I suppose Archie 2 doesn’t just establish how we can expect Waid and Staples to tell stories each month, but it fully cements their commitment to sticking to the concepts that have defined Archie since its inception 70-some years ago. If you’ll allow me to mix metaphors for a moment, they’re not reinventing the wheel, they’re just giving Archie a fresh coat of paint.
If issue 1 was a spotlight on Archie Andrews himself, then issue 2 works to flesh out two of his most important supporting characters: Jughead Jones and Betty Cooper. Although we actually see less of Jughead in Archie 2, Waid and Staples do a lot to explain his personality by giving us his backstory.
This does so much to explain the Jughead we saw in issue 1. Jughead’s sudden fall from grace taught him how truly unimportant money and popularity were, and allowed him to live by his own rules and standards, setting him apart from pretty much everyone else at Riverdale High. In my mind, this makes Jughead Archie‘s most interesting character; considering how often he came across a one-dimensional vessel for “eating” joke in earlier Archie comics, this is a welcome development indeed.
Staples and colorist Andre Szymanowicz’s work throughout this sequence is exquisite. Look at the contrast between panels 1 and 3. The change in Jughead’s posture — from proud and confident in panel 1 to distressed and shy in panel 3 — as well as his drop in weight are some fantastic visual storytelling, showing us exactly how the loss of his family’s wealth affected him in the most simple, effective way possible. Szymanowicz’s colors achieve a similar goal, giving Jughead’s good times in panel 1 a bright, upbeat hue but making everything look a little darker and dingier once Jughead’s luck turns in panel 3.
Surprisingly enough, Betty’s entire character is also summed up through one enlightening, succinct moment.
Betty considers herself “one of the guys.” Despite Sheila being her best friend, Betty doesn’t really understand her traditionally feminine interests, but she also finds Trevor’s advances just as confounding and frustrating. Betty just wants to take control of her life by “fixing” something, which eventually turns out to be Archie’s poor excuse for a car. It’s pretty easy to see from this plot why Betty likes Archie so much — he’s simple, easy to understand, and needs Betty’s constant help lest his life fall to pieces. Just like with Jughead, these revelations make Betty feel much more three dimensional, and now that Betty and her relationship with Archie have been better established (without the use of flashbacks at that!), it will be even easier to see how Betty evolves (or perhaps devolves) in the light of her break-up with Archie and the arrival of Veronica.
Ryan, I really am astounded by this issue. Not only is it every bit as gorgeous and charming as I’d hoped, but it also does so much to further establish the tone of the series and to lay some important groundwork for the characters going forward. Perhaps more importantly, these two aspects never clash — every bit of exposition and world-building feels natural to the world of Archie. What did you appreciate about this issue, Ryan? And maybe you can help clarify something I found a little confusing: Does the ‘S’ on Jughead’s shirt stand for “straight?”
Ryan M.: The S on Jughead’s shirt is a constant of the Archie world that I never examined until prompted by this issue. On first reading of the Jughead origin panels, I thought that maybe it stood for “suck it!” but now I have developed a pet theory. I see the “S” as a self-imposed scarlet letter, reminding Jughead what a snob he used to be. On that same note, how cruel of his peers to give him a nickname based on his family’s failure. In fact, it’s fairly out of character in a town filled with such helpful and kind people. Well, except for Reggie Mantle.
Reggie doesn’t have any lines in the issue, but he appears in the background of several panels to sneer, mock or haughtily hold court. Currently, he is the only malevolent element to Riverdale and a minor one at that. Instead, the community is filled with well-meaning people and conflict is simply a result of incompatible desires. Archie isn’t fired from all those jobs because the business owners are jerks, he’s fired because they want to continue to own businesses.
The scene with Betty and Trevor in her bedroom was typical teen-romance fodder. He makes a move, she rebuffs and he leaves angrily. But the empathy that Waid and Staples have for these characters shines through so that neither of them is a simple archetype. Betty is lost and wistful for her past and Trevor makes reasonable assumptions about her feelings for him. No one is a bad guy. Well, except for Reggie Mantle.
Spencer, I agree that what attracts Betty to Archie is that he is so uncomplicated. He is a known quantity. His sweet obliviousness is key to the character. The choice by Waid and Staples to have Archie break the fourth wall serves the story on multiple levels. Early in the issue, it eases the transitions in and out of Jughead’s backstory. At the Lodge construction site, Archie’s monologue to the audience provides direct counterpoint to the reality of the action around him.
Archie is facing the audience. He is carrying two cinderblocks, but the way his body is angled in the first panel gives the impression of a jaunty clown. The contrast between Archie’s goofy smile and Chuck’s horrified expression as he gathers electrical cords is a delight. Throughout the issue, Archie is at the center of the drama but can’t see the story. He is easily distracted and a clumsy mess, but his friends (and ex-girlfriend) just want to help him out.
Another key component to Archie throughout the years that wasn’t made explicit in the first issue is that the boy is girl-crazy. It’s how he gets into love triangles, why he wants to fix the jalopy, what he complains about to Pop Tate at the Chocklit shop; he is obsessed. I love that in the first panel of the issue, Archie is distracted by a girl in yoga pants. Neither Jughead nor Archie make comment of it, but it is a cute backside that prompts Archie to say “I need money.” Archie claims love at first sight when he sees Veronica and the few brief images of her that we see have me feeling the same.
Veronica is pulling off all of the womanly work that made Betty look like a clown. I mean, those eyebrows! Our first glimpse of the Lodge family is from a slightly lower angle with both of them casting long shadows. They are imposing and mysterious figures in the night. After causing Archie to destroy the frame of a mansion, I am excited to see how Veronica’s arrival will affect the rest of Riverdale.
While Betty and Veronica certainly work as contrasts who pull Archie in different directions, I have a hope that future issues will also explore their friendship. Their side of the love triangle was my favorite as a kid. Two girls with radically different upbringings who are in love with the same doofus and who complement and enhance each other’s lives. Now just throw Sephora bags at their broken-hearted bestie and tell her “no drabs, no baggies, new face”, Sheila!
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?