Today, Taylor and Ryan M. are discussing Archie 18, originally released March 15th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: There is an art to making conversation. If you deny this then you clearly have never tried to talk to me over the phone. When I attempt a conversation over the ol’ horn I feel like one of those poor dogs forced into booties. It feels unnatural and stilted and it’s not uncommon to endure long, awkward periods of silence. In person I’m better, but still not great, so I’ve come to appreciate those people who can make conversation. My experiences have taught me that talking truly is an art form where flow is supremely important. The same can be said for comics, where conversations and narratives alike need to flow easily. Archie 18 is a lesson on the importance of conversational and narrative flow, just perhaps not in the way it intended.
Veronica is back from business school in Switzerland and she and Archie are excited to pick up their relationship from where they last left off. The problem is, both of them have changed in the time she was gone. The two would-be lovebirds head off to a fancy restaurant only to soon realize that they aren’t interested in what the other has to say at all.
They exchange their experiences in each others’ absence but, as they soon realize, neither really cares about what the other has to say. This conversation fails on basically all accounts with each person taking a turn dominating the conversation while the other listlessly takes a back seat. This failure in conversation is a clear metaphor for Veronica and Archie’s relationship as Mark Waid makes abundantly clear. They have little in common and as they’ve grown up, they have also grown apart. Or perhaps more accurately, Veronica has grown up while Archie has stayed exactly the same.
This conversation stands in stark contrast to the extended talk Betty and Dilton have while they’re hanging out. At first the two seem mismatched, but once Betty learns that Dilton loves talking about cars, they’re off to the races. Several pages in the issue are devoted to showing just how deep their conversation goes concerning car parts, automotive issues, and arcane mechanical nuances. Waid wants us to compare these two conversations and make a judgment on which date went better and it’s pretty clear which duo has a future and which doesn’t. That conversation is important to relationships goes without saying, and Waid is careful to show this in examining a budding romance and a failing one.
Knowing that Waid understands the importance of flowing conversation, it’s frustrating to see that he doesn’t apply the same principle to the overall narrative of this issue. While the parallel stories of Betty/Dilton and Veronica/Archie flow together fairly smoothly, the ancillary story centering on Jughead disrupts the natural course of this issue much like my phone conversations. In these portions of the story, Jughead is hired by Jason and Cheryl to find out why their dad is hiding his family’s money from them. Normally, a side story has something to do with the main narrative, but that’s not the case here, and it weirdly ends as abruptly as it begins.
Jughead asks the twins’ dad why he’s hiding their money and unsurprisingly gets no response. This apparently was all a ploy by Jughead to simply get his tab paid for two months at Pops’ restaurant. Not only is this story barely hashed out, but it has zero impact on the rest of the issue. This makes these scenes a fly in the ointment of what is otherwise an OK issue. Why they are included here is beyond me. While I can see this information coming into play in later issues, it’s hard to justify scenes that so clearly have nothing else to do with the narrative or theme of the rest of the issue.
I don’t want to sound overly overly negative about this issue, however. There are parts of this issue that simply are a delight and which involve waiters scheming waiters attempting to exact revenge on Archie. But just as with any art, the closer a creative comes to pulling off a an issue, the more apparent are the faults that hold is back from doing so.
Ryan, why don’t you take over this conversation for awhile. Do you like this issue or do you find it lacking? I didn’t talk at all about Pete Woods art – did something stand out to you? Also, do you give Ditlon and Betty’s relationship a chance, or is automotive talk too small of a base on which to build a relationship?
Ryan M.: I enjoyed the issue, but agree that the Jughead storyline was less than effective. It reminded me of those one page stories that often punctuated the Archie digests I read as a kid. The primary difference is that those stories were often building to a quick gag meant to elicit a chuckle or at least a shake of the head and an exasperated “oh Juggie.”
Here, the story is too long for the final twist of Jughead’s plan to carry a punch. Instead, it feels like we wasted several pages on a plot that literally went nowhere. It all felt padded, even spending half a page establishing that Jughead wants to eat more burgers than he can afford. While the relationship between Pop and Jughead and their co-dependency is worth exploring, it only slows us down before we get to the meat of the superfluous subplot. Had Cheryl and Jason been missing from this issue, they wouldn’t have been missed. The Jughead chapters also create a dissonance in an issues that otherwise has a clear theme.
Pete Wood’s art offers clear characterization, defining relationships and personalities efficiently. Take, for example the moment that Dilton and Betty’s date starts to turn around.
Neither is happy in that first panel but, even without the helpful thought bubbles, you know that their respective sadness is different. Dilton’s eyebrows tilt in almost a pleading way, while Betty stares off wistfully. Just in case you don’t read eyebrows, the thought bubbles and tumbleweed let you know that this quasi-date is off to a bad start. By the end of the page, they are connecting. The final two panels have the camera getting closer to the pair, mimicking their growing rapport.
Even as a fairly prolific shipper, I had never considered Betty and Dilton as a couple before, but Dilton calling cars “science machines” sold me. Plus, it makes sense that the smartest guy in town would be into Betty; she’s the best. As for the potential for longevity, it’s hard to argue with the kind of conversational chemistry they show in this issue. Another peek at what a Betty-Dilton partnership could look like is with the tire vendor. Dilton isn’t threatened by Betty and is proud to let her show off her knowledge.
All of this would make me feel optimistic about these two gear-heads making a go of it, if it weren’t for Archie. With Archie’s romance with Veronica flagging, how long will it be before he starts to look next door for comfort? I’d love for Waid to prove me wrong, but I think that the Veronica-Archie-Betty love triangle is not quite over.
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?