March with Archie

Archie smooching Veronica in close-up against Ben-Day turquoise background Betty and Veronica in sleek black catsuits with utility belts, posing against swirling orange, red, and yellow / 'Thrills! Chills! All-Out Action Issue!'
Dan Parent's snazzy pop-art covers to Veronica #192 and Betty & Veronica Spectacular #87
© 2009 and characters
TM/® Archie Comic Publications.

I never read Archie comics regularly, but my sister did, and there were plenty of times where out of curiosity or lack of new reading material they made their way into my hands. As we got older and she mostly dropped the Archie habit, I'd still get her
the occasional issue as a pick-me-up or when something special came out. Recently
I brought home five issues straight, Archie #587-591, relating the eternal teenager's "Freshman Year" at Riverdale High. Betty and Veronica, et al., are of course along for the ride.

Young versions of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Reggie in backpacks standing together on Riverdale High logo
Cover to the Freshman Year TPB © 2009 and characters TM/® Archie Comic
Publications. Pencils: Bill Galvan. Inks: Bob Smith. Letters, Colors: Unknown.

The story is now being collected in a $10.95 softcover as Book One of The High-
School Chronicles
, scheduled for May release [ISBN 978-1-87979-440-5]. If you've
ever enjoyed Archies you'll likely get a kick out of the in-jokes and gentle continuity setting offered by writer Batton Lash, the creator of Supernatural Law and scribe
of the infamous Archie Meets The Punisher.

We open on the gang regarding the high school with anticipatory awe, and it's compelling to see them bossed around by the kids who "own" tables at Pop's Chok'lit Shoppe or falling into certain habits for the first time — think of this as the Casino Royale of the Archie Universe, except not really. New characters are introduced and the familiar ones handled with aplomb, but I could have done without such Archie tropes as thinly veiled and poorly renamed references to the pop culture of the moment. For me the somewhat predictable overall story was less interesting than
the grace notes — a line of dialogue mentioning "pals 'n' gals"; allusions to Bob Bolling's Little Archie stories, Pureheart the Powerful, and other spinoffs; and
perhaps most obliquely the threat of Jughead's family moving to Montana, a possible reference to Archie's original artist — but then I'm a 38-year-old comics historian, presumably just a bonus slice of Archie's target audience.

Fred & Mary Andrews discussing how this year is different; Archie gang sitting on jungle gym looking expectantly
full-page splash of gang looking down at Riverdale High / title: 'The Summer Before: Freshman Year Part 1 of 5'
Gang discussing the futures that may lie ahead for them, with Archie imaging himself as superhero in Pureheart costume
First three pages of Freshman Year courtesy of and © 2008 Archie
Comic Publications, originally published in
Archie #587. Script:
Batton Lash. Pencils: Bill Galvan. Inks: Bob Smith. Letters: Jack Morelli.
Colors: Glenn Whitmore. Characters
TM/® Archie Comic Publications.

Archie Comics has been shaking things up a bit by redesigning logos; giving Chuck, now an aspiring comics artist, a more prominent role; and introducing the so-called "New Look" stories. The latter are continued over several issues — still unusual for Archie, Freshman Year notwithstanding — and illustrated in supposedly more realistic styles to generally horrendous effect. Comics stalwart Joe Staton, co-creator of the deliciously offbeat E-Man and artist on titles ranging from Green Lantern to Scooby-Doo, teamed with journeyman Al Milgrom to render one of the most bizarre Archies I've ever seen in the Jughead "New Look" story "The Matchmakers".

Chuck daydreaming at art table of himself and friends as historical characters 'New Look' versions of Archie gang looking shocked at grinning Jughead and girlfriend Sandy
Covers to Archie & Friends #128 © 2009 and characters TM/® Archie Comic Publications.
Pencils: Fernando Ruiz; Joe Staton. Inks: Bob Smith; Al Milgrom. Colors: Unknown.

Rich Burchett and Terry Austin's work on the latest "New Look" story isn't quite
as jarring, and amusingly turns Veronica's father into the spitting image of Burchett's Commissioner Gordon in Batman Adventures, but it still feels unnecessary, although the company's sales numbers may well prove me wrong from an economic standpoint. Purists can be thankful that Stan Goldberg, perhaps the most definitive Archie artist after the late Dan DeCarlo, remains near top form, and Dan Parent has been turning out some nicely designed covers in the classic house style but infused with pop-art elements and pop-culture themes.

Betty as Dorothy, Archie as Scarecrow, Jughead as Tin Man, Reggie as Lion, and Veronica as Wicked Witch against lime-green background / 'I don't think we're in Riverdale anymore!'  'New Wave! Shoulder pads! Big hair! Veronica is Stuck in the '80s!' / Veronica looking like Gwen Stefani (no, really) and friends in loud 1980s fashions against black-and-white checkerboard pattern
Dan Parent's catchy pop-cultural covers to Betty & Veronica Digest #188 and Veronica #193
© 2009 and characters
TM/® Archie Comic Publications.

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