Story by: Mark Waid
Art by: Veronica Fish
Colors by: Andre Szymanowicz & Jen Vaughn
Lettering by: Jack Morelli
Issue #5 of the new Archie marks not only the beginnings of a new storyline, but is also the very talented artist Veronica Fish’s debut on the title, so needless to say it has been a difficult issue to wait patiently for. I suspected even from the earlier interviews with Fish that I would have a lot to say about this issue and that much is true, but before elaborating I’ll simply cut to the chase and say that this is unquestionably my favorite issue so far.
No, I can’t hide the fact that I’m a huge Reggie and Veronica fan, and the fact that Fish is too certainly only helps make the strengths of this issue all that much stronger, but believe me, this issue is remarkably strong even setting this entire point aside – it’s a sidebar, something that certainly helped flavor my enjoyment but still did not at all define it.
Fish makes herself right at home with the art, capturing Fiona Staples’s character designs spectacularly in her own lively style; so far, Archie has done well with selecting artists with distinct yet visually cohesive styles – helped too by the uniting factor of Szymanowicz and Vaughn’s wonderful colors to add a more tangible consistency – and Fish is no exception. It’s not jarring to go from Staples to Wu to Fish, but they all make their own mark on the book, embracing what came before without being stifled by it. Her style is richly expressive in almost every way, from the character’s face to their posture, to their body language and physical interactions with one another, and she has an incredible talent for staging visual narration – the sequence that starts off Chapter 3 where Archie narrates to the audience as he silently observes Reggie, then Betty and Jughead, come into school with identically incriminating muddy shoes is wonderful. I can further appreciate that she also finally gave Reggie, traditionally almost as much of a fashion-plate as Veronica, a change of clothing, as fond as I am of the leather jacket. Veronica and Sheila Wu also are shown rocking several great outfits – and credit where it’s due to the colorists, once again – and it’s this sort of attention to detail that I always love to linger on, since fashion can say quite a bit about a character even before the first sentence of dialogue is spoken.
Now: the writing. I’ve been very interested in seeing how Waid would handle Reggie as a more active role in the story, and how Archie and Veronica’s relationship would shake out after those initial first impressions – Archie, Betty, and Jughead have established themselves strongly, but Veronica can be challenging. She’s subtle, at the same time both very selfish and very compassionate, temperamental yet generous… there was always something compelling to me in the very, very old comics about her and Archie’s strange love for each other that no one else approved of, and I felt that Waid hit upon it upon here; Archie and Veronica have an irrational, intuitive sort of romance as opposed to what Archie and Betty had. The moment in this issue Betty stops vilifying Veronica and gives her the opportunity – not that Veronica knows it – to show her best to Archie is powerful, because it’s not as simple as Betty’s empathy making her step aside – not a “nice girl finishing last, thwarted by her own kindness” type of revelation – but that she can see there is maybe more than one way to care about someone, that Veronica hasn’t strictly done anything wrong.
Reggie, meanwhile, is definitely off to an interesting start. As the title’s traditional antagonist without really being a traditional sort of antagonist – one could call him the classic “frenemy” – he, like Veronica, can be complicated to nail down, but his classic scheming opportunism translates very naturally here to a derisive loner who’s convinced himself he’s a loner by choice rather than that he’s alienated himself from his peers. It’s a sharp contrast to Archie’s established popularity and intriguingly seems to flip Archie and Reggie’s roles to a degree when compared to other incarnations of their rivalry, which more commonly position, on paper, Archie as the “loser” and Reggie as the guy who “should have it all.” Waid hasn’t exactly reversed their dynamic, obviously – we would have a very different story, then – but is giving us a chance to see it through new eyes, if Archie and Reggie’s reputations were more directly and consistently reflective of their personalities. While I personally haven’t been in high school for a long time, I do have a high school-aged sister, which allows me to especially appreciate the change this adds, which is appropriately modern — it’s a generation not as easily fooled by pretensions, after all.
Even setting that aside, however it all feels very natural within the Riverdale Waid is establishing – a sincere and increasingly layered narrative of teenagers questioning why things have worked out this way and getting no answers back.