Having been totally underwhelmed by the relaunched Jughead title, I'm pleased to say that the latest addition to the New Riverdale stable, Betty & Veronica, is a return to the high standards set by the new Archie comic a year ago.
Written and drawn by Adam Hughes, Betty & Veronica taps into a surreal vein that Chip Zdarsky's run on Jughead kept struggling for, but kept falling short of.
Unexpectedly narrated by Jughead's dog, J Farnsworth Wigglebottom III aka Hot Dog, the opening storyline of Betty & Veronica is familiar territory for the Riverdale kids - and a lot of humour is gained from this familiarity - with the gang discovering that Pop's is being forced out of business (again) by coffee company chain.
Betty immediately decides to help Pop Tate raise the $60,000 he needs to clear his mortgage and avoid foreclosure.
There is, naturally, a twist in the machinations at play, and - again - it's quite predicatble, but then Archie Comics aren't renowned for their Machiavellian plotting. This isn't Game Of Thrones.
While the events described in this comic don't immediately slot into the storyline of Archie, at least it's conceivable that they take place at some point in the near future (as a Halloween dance is mentioned), whereas Jughead currently feels very much as though it's in its own bubble, divorced from the main title.
I can't find fault with any aspect of Betty & Veronica, even the rather cheeky (but also quite witty) two pages of word balloons (and Betty and Veronica sunbathing in their bikinis, reading the first issue of Betty & Veronica) that compressed a long sequence of door-knocking, as "Betty and her troops" went round town drumming up support for Pop's, down to those two pages.
From the get-go that saw Archie and Jughead bantering as they walked to Betty's grandmother's house, you can immediately tell that Hughes has a brilliant ear for dialogue, with the various exchanges between everyone feeling wholly convincing and well paced.
The art is, unsurprisingly, very evocative, capturing the action and emotion of the characters, blending realism with expressionism, aided by José Villarrubia's colouring, which really accentuates the dreamy autumnal nature of the story, and Jack Morelli's clever lettering.
The combination of all these factors gives the comic a vitality that makes the pages come alive, drawing the reader in.
Adam Hughes is, of course, known for his artwork portraying glamorous women, so I expecting the leading ladies to look their finest (which they do), but what I wasn't expecting was to be caught off guard by Midge, looking like she'd stepped out of an issue of Love & Rockets...
|I Now Want To Read An Adam Hughes' Comic Devoted To Midge Klump...|
In his review of this issue, Jonathan Merrifield, of The Riverdale Podcast, expressed concern about the sexualisation of teenage Betty and Veronica - particularly on the jokey swimsuit page - whereas I hadn't even given it a thought.
To me, I've never seen the Riverdale kids as teenagers per se, but ageless avatars. Perhaps like "TV teens", I subconsciously know they're "played" by actors in their 20s.
And, like the majority of comic book characters, but perhaps even more so, the Riverdale gang never grow old, existing in a timeless state where their surroundings and fashions change with the decades but the characters themselves simply remain themselves.
I also believe it's a question of context and intent. The "swimsuit shot" certainly wasn't a provocative pose and was clearly there for humorous gratuity. I found it amusing, in quite a meta way, and moved on with the story.
I was more concerned about the vintage back-up comic strip, Birth Of A Notion, that, while showcasing a (very) old iteration of Betty and Veronica, possibly from the '50s, could be seen as making a joke of potential child battery.
I'll be interested to hear the thoughts of anyone else who's read the new Betty & Veronica #1