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Archie #2: Comedy that Challenges You

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The first issue of All-New Archie surprised me and  judging from  the critical reception that followed, I’m not the only one that was shocked to find Archie relevant in today’s comic market. The premiere issue managed to revitalise the franchise  and as someone with no real history with the characters, I was amazed by how much the Riverdale gang endeared themselves to me within a mere 22 pages. This was a town, full of rich, funny characters with whom I would be happy to share a drink with. In All-New Archie, issue 2 our favourite red-head searches for a job, as Waid and Staples expand on the refreshed origin story by examining one of the core female leads and briefly introducing the second.

First, let’s talk a bit about Jughead. Other than Archie himself, he was the standout character of the first issue, being the only one of his friend-group to approach the break-up in a sensitive manner. He alone seemed to understand how best to deal with the situation, despite using a somewhat mischievous methodology to attempt to rekindle Betty and Archie’s relationship. While his appearances are few and far between in this second issue, we are given an interesting look into his past. Jughead’s family, once members of high society, lost all their money in a scam when he was ten years old. Since then he has been the subject of ridicule by his peers. All this leads this to the development of fascinating personal philosophy based on not allowing others to define your self-worth. While Jughead may appear the fool, he is arguably one of the more mature characters featured. This is a Jughead that I can see supporting their own book and one that I hope to enjoy when Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson get their hands on the character in October. More importantly, it is this philosophy which sets the tone for the battle of perception that follows.

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While Archie’s quest for gainful employment acts at the Lodge construction site as the framing mechanism of the issue, the red-head from Riverdale takes a backseat this installment. The true heart of the story lies with our first real insight into Betty; Archie’s ex-girlfriend. Betty’s issues post-breakup revolve around her sense of identity. She, unlike many of her friends and family, does not view herself in traditional gendered terms.  Betty is more comfortable playing video-games and fixing cars than she is dressing up like many of her peers. Staples does an excellent job at illustrating the inner turmoil of a teenager struggling to deal with the expectations placed upon her by her gender. When faced with societal assumptions as to how girls are meant to act, she rejects them, but part of her desires the simplicity of conforming. Betty’s frustration is expressed in moments of comedic disgust at many of the beauty products presented to her and also through quiet moments of silent sorrow over what’s been lost.

It’s also clear that Betty still cares deeply about Archie (and vice-versa) deepening the mystery as to what could have happened to the so-called “Power Couple”. Their break-up has negatively impacted her ability to identify as “one of the guys” and as such, she struggles to find her place within their friend group. It’s a difficult and complicated subject-matter, one which could easily be squandered and belittled in the hands of a lesser creative team. It’s not the sort of thing that one normally expects a comedy series to tackle, but then you remember that you are dealing with the infallible Mark Waid. Betty’s struggle is reflective of Jughead’s philosophy; the need to be who you are and not how others see you. It’s an incredibly important part of growing up, something I’m sure many of us can identify with, and it’s one that the series tackles expertly.

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Fiona Staples’ illustrations are fantastic throughout with animated characters and vibrant backgrounds. Her cover art for this issue is also superb, mirroring Betty’s inner-turmoil in a subtle way. In a way given the discussion on gender norms presented within, it could be said that the cover is asking us how we engage in that discourse and suggesting that we too may want to re-examine ourselves.

Last time, I described All-New Archie as your favourite sitcom in comic form. That statement remains true, but it’s important to recognise that this sitcom is one that isn’t afraid to challenge its audience. Like the best in the genre, it uses the comedic format, but also examines troubled characters in a naunced fashion. I’m unsure as to how long this creative team plans to stay with the book, with some sources stating that it is set to last a mere three issues, but if the series can maintain the quality that it has brought to these first two issues, then I can see myself staying in Riverdale for the foreseeable future. It’s rare that you find a book that mixes the comedic and dramatic elements so well and All-New Archie nails it. With Veronica finally set to make her full-appearance next time, the drama and the comedy can only get better from here.

What do you think? Are you digging All-New Archie? Let us know in the comments below. Make sure to join us next week for the second edition of our Book Club, where we will be looking at Y:The Last Man, Volume 1.

 

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Gary Moloney
Some would say that he is a mine of information, too bad most of it is useless. You can read his own comic work over on garymoloney.tumblr.com. Follow him on Twitter @m_gearoid.