Archie #1 Review

Written by: Mark Waid

Art by: Fiona Staples

Published by: Archie Comics

I’d like to start this review by stating that I’ve never actually read any Archie comics before this. Aside from Afterlife With Archie I have no prior experience with the character and wasn’t sure at all what to expect. I was familiar of course with the central theme, all American teenage boy Archie Andrew’s being stuck in a love triangle between equally American girls Betty and Veronica, but as an young Irish kid the concept didn’t hold much appeal to me. It seemed rather old fashioned, and while I could understand why the book would have its fans it never really appealed to me. I felt it important to start with this so you could understand the shock I felt when the newly rebooted Archie #1 turned out to be one of the best debut’s I’ve read all year and one of the freshest, warmest and most pleasant comic experiences I’ve had in ages. With top tier creators Fiona Staples and Mark Waid in the book it should be no surprise, but let’s look more in depth as to what makes this debut so great.

First of all, while I said that Archie comics felt very old fashioned to me, I was instantly struck by how vibrant, and modern this book felt, which has to be in large part due to Staple’s art. She took the comic world by storm with Saga, and while there aren’t giant grotesque and sexually deviant monsters like in that book (even though a lot of diehard Archie puritans felt that’s where a modern reboot would go) she perfectly captures another alien landscape; modern teenage life.  The book portrays this tricky realm life very well, with lots of the kids’ fashion trends looking very much like what modern teens are wearing and the teens actually looking like teens rather than adult heads on smaller bodies. There’s a tremendous amount of character and personality bursting off the page, it’s impossible to read this book and not feel like you’ve experienced a visit to Riverdale. If you walked into any modern highschool it’d probably look a lot like this, which is a hugely impressive feet since most portrayals of teenagers in comics feel like… well…
how do you do fellow kids
Luckily, the Archie reboot avoids this and feels both modern and timeless. While the styles are definitely modern, no one’s running around spouting the latest memes or their favourite social media site. It would have been easy to throw in references and product placements like this in order to showcase a contemporary setting, but instead Staples chooses to portray the feeling of teenage life, not the artificial details. It’s a truly beautiful book and is sure to age well.

Similarly, the script by Mark Waid avoids the potential trappings of a modern day Archie reboot and the tone should alleviate many fan concerns. Archie isn’t suddenly taking shots out of Betty’s belly button and posting his massive drug benders all over twitter just because he lives in 2015, instead he’s the same likeable, fun young man he’s always been. While I can’t speak to the rest of the supporting cast given my lack of experience, they too seem likeable and have all been getting modern updates. I was particularly fond of Betty, who gets quite a few more personality traits outside of just “the girlfriend” (most of which are cleverly shown through Staples subtle art cues). All of the dialogue is genuinely funny and manages to find the right balance between being effective teen drama and wholly innocent fun. The characters often have short and snappy responses but they never feel smug or sarcastic, instead they’re witty and relatable. It’s the perfect cast of characters to spend a series with and I can’t wait to see how they develop over the course of the book. Waid’s script carries a very welcoming and calm quality that makes you feel relaxed and at ease from the moment you arrive in Riverdale. There’s a very nostalgic quality to the writing that reminds me of 90s television, little things like Archie talking directly to the reader feel like something straight out of yesteryear, yet it never once feels corny or outdated. Instead it all feels genuine with a sense of heartfelt nostalgia, it’s harmless and inoffensive but it’s not at all “lame” or anything, it’s just wholly pleasant. It bridges the gap between past values and innocence while feel modern and new, it pays homage to the past while forging its own direction.

The best parts of the story come when the art and script work both work together while trying to compete against each other to tell a better story. For example, while Archie is describing the story the art doesn’t simply reiterate what he’s saying, it instead tells its own story using all the impressive character work Staples has at her fingertips. Archie can be describing his current strained feelings with one of his classmates, while in the background we’ll see that classmate attempt to approach Archie before turning and leaving the other way. While neither the art or the script fully spelled out what was happening, by working in tandem they give you all the background you need about the book, and really that’s what the majority of this issue is about, introducing you to the characters in Riverdale. We learn a lot about Archie and his friends as well as his relationship with his girlfriend Betty. It’s the perfect introduction if you’re new to the series, and while there’s nothing inherently mind-blowing about the premise, it’s one of the absolute best “slice of life” teen drama comics I’ve ever read and is a huge change of pace from the rest of the mainstream market. So much care and attention was put into this comic and it really pays off. All the quality is in the delivery of the story, Waid and Staples clearly care about the story they’re telling, which in turn makes me as a reader want to keep going. It’s hard to convey the feeling you get when reading this, but it’s just so pure, innocent and relaxing. It’s everything comics should be.

The only part of the comic I didn’t really enjoy was the music scene towards the end. I applaud the creators for trying, and Staples does convey a good deal about the sounds using clever artistic cues such as broken notes, but comics are a silent medium, so the scene is of course going to lose something regardless of how good it is. It’s a shame too as it receives a good bit of build-up and comes at the climax of the comic, so it lets a bit of the wind of of the sails of the moment, but really there’s nothing the two could do. They did their best and the story still works and ends strongly, setting things up for future issues while still telling a satisfying story in its own right.

Overall, Archie #1 is the perfect introduction to the world of Riverdale and something comic fans of all ages and backgrounds should enjoy. If, like me, you’ve never once read an Archie comic I’d highly encourage you to check this one out, it offers the perfect introduction and is one of the freshest comics on the stands. If you’re a long time Archie fan though, I’m sure you’ll find the same things you loved about the original series here. Archie has successful landed in the modern day while keeping all of his charm intact. Its harmless fun that’s had a lot of love put into it, Archie #1 is quite simply one of the most pleasant and wholly enjoyable comic I’ve ever read. A huge surprise and the sort of comic I wish we had more of. Make sure to check this out, you’ll be glad that you did.