Archie #31 - Review: A Squiggly Line Never Gets the Worm
Story: Mark Waid & Ian Flynn
Art: Audrey Mok
Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
I haven't watched Riverdale. An episode or two, bits and pieces here and there. There are parts of Archie #31 that feel like maybe they are supposed to be that show. Truth in point, at times, as I read certain lines and watched certain scenes unfold, I heard or saw those actors enacting those scenes. But then at other times, I read it as the same kind of antiquated prose that was meant to evoke the 1950s and 1960s as the series continued to do for much of my childhood. My main takeaway from the issue wound up being that I just was not sure what voice it was written in and had some uncertainty of what it was trying to be.
In Archie #31, we have a few set-pieces in motion, as is the thematic norm in this burgeoning soap opera about high school life in Everytown, USA. Archie rocks out with Josie and the Pussycats at the Riverdale High Spring Dance. Betty and Veronica are commiserating about their broken hearts over Archie, and during all this an armed gunman shows up. Claiming to be the biological father of Cheryl and Jason Blossom, Eddie Sheers takes the mic from Reggie, who had been planning on outing the Blossoms about their felon of a dad. Things get real in the surreal on this episode of Riverdale.
As I mentioned, the main stick in my craw is that I just could not get a grip on what Waid was trying to convey in this issue, tonally, that is. And, admittedly, I am unclear what the split is between Waid and Flynn on duties; it could be Waid scripting the plot while Flynn does the actual writing, who knows. Archie's lines in the opening are incredibly awkward, again, in that kind of 1970s / 1980s comic book writing style that you would always feel resembled no person's speech pattern and vocabulary that you had ever heard in real life. And back then,when it was supposed to feel like it was out of the '50s or '60sand decidedly camp, it was ok (I guess). Archie's lines feel very much like something out of a Hardy Boys book. The expressions of Josie and the Pussycats are as if he is well off his rocker whilehe voices his stage-setting monologue, but then in another panel they snap into place as if nothing is asunder. The next scene, with Veronica and Betty and Jughead feels like more modern Archie, a bit Riverdale, but mostly just more squared up on the stylistic target that I was expecting and had been accustomed to. We do get a nice piece of emote and compassion-invoking story-telling as Archie, oblivious to anyone outside of his rock-performance bubble, duets with Valerie on"I'll Never Let You go" while Ronnie and Betty look on heart-broken. When the gun-wielding Eddie Sheers shows up, the show turns very much Riverdale in tone to me, especially when Archie puts himself in harm’s way. In truth, I would’ve liked a whole comic set in this tone, but with the bubble-gum stuff up front, the 90210 stuff in the middle, and then the Riverdale (darker) stuff on the tail end, it just felt a bit too eclectic for me.
As has seemingly been much of the tale in art this week, the most interesting thing here is Fitzpatrick’s colors. In one panel from the stage's perspective, looking out over the crowd, she uses a wonderful purple-mauve hue, to me evoking the sense of the crowd being non-descript and firmly separated from Archie in his own perspective; a collection of non-discretes that are perhaps largely irrelevant if not for the exceptions he then enumerates in a following roll-call. Fitzpatrick later uses similar breakouts to highlight conversations between individual characters amongst the sea of high-schoolers thronged about on the dance floor at the Spring Dance. When the Blossoms are on stage with Sheer, with all of them having the bright orange hair, she wonderfully contrasts that with deep blacks, shaded gold, and Mok adds some nice detail touches that make the clothes move, shift, and wrinkle up like real fabric would on a person. I also really like how the colorist intones surprise or revelationarylines by placing this muted starburst behind the character's head. Good stuff.
SCORE: 6.5 / 10
Admittedly, I am most certainly not the core demographic for the Archie comic. I used to read them as a kid before high school, then my high school life was NOTHING like Riverdale, having gone to an inner-city school in an urban environment, where there was a clashy intermix of ethnic kids from the projects and the white kids from the islands and burbs. So a lot of this series has always been lost on me. But as a comic consumer, I try to get around and try out a bit of everything. My problems with this issue are not with the subject matter and idyllic setting, but with a shifting tone that does not ever let me square up and settle into a set of expectations that I felt I could rely on. I know and have read some great issues in this Mark Waid run, but this one feels a bit off creatively; almost clunky. Still, I liked the overall plot and sequencing. Just something in the voiceover felt out of place, and truly it felt like maybe certain chapters were written by different people. The art was solid; good, but I would have liked a few more high notes. But overall, this is a solid issue that probably gives Archie fans who are on this ongoing a good bit of movement on the arc, heading towards a resolution that is a bit more virile than a lot of things that happen in Riverdale, doing an excellent job of setting up a high-tension conclusion in the next issue.