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Archie #19 is in many ways, your typical Archie story, but it’s typical in both the way it follows a pattern of the franchise since it began long ago and typical in the way the publisher’s revised approach to Archie and his pals has created some of the most satisfying YA comics around. In this way, Archie #19 is the best of both worlds, both funny and light-hearted even as it manages to be insightful about its characters.
For decades, Archie Comics seemed to be trapped in amber, preserving an approach that had worked for the series for decades; good, clean, broadly zany high school melodrama from an indistinguishable time period. But for a few years now, Archie Comics have flipped that approach on its head and redefined the gang of Riverdale as thoroughly contemporary teens in stories that draw more from comedic young adult soap opera than the old fashioned comic strip approach of the past.
Writer Mark Waid and artist Pete Woods obviously know how a classic Archie yarn is structured. In this case, the central dilemma is that Veronica Lodge has recently returned to Riverdale form a stint at a Swiss boarding school, and she and Archie are having trouble reconnecting after their forced absence. Meanwhile, Mr. Lodge, perpetually disapproving of Archie, tries to find a way to keep his daughter from falling again for a guy so beneath her station. Will Archie and Veronica find a way back to each other? And will Archie’s best friend (and Veronica’s perpetual adversary) Jughead help or hinder the process?
That right there is a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in any Archie story since they started making Archie stories. But what makes this issue come across as so fresh and enjoyable is the way that Waid and Woods render the plot in thoroughly modern ways. The jokes aren’t awful puns or zany gags that went out of style with “Three’s Company.” The humor is character based and peppered with snarky one-liners and well-executed sarcasm. And while all the characters are still recognizably Archie and the gang, Waid and Woods deepen their interactions with more specific and nuanced dialogue. The bond between Archie and Jughead is funny and warm and meaningful, and the approach to Jughead and Veronica’s only partially serious animosity feels organic and well delineated. The story doesn’t take the Riverdale characters entirely out of the exaggerated world of comic strips, but it does provide them with a greater sense of emotional realism, which means that the story we get in this issue manages to be both light-hearted romance high-jinks but still feel like there are emotional stakes.
Pete Woods’ art is great factor in this. He doesn’t try to evoke a timeless quality at all, but places all the characters firmly in today, and depicts them realistically. But when the story also calls for over-the-top cartoon wackiness, he manages to deliver that without losing the sense of realism at all. Not an easy trick, to be sure. The issue features not only our regular characters, who all look expressive and interesting, but also a host of disposable one-off characters who Woods manages to imbue with distinctiveness and personality even if they only get a panel at most. And he really nails quiet silent panels designed to accentuate an inner moment or emotion for our characters. The art in the issue winds up being funny and even a bit affecting.
Look, at the end of the day, Archie #19 is still an Archie Comic. It’s never going to be “Maus,” but it never should try to be. What it should be is engaging and fun melodrama for teens and those who remember their teens. And under Waid and Woods we get an issue that both captures the spirit of Archie Andrews while exemplifying a modern approach. If you’re looking for a solid YA romance comic, it’s hard to find better. 8.5/10
Archie #19 hits shelves tomorrow, April 19, 2017