Archie

Vampironica #1 (May 2018)

Vampironica #1 (May 2018)Reading Vampironica, I sometimes thought maybe Greg Smallwood’s art would look better if it were a black and white seventies horror comic magazine. But no, I don’t think it’d make a difference. Smallwood has a very think line. It makes the comic look like someone’s zooming in on the art. It feels rushed.

The comic itself is very rushed. I think it reads in four or five minutes tops. It starts with Veronica as Buffy, then it turns out it’s Veronica as Blade. Lots of Archie cast cameos. Lots of solid jokes from Smallwoods Greg and Meg. It’s a breezy, fun five minutes.

But it’s just five minutes. Probably more like four. Because there’s no dawdling. The only thing Smallwood emphasizes is the expressions, but his staging is so rushed, they’re almost speed bumps. They work for emphasis.

Vampironica is completely readable and totally disposable. It’s an ongoing, which is sort of worse.

CREDITS

Writers, Greg Smallwood and Meg Smallwood; artist, Greg Smallwood; letterer, Jack Morelli; editors, Stephen Oswald, Vincent Lovallo, Alex Segura, and Jamie L. Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 8 (October 2017)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #8There hasn’t been much Sabrina in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina lately. At least two issues, maybe three. This issue is all Sabrina. It was, like Chilling Adventures itself, worth the wait. Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack put Sabrina through a romance comic adventure, one with some good girl art, while never losing the twisted reality of it all. Aguirre-Sacasa’s writing is stellar, on plotting, on characters. He does this close third person narration, mostly between Sabrina and her dad (who’s possessing her reincarnated zombie boyfriend). It’s twisted and great. Then there’s a witch battle. Hack does it all. There’s even a Jughead cameo. Sabrina has held strong without its lead, but it’s so nice to have her back.

CREDITS

Witch-War, Chapter Two: The Psychopomps; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 7 (August 2017)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #7This issue of Sabrina has almost no Sabrina. None as the lead. Instead, it’s got her dad, Edward, coming back to life in the body of Sabrina’s dead boyfriend, Harvey. It’s a frame for a flashback. You know, while Edward, in Harvey’s body, eats Harvey’s parents.

Because it’s a really gross comic. Aguirre-Sacasa knows Hack can sell the creepiness of the behavior while implication. There’s no need for gore. As horrifying as the visuals might get, Hack’s artwork is always lovely. Especially for the flashbacks, in which Edward appears to be a young Eddie Munster type. It’s downright fun for a while–Aguirre-Sacasa enjoys the less gory content fine, he just always punctuates with gore. And after it’s fun, it starts getting creepier and creepier.

It’s awesome. The creators aren’t trying to recreate the gothic, melodramatic horror comic, they’re just doing a good one.

CREDITS

Witch-War, Chapter One: The Truth about Demonology; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Afterlife with Archie 10 (October 2016)

Afterlife with Archie #10Someday, someone will do tragedy in mainstream comics better than Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, but if this latest issue of Afterlife with Archie is any indication, it’s not going to be any time soon. This issue–a done-in-one prologue to the series–features the Afterlife version of Josie and the Pussycats. Once again, Aguirre-Sacasa mixes pop culture sensibility, horror and so much good characterization.

It might be impossible to talk about the issue without spoiling anything, but I’m going to try. Aguirre-Sacasa structures it as an interview, set in modernity, with Josie telling a reporter all about the Pussycats’ history. There’s a lot of social history, some hints at ties to the overarching Afterlife story and some singing and dancing. There’s also friendship and tragedy.

There’s also a lot of unbelievably good Francesco Francavilla artwork. How Aguirre-Sacasa comes up with the content to give Francavilla the opportunity to do these panels–whether it’s a rock concert, a scene set in a small town in the South or an airplane ride–not to mention the interview panels themselves–it’s awesome, over and over again. Francavilla does the horror, he does the characters, he does the relationships between the two. There’s so much tragedy, the issue practically bleeds it.

This comic book, out of nowhere, isn’t just consistently excellent, it’s consistently exquisite. Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla put Afterlife in a league all its own.

CREDITS

Betty: R.I.P., Chapter Five: Interview/Interlude with the Pussycats; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Betty & Veronica 1 (September 2016)

Betty & Veronica #1WTF.

Or, as Archie Andrews, as written by Adam Hughes would say, “double-yoo, tee, eff.” Because it kind of pretends to be an all ages comic; the idea of Hughes doing this 21st century good girl art version of Betty and Veronica requires it to be ostensibly all ages. Except Hughes isn’t writing it at all for kids. He’s got a bunch of pop culture references–opening with Archie and Jughead doing a Fight Club riff is only slightly more ambitious than having Jughead’s dog narrate half the issue.

As a brand, Archie Comics is about to crossover. It’s about to be mainstream in a way no one thought Archie Comics could ever be. Hughes isn’t doing anything for that effort. He’s doing this weird pseudo-retro book, smartphones but still the idea the kids of Riverdale are going into the freaking army instead of Oberlin, lots of weak anti-hipster blather while Archie compares Jughead to Wimpy over his hamburger fixation. Sex jokes about Moose and Midge but not really. Hughes also writes Moose like the Hulk, which is dumb.

What should be frustrating is the art is fantastic. Except on Betty and Veronica, who Hughes just does his good girl art poses on. They look like they’ve cut and pasted from a pin-up, not interacting with the scene around them. In the middle of the issue is two empty pages where the characters read the comic–Betty and Veronica, removed from the narrative. How meta. How lame. But how much better than the rest? A lot, it’s a lot better than the rest. The comic is so dumb, the great art doesn’t matter. Hughes not integrating his–air quotes–protagonists into the art or narrative flow (it’s either the dog or Archie or Jughead after the first act) isn’t even a problem. If they were integrated and the art were even better, the writing would still be bad.

And if Hughes’s dialogue weren’t terrible? The plot would still be meandering. He just wants to fill frames and talk.

I’m not sure I wanted to like this comic. But I did want to have some respect for it. Doing a 21st century Betty & Veronica well would be something, even if I didn’t want to read it. But Hughes is wrong for it. He’s bad at writing this comic book, he’s bad at these characters. He’s fine drawing them, of course, but so is almost every artist. There’s even a gallery of the variant covers from a bunch of other artists at the end of the book and they’re all good. So what? The writing isn’t there. Hughes doesn’t take it seriously at all.

CREDITS

Why Can’t We Be Friends?; writer and artist, Adam Hughes; colorist, José Villarrubia; letterer, Jack Morelli; editors, Stephen Oswald, Jamie Lee Rotante and Mike Pellerito; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 6 (September 2016)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #6Aguirre-Sacasa starts this issue of Sabrina with some rather showy exposition. The series always has good exposition with a fluid narrative distance, but this opening is something different. It’s Aguirre-Sacasa using some of the goodwill he’s built up; he’s asking the reader to get excited. It’s almost like he’s pep rallying what’s going to come.

And it’s deserved. It’s a great issue, covering the histories of Sabrina’s family’s familiars. Samuel the cat is the focus of the comic, but Aguirre-Sacasa wants the reader to have to wait. He and Hack deliver a fantastic origin for the asps in the house. Then it’s Samuel’s turn and Aguirre-Sacasa starts it off really slow. He’s dragging the reader along, holding them hostage–is this origin going to be worth it? Because Aguirre-Sacasa sets it up to be a big deal–Samuel doesn’t want to reveal his origin and then he makes the asps promise never to bring it up again. That behavior, even for a witch’s familiar in the form of a cat, is weird. Is the origin worth it?

Yes, but not for the plot twists. Sabrina looks like homage to seventies horror, but it’s not. Aguirre-Sacasa does something different with it, mixing the psychological scares and the visual ones in different combination. The “disturbing” visuals in the series aren’t scary (well, maybe somebody mutilated but I mean the really freaky witch designs Hack comes up with). This issue has lovable witches even. Aguirre-Sacasa deals with the witch trials and he goes far making them sympathetic. Samuel might not like them, but he’s kind of a jerk.

While Aguirre-Sacasa is busy showing the reader how to read the comic, Hack is making sure the reader keeps going at the right pace. The creators seem more enthusiastic about the comic than they want the readers to be. But it’s also expertly rendered. Like I said, it’s a great comic.

CREDITS

Familiars; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Afterlife with Archie 9 (July 2016)

Afterlife with Archie #9This issue of Afterlife has a couple surprises. It’s mostly just a really tightly told tale from Aguirre-Sacasa, with some great art from Francavilla, but there’s a strange development at the end. Aguirre-Sacasa isn’t just doing Archie and zombies, he’s doing a horror comic. While zombies are part of it, the human cost is a bigger part.

This issue centers around Reggie, who I barely remember from my limited Archie exposure. He’s the dark Archie (who really quickly gives him up for dead and replaces him with Kevin, which just seems un-Archie) and Aguirre-Sacasa structures the comic around Reggie’s revelations to Kevin, his first person narration, and his deep fear of being a sociopath.

When the Bride of Cthulhu shows up to convince him to join the dark side… well, it’s unclear why Reggie’s choice is a surprise, but Aguirre-Sacasa makes it one. Even though Reggie shouldn’t be sympathetic, Aguirre-Sacasa writes him like a scared, confused kid. It results in a sympathetic character.

It’s an unpleasant issue. There’s no gore, there’s a lot of self-depreciation, there’s a lot of awkwardness. Aguirre-Sacasa utilizes a lot of flashbacks to tell Reggie’s story and, much like how the character’s mind operates, a lot of the book takes place in the imagination.

It’s not an exciting issue, however, not narratively speaking. It’s excellent work from Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla though. Assured, deliberate, freaky.

CREDITS

Betty: R.I.P., Chapter Four: The Trouble with Reggie; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Jack Morelli; editors, Victor Gorelick and Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 5 (July 2016)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #5Has it been a year since the last Sabrina? I guess it has been. Thank goodness Aguirre-Sacasa opens with a text recap (though I didn’t read it closely enough, which caused me some minor confusion).

Sabrina is on trial for cavorting with mortal boy Harvey, who is now dead. She wants to bring him back, unknowingly enlisting her nemesis to aid in the effort. And then Aguirre-Sacasa has a big surprise for that part of the story too. Sabrina is full of surprises and none of them are good for its protagonist, which is sort of weird. It feels like a melodrama, more than anything else, it feels like Aguirre-Sacasa is doing this giant teenage period piece melodrama with witches. It’s awesome.

Excellent art from Hack, who gets to do a nice variety of things here. There’s the witches trial, there’s the high school, there’s some other stuff. It’s great looking. There’s a lot of humor in the art this issue too. Hack’s having fun.

Sabrina is an excellent book. It has to be to be worth this kind of wait.

CREDITS

The Crucible, Chapter Five: The Trial; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 4 (September 2015)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #4Aguirre-Sacasa doesn’t mess around this issue. He keeps taking Sabrina down its dark path, spending the entire issue dealing with what happens when witches have to make a regular person disappear. Because if you’re a witch, sometimes you need to make hard choices and significant sacrifices to the Dark One.

While all this darkness is circling the regular cast, the kids from Riverdale show up–it’s not a full fledged Archie crossover but Aguirre-Sacasa does hint at future complications.

On one hand, the comic is just masterful horror. Hack’s art is simultaneously luscious and horrifying. The script–and the narrative design choices–are great. It’s terrifying while still being assuring. Aguirre-Sacasa finds the exact balance to keep it going just on the edge.

But he’s also doing a very aware reinvention of a (somewhat) familiar franchise and negotiating all those implications.

Sabrina is awesome. Just plain awesome.

CREDITS

The Crucible, Chapter Four: Harvey Horrors; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Afterlife with Archie 8 (July 2015)

Afterlife with Archie #8I don’t know how he does it–maybe with some of Afterlife’s built-up good will–but Aguirre-Sacasa manages to do a Shining homage and make it work beautifully. He simultaneously attacks the foundations of the whole Archie brand and then reinforces them. It’s no wonder he’s in charge of the company.

The issue starts with Archie recounting a recent event among the survivors. Afterlife is now a zombie survivor book more than an Archie spin-off. Aguirre-Sacasa is running with it and running well with it. The way he’s telling the story has become more important than the content of the scenes, though they’re really good too. Afterlife is creepy.

Artist Francavilla helps a lot with that creepiness. He’s getting a little rushed again this issue–the last fourth or so is incredibly hurried–but it comes after a bunch of good work.

Afterlife is divine.

CREDITS

Betty: R.I.P., Chapter Three: A Ghost Story…; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

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