Sunday, July 12, 2015

REVIEW: Archie #1

Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Fiona Staples
Review: William R. Davis Jr.

America is a country founded on unwavering faith in an abstract idea. The American Dream drives the nation forward even in today’s overly pessimistic times. To most Americans this core belief still holds true: anyone can become anything with a strong work ethic or one great idea. Stories like Archie are rooted in this same brand of national optimism.

Before there was Dawson, there was Archie. There are hundreds of examples of this in every medium of American storytelling. All of our most greatly admired protagonists are Beaver Cleavers, Kevin Arnolds, and Rudy Ruettigers. Archie is just another example of the angels of our better nature finding their way onto the page. I sat searching for answers as to why we need these morality tales (and we do), but the answer is either inherently and subconsciously American or something that I am not willing to admit to myself out of some deep seated shame. Let me come clean, I have indulged in my fair share of Full House and The Brady Bunch episodes.

What is inarguable is that there is a market to be filled and a yearning for an American utopia that is peaceful and moral and safe. The difference between reality and fiction is from time to time hammered home by entertainers like Bill Cosby. Cosby offered us a vision of a better America, but the hope that families like the Cosby family can actually exist was wholly disproven by the darkness in reality that is as equally inherent as the optimism on family television. These stories are entertainment and nothing more, but denial and want are powerful things.

As far as apple pie and baseball flavored comics are concerned, Archie is king. After reading that Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson signed on for Jughead, and Mark Waid and Fiona Staples would be working on the flagship title, my interest in Riverdale was piqued enough to read and review an issue of Archie.

What I found was a comic that was well crafted for an Archie book, but as of yet there has been no great reimagining of the franchise. The Archie team of Mark Waid and Fiona Staples is too talented to prematurely judge their vision harshly after only one issue, but let me give it the old college try.

Staples is a once in a generation artist, but on this book she is limited by the source material. Recently Archie has found himself toe to toe with zombies or Predator, a place where an artist like Staples shines, but his interminable run through sequential art has been more defined by his eternally abiding optimism in a wholesome midtown American setting, one that makes for a pretty bland canvas.

Issue one was a traditional Archie story with some pop culture tweaks, a disappointing offering of “Archie for the 21st Century”. The addition of YouTube and Hashtags fell far short of what I was expecting. A typical Archie tale has to respect the audience and the tradition, but I felt that there should have been something more substantive to add to the relaunch fanfare. Where modern mainstream comics tend to flounder is their inability to create a compelling and original story with well-established characters whose stories have been told for decades, not an easy task but a necessary one.

Saga became the most relevant comic in the world over a short period of time because of strong, creative writing and art. It is anything but average. To me, Archie #1 was painfully average to the point of feeling completely redundant. If you are already an Archie fan, or a vapid and unimaginative middle school student you should buy this comic. If you are anyone else, don’t. #superfluous

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