Sunday, October 25, 2009

Archie's Double Digest #202, a review

Alright, here we go! Archie's Double Digest #202, Part 3 of "Archie Goodbye Forever" and other assorted goodness.

I've gotta say, this chapter is a marked improvement over the first two. The best thing about it? Betty is 98% less anguished than in the first two chapters, making her bearable if still sort of whiny.

I was off-base with my theory that cleaning up the bog would tie into Fred's promotion: win some, lose some I guess.

The bog cleaning scene is pretty interesting though. For one thing the "Scouts" that Archie is shepherding through the cleanup are dressed in a very paramilitary way. One full page panel shows 3 "Scouts" in dark uniforms cleaning up garbage. Their ballcaps hide their eyes, giving them that "lone
asssassin" look that John Cusak perfected in the late 90's, and they look more than a little sinister. One of them is picking up a car bumper, and it totally looks like a piece of weaponry. Seriously.

Then a bunch of Lodge Inc. employees show up to help, and they're all wearing matching uniforms with ballcaps obscuring their eyes. Weird.

The thrust of the story is that in small towns people are genuine and good, and in bigger cities they're all douche bags. The Andrews' go to look at houses in Martinsville, and the realtor lady is a bitch, the neighbours are dicks and none of the houses have the charm of their little box back in that great little town. If this story were a movie, Jimmy Stewart would play Fred. The big cliff-hanger is that Fred and Mary overhear Archie tell Betty on the phone that he can't keep pretending to be happy about the promotion, and he doesn't want to move. Fred and Mary are drawn all surprised, but come on. Arch has been a mopey, depressed lump for pages.

I find the military imagery combined with the heartland story interesting. Perhaps an under the radar way to link good old American values with the military? Hmmmm.

"Animal Antics" is a reason to rejoice. Standard one page gag, but Ethel has her buckteeth. Granted, it's a masquerade party and she's dressed as a rabbit, but still. It's been years since we saw those beaver teeth, and it was nice that they found a way to sneak them in again.

"No News is Good News" is mildly interesting, mainly because it adds Jacko the Magical Jackass to the standard Archie/Hiram dynamic.

"Our Pandas Are Missing" is about, well, missing Pandas. Pandas are lent to the Riverdale Zoo because Hiram is such an amazing philanthropist. What? Since most of the stories in this digest have some mention of how small Riverdale is, it seems surprising that they have a zoo, much less one that would get lent pandas. And I hate the title, I mean come on. "Our Pandas Are Missing"? It breaks my heart to see an Archie story where no effort was put into the title. And the last panel gag? Jug says that pandas wouldn't be in danger of dying off if they stopped eating bamboo (which is in limited supply) and started eating burgers. Har, har, har.

"Ghost of a Chance" is a rarity: A Little Archie story that doesn't make me want to lobotomize myself. Seriously, does anyone like Little Archie? Most of the L.A. stories are crap, and there was an art style that started in the late 90's for L.A. that just makes my eyes bleed. If you've gotta put some L.A. stories in a digest can't they at least be vintage reprints? Like "Ghost of a Chance". The best part of this story is Evelyn Evernever is in it, and I love Evelyn. The poor (literally) girl with a huge imagination, she gets very little play these days, but is always a welcome addition.

While we're on Little Archie, does anyone know what became of Spotty? I've never read a strip that alludes to Spotty's fate, but he's always in Little Archie strips and never in normal continuity. I mean, obviously he died, that's kind of what dogs do at some point. I've just always wondered if somewhere there's a "very special" strip that deals with Spotty shuffling off this mortal coil.

"The House on Oak Street" is a bit craptacular, but it starts with a clear definition of how small Riverdale is. According to this story Riverdale has "three movie houses, one video store, two drug stores and one fire station". This is exciting simply because I've never seen a story where they get so specific about the town. Aside from this little nugget of Archiana though, the story is a wash. Archie helps old man, everyone thinks Archie is great, blah, blah, blah.

"Comic Relief" is monumental for the fact that (in flashback) it shows Fred hanging out with Ricky Mantle. Not only have I never seen these two hang out, but it's the first time I've seen Reggie's Dad identified in print as Ricky. Huge, huge, huge. And Fred hanging out with him? This will be a day long remembered.

And finally I feel the need to talk about "Spirit Sprites", a story that left me reeling for minutes. First up is an appearance by everyone's favourite upwardly mobile character, Adam Chisholm. At first he's mentioned but not seen, so I was worried it may be a different Adam, a generic Adam. But no, no, no, it's our Adam. Even more monumental? Adam is hanging out with Raul, and Claude is nowhere to be seen! I know! I've never seen Claude and Raul separated. Perhaps this is all part of Adam's play to get into a higher tier. Maybe Adam thinks that having his own supporting cast (poached from Archie's ignored "friends") will help to keep him in focus and lead to more panel time. I don't know. I do know that Mr. Chisholm is ambitious, and with his drive, brown hair and undefined personality traits he has a good shot at second tier.

I just hope he's not delusional enough to think he can hit first tier. Sorry Adam, I'm your biggest fan, but you just don't have what it takes to hit the big time.

All in all, a fine double digest. I could have used some 40's and 50's reprints, but there were some nice 70's strips (especially one featuring Chuck, boxing and women's lib), some OK 80's strips and too many 90's strips. I like that the whole digest had an over-all theme, this is a rarity (the theme being Riverdale as a really small town, and how nice that is) and a welcome concept.

It's nice that "Archie Goodbye Forever" is surpassing my (very low) expectations. Hopefully part 4 will continue this trend.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Betty Gets a Turn

Today the New York Times has an interesting article about the next step in the much ballyhooed "Proposal" story, and how Betty will get her hypothetical turn as Archie's betrothed.

This confirms the theory I had when the first wave of media attention surrounding this story hit, as you can read here: 

As the cover shows though, it would seem I was dead wrong about Betty rejecting Archie. Sigh. I still think it would have been a more interesting story, and I would probably still think so even if I hadn't thought of it.

Sure, I'm happy Betty gets a crack at being Mrs. Andrews. She deserves it, I suppose. To be honest, I'm mainly just curious to see which periphery characters get some play at Betty's wedding. Will Polly (Betty's sometimes in continuity, sometimes not sister) make an appearance? Or how about Chick, Betty's mysterious brother? Is he still a top secret agent? Will he be at the wedding in one of his many masterful disguises? Will Cricket O'Dell come out of the woodwork? 

Perhaps the most important question: Will Adam Chisholm be a part of this story?  For a few years I've been watching as Adam makes a play for second tier status, hoping to join the ranks of Dilton, Moose, Chuck and the other regulars. For a while he was a constant foil to Archie, often beating him out for Betty's attention. In "Horsing Around" Hal actually refers to Adam as Archie's rival, which I found to be monumental. This gave Adam's quest for a higher status some legitimacy, the kind Trula Twyst and Ginger Lopez can only dream of. I hope he has at least a cameo in this story, it would be a shame if he was benched for the big game after all his hard work.

I also found the amount of focus on Michael Uslan in the article to be interesting.  When the first wave of media attention hit Archie Comics didn't really push Uslan into the foreground, but now that they have a deal with CAA and are trying to get Hollywood interested?  I'm sure no opportunity is lost to connect Archie and the Dark Knight (which he produced) through Uslan's name. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for anything that makes a Batman/Archie crossover a possibility, but it shows even more that Hollywood is where Jon wants to take things. And while Uslan has produced some cool movies, he was also involved in Catwoman, National Treasure and Constantine. Not exactly an unblemished record.

Also of interest: Jon is all over this article while Nancy gets nary a mention. Sure, Jon has the Goldwater name, and he's been more prominent than Nancy all along, but not even one mention? For a Co-CEO? I hope her plans for literacy programs and school fundraising products aren't being buried beneath Jon's Hollywood dreams.  Let's face it though, that's probably exactly what's happening.

The real bombshell in this article is the oh-so-casual mention that the New Look (formerly Dynamic "New Look", formerly "Dynamic New Look", formerly "New Look") stories will come to an end this year. This is news to me. I've long held the view that the DNL stories were a way to establish a new "classic" art for the comics, but now I'm not sure.  Perhaps the New Look stories aren't selling well anymore. This wouldn't surprise me, as the last couple have been dreck. "My Father's Betrayal" was ham-fisted and terrible, and I've been anxiously awaiting my chance to rip into part 3 of "Twilight Archie", or "Archie Goodbye Forever" as it's officially called. I've got high hopes for the new Reggie-centric story starting soon, but that seems somewhat akin to having high hopes that our Provincial government will spontaneously decide not to bone the arts. What can I say? Ever the optimist.

The numbers for Archie comics sold in comic stores were also very interesting. The estimate is that the proposal issue sold 54,000 copies (in comic stores only), where previous Archie issues sold around 2,500 copies. That's kind of a staggering difference, and illustrates why mainstream media attention is being competed for so hotly by comic book publishers. It's a slippery slope though. Now that the "marriage wad" has been blown, the only way to capture the media's attention will be through more and more sensationalistic stories. Remember that Very Special Episode of "Family Ties" that was just Michael J. Fox on a black set dealing with the death of his buddy, with the help of an unseen psychiatrist? (Incidentally, that episode was the first time I ever heard The Doors. Pointless, but true.) Expect something similar to come out of Archie Comics if Jon's taste for airtime continues to grow. The death of one of Archie's friends, and a "realistic" portrayal of the aftermath would surely catch some airtime on CNN. Chuck Clayton, I'd keep your eyes open. Just saying.

Oh yeah, the mention of a hardcover "best of" volume devoted to Dan DeCarlo? Sent chills down my spine. Seriously.

The thing that got me the most though: It mentions that to compile a 1980 "best of" Uslan had to read every Archie comic ever published. I've often dreamed that there was some sort of Archie vault, with every story ever published in it. I've fantasized about it, and now I know it's real. It's real. Marmaroneck, my heart points to thee.

Jon, I know I've been critical, but it was always out of love. I care, maybe too much, but I criticize because I care. 

You need someone to create a grand database of Archie, covering every incidental relative (my dream list!), every friend who's come and gone, how many dates Archie and Veronica have been on, how many companies Hiram has owned and countless other topics. 

Let me do it.

Give me access to the vault, let me compile and cross reference until there is no more minutia to cover. I won't abuse the power. I know that with great power comes great responsibility, and I take my Archie responsibility very seriously.