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FIRST ISSUE: BETTY & VERONICA

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode” — that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

We've been waiting for this one a while. The “new” Betty & Veronica, written and drawn by Adam Hughes. A widely admired drawer of the feminine form, Hughes proves here that he can tell a goodly tale, too. Betty and Veronica begin this issue as friends — Betty doing all the work; Veronica lounging around at her ease. They end as enemies.

The McGuffin is Pop’s, the beloved soda-hamburger shop where Archie and Jughead and the rest of the gang hang out. It’s closing. Or, rather, being foreclosed. Betty passionately launches a fundraising drive to save the shop. Then she discovers (a) that Veronica Lodge’s father owns the bank that is foreclosing on Pop’s, and (b) that the new tenant for the shop is a coffee company that Veronica’s father owns. In effect, as Archie puts it, “Veronica’s father is running Pop’s out of town.”

When confronted, it seems Veronica could care less, which sets Betty off on a tear. The book concludes with a fight brewing between the erstwhile friends.

Hughes manages to prolong revealing the Lodge connection for most of this issue. He slowly builds suspense while at the same time deftly revealing elements of the plot as he goes along — all the while having the characters engage in teenage banter. Nicely done.

The book’s “narrator” is, drat, a dog. A sheepdog by the look of him. Named J. Farnsworth Wigglebottom III, he speaks in grandiose prose. But I don’t see that he adds anything to the tale. Nothing in the story needs a narrator. We could have done just fine without him. Maybe Hughes will reveal a profound interdependence in some future issue, but in this issue, Wigglebottom’s presence is a superfluity. Cute but wholly unnecessary.

But we tune in to this issue for Hughes’ pictures not his story. His portraits of Betty and Veronica and Moose’s girlfriend Midge are exquisite — beautiful girls, and (the mark of a master limner of ladies) they look like individuals not copies of one another. But that, given Hughes’ skill, was expected. Gone are all the Dan DeCarlo-mimicked look-alike cute girls.

Not expected is the muted color throughout the book. The toned-down intensity takes the book out of the realm of “funnybooks” and into another kingdom altogether, where the pictures border on realistic. And some details — facial features and hair — while still rendered in line, are drawn in a different hue of the same color family as the principal subject; the line strokes that indicate Betty’s blonde hair are drawn in a light shade of brown, a tint, so to speak, that delineates the layering of her hair-do. These aspects of the book’s color are the most striking of the issue.

B&V1

 

B&V2

The colorist is Jose Villarrubia, but I suspect the decision to go muted was Hughes’, no slouch of a colorist himself.

The last portion of the issue reprints “a classic tale of the original BFFs,” says Jon Goldwater: “It’s time to get a sense of where things started.” Drawn by the iconic Archie illustrator, Dan DeCarlo, it’s a refreshing look back.

As a bonus, we have a self-congratulatory two-page spread displaying all 24 alternative covers for this issue. I have both Hughes’ and Ryan Sook; Sook can draw beautiful women, but, alas, they all look an awful lot alike.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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