Archie & Friends All-Stars Vol. 17 – Archie: Clash of the New Kids trade paperback
Writer: Alex Simmons
Pencils: Dan Parent
Inks: Rich Koslowski
Colors: Digikore Studios
Letters: Jack Morelli
Cover artists: Parent & Koslowski
Publisher: Archie Comic Publications
Price: $11.99 US/$12.99 CAN
It’s been an awfully long time since I thumbed through the pages of an Archie comic. The only other one I’ve looked at in recent memory is World of Archie Double Digest, which collected the DC-published Tiny Titans/Little Archie crossover series. I couldn’t resist the super-cute character designs and the nostalgia of the digest format. I loved digest comics as a kid (both those published by Archie and the treasure trove of reprint material in the ones offered by DC back in the 1970s and ’80s), and I’m pleased Archie is carrying on the tradition and the format today. Unfortunately, this collected edition of a storyline that ran through different Archie titles more than a year ago is offered in a more familiar trade-paperback format (though slightly smaller than the regular comic-book size). There are several subplots that string this book together, all revolving around an influx of new students at Riverdale High, coming from a shuttered school elsewhere in the district. Obviously, I was expecting the noteworthy Kevin Keller to turn up in this volume, and he does. But despite Kevin’s appearance in a few background shots and on a profile page at the back of the book, he’s really not a participant in the stories included in this collection. Instead, the focus is on a number of other new Riverdale characters. The group is clearly designed to bring diversity and more modern sensibilities to the traditional, old-school foundation of Archie comics, but writer Alex Simmons wisely fleshes out the characters beyond their races and the social archetypes they represent.
Things are tough economically in America, and Riverdale isn’t immune. Education budget cuts have led to the closure of Pine Point High School, and all of those students and teachers have to end up someplace. So Riverdale High, which has its own financial challenges, has to accommodate 50 new students and six new teachers, and their arrival doesn’t go as smoothly as everyone had hoped. A perceived rivalry arises between Archie and his friends and a bunch of the new kids — not surprisingly, due to a number of misunderstandings. Some of the mainstay Riverdale High students find they have some serious competition on their hands, and one of the new teachers has her eye on Mr. Weatherbee’s job as well.
I don’t normally read Archie comics these days, but one of the reasons I was looking forward to reading this review copy was the fact some comics professionals I first encountered in works outside of the world of Archie were key contributors. One of them is Three Geeks cartoonist Rich Koslowski, who serves as the inker on these stories. He and penciller Dan Parent offer work that embraces the traditional Archie style. The iconic characters I remember from my youth from decades ago look just as they did back then… mostly. There’s definitely a more modern sensibility at play. The characters’ reactions aren’t as exaggerated as they once were, and obviously, the fashion has been updated as well.
Some of the character designs have been tweaked as well. Ethel, who was once portrayed as — well, let’s be honest — ugly is instead presented as rather quirky and cute in her own way. Another example is Mr. Weatherbee; though still portly, he isn’t portrayed as being comically fat as I remember him to be (or maybe I just relate to him more, since my frame resembles his these days). I enjoyed the diversity in design for the new characters, and I don’t mean just in terms of race. They’re distinguishable in several ways. Parent handles the expansive cast of characters adeptly. Despite the plots’ focus on turning Riverdale High into more of a melting pot, the art never strives for realism either. That’s probably a smart move for an Archie story. In keeping with that approach, the colors are unrelentingly bright as well, adding more energy and optimism to the mix.
Though he’s worked on comics for younger readers for years, I’m more familiar with Alex Simmons from his work on his creator-owned, pulp-adventure property Blackjack. His various plotlines bring a lot of fun and energy to the book, and things are never treated too seriously. He touches lightly upon the problems faced by public institutions in the 21st century, but he doesn’t allow the characters to get mired in it. There’s no teen angst to be found here, and that’s the way things should be in Riverdale. Unfortunately, the plotlines are sometimes a bit loose and scattered. Reggie’s plan to expose his prank-playing nemesis is never really clear, and Chloe’s misrepresentation of a “news” story (the false enmity between Moose and Vic) is never resolved. While Chloe is likeable, it seems as though Betty’s story arc should be about showing her and the school newspaper’s editor the light, but instead, she seems to cast aside ethical issues. And if memory serves, Betty is meant to be the ethical centre of Archie’s circle of friends.
I liked a number of the new characters introduced here, though I admit I was disappointed Kevin Keller wasn’t spotlighted. Sightless student Carla is charming, thanks to her confidence and humor, and go-getter Chloe’s enthusiasm and ambition is infectious. Some of the others aren’t as endearing, though, notably the catty Sheila Wu. She serves as a foil to Veronica, who, yes, still deserves to be taken down a peg, but while her competitiveness makes sense, Sheila’s constant needling of the rich girl comes off as needlessly provocative and antagonistic. It turned out the characters I was most interested in reading about were the faculty members. Ms. Ashton’s professional ambitions planted the seeds for an interesting conflict, and the blossoming romance between Miss Grundy and Mr. Fine was the only personal connection in the book that seemed to really have some legs. Furthermore, I enjoyed seeing Mr. Weatherbee’s handling of administrative matters rather than focusing on curbing Archie’s and Reggie’s shenanigans; in fact, I’d like to see more of it. Of course, I suppose it’s not surprise I was drawn more to those story elements, since I’m now closer in age to the teachers than I am to the students. 6/10
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