There is no specific moment inside “Archie” #1 where book begins to work as the best relaunch of 2015, because it takes place well before the cover is even opened. Fiona Staples — and all of the variants as well — reintroduce Archie with updated style, charisma and friendliness that is only accentuated and heightened by Mark Waid’s funny, endearing script. The team paints Archibald Andrews as an updated Peter Parker, though Pete has always been a more maudlin version of Archie. He’s friendly, unassuming, willing to try anything and surrounded by a well-rounded cast of teenagers with distinct voices and opinions. It’s gorgeous, it’s accessible, it’s fun and it’s the best first issue of the year.
Waid, a master of characterization, distills Archie to his basic tenets and wraps a modern setting around him. From the opening splash page, Archie addresses the reader directly with a YouTube trope dropped onto the page. It helps Waid reintroduces the cast to the audience and — much like on YouTube — it works because Archie is so likeable. Readers are dropped in media res into the #lipstickincident, as the school attempts to find out the mystery behind this situation. For all the sadness it could cause, Waid doesn’t wade in the morass of teenage angst, allowing Archie to be sad but never allowing it to stop the forward momentum of the story. The writer’s ear for dialogue is impeccable; it’s hard to nail the voice of a generation decades removed from your own, but everyone sounds honest and even the most annoying of characters, like Reggie, have integrity.
Some characters may seem slightly off to readers used to the development of the franchise throughout the decades. Jughead returns to his roots as a nuanced voice of dissent and, though he’s still a food vacuum, he’s sharper than he’s been allowed to be in a very long time. In fact, one of the issue’s subplots may just prove that he is the wisest person in the book. Not everyone that readers associate with Archie appears in this first issue, but they lurk just over the horizon, as the end of the issue shows.
Throughout, Staples uses her clean, fashionable style to make the book a jaw-dropping beauty. Much like “Saga,” even the ugliest of characters are gorgeous, but not distractingly so. She paces the book with well-timed spreads and cutaway panels, telling entire stories in single shots. One scene at a dance also uses some clever illustrative magic to bring the music and instruments to life. Readers experience the triumph Archie feels in the moment as Staples perfectly captures the character visually: a guy who is thrown into a sink-or-swim scenario and is pleasantly surprised by his own ability. The audience gets to grow with the character and find out what his limits really are, an important aspect of a book about a time in a person’s life that is almost exclusively about that. This comic book is filled with well-styled characters and touching panels, including some Easter eggs and subtle nods to the artist’s other high profile series.
With so much hoopla surrounding the All-New Marvel and DC YOU initiatives, it’s amazing that this — one of the most recognizable comic book titles in the history of the medium — is being launched with far less fanfare. In the past year, Archie Comics has found ways to adapt their characters in fresh and exciting ways for a new generation of readers. With Waid and Staples — two creators who continue to find new heights for their own creativity — at the helm, the publisher has created their best book in years. “Archie” #1 is must-read comics for anyone looking for fun, engaging characters and beautifully drawn, on-trend style.