Mark Waid and Fiona Staples re-introduce Veronica Lodge in “Archie” #3, completing the set of four core characters in Archie Comics canon. Waid made a wise choice in delaying her inevitable arrival, choosing to focus on Archie, Betty and Jughead in the first two issues instead. That way, he’s built up a status quo that’s upset by Veronica’s dramatic entrance.
Veronica’s debut doesn’t disappoint. Her behavior and the other students’ reactions are hilarious. She’s not three-dimensional yet, though, and she comes across like a more sheltered version of Regina George from “Mean Girls” or a meaner, more selfish version of Cher from “Clueless.” She’s so outrageous that she takes more than her fair share of the spotlight, though Jughead and Betty can hold their own against her.
“Archie” #3 follows Veronica through her first day at Riverdale High School. It’s easy to underestimate Waid’s skill as a writer, because his storytelling is often at his best when he keeps things simple and familiar, as he does here. A first day at school always has dramatic potential because it’s a near-universal experience, but it takes chops to make the tension build and release smoothly. The climax is positioned perfectly at midday, during lunch, and Staples’ double-page spread stops time to pan around the room and include all the other students in the moment.
Staples’ facial expressions are exquisitely good, especially for Jughead. He doesn’t talk as much his friends, but he’s got the largest range of emotion thanks to Staples. A hundred different kinds of dismay and irritation flicker across his face throughout the issue, and he wears a bored, half-lidded look even as he’s plotting and scheming to save Archie. His sudden fierce questions to Archie are just as sharply drawn as his bland, disingenuous air when he’s talking to a reporter. He’s the real scene-stealer.
Jughead is probably the most altered character, even though Staples has kept his nose and crown. The original Jughead was an archetypal Fool — a clown and a sidekick who was both wise and silly. Now he’s more of a Trickster character, a crafty fellow who drives the story.
Staples does her own coloring on “Saga” and her work there is so good I was apprehensive about whether another colorist would do her linework justice in “Archie.” Fortunately, there was no need to worry. Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn’s color work is pretty, but — even better than that — it shows exceptional skill and effort. Cool tones dominate, but there’s an amazing variety of complex hues, including the light turquoise of Archie’s shirt, Chinese red for Veronica’s bag and cobalt pink, burgundy and hunter green in the backgrounds. Thin slivers of doors and books are each given individual attention. Every panel looks crisp and clean, but full of life. The color also directly assists in the storytelling. When Veronica bites into her sloppy joe, there’s a wonderful color progression where the skin on her face changes from healthy pink to just a little yellow-green, before she is full-on jaundiced-looking. The background color reinforces Staples’ facial expressions, shifting from beige to pale greenish yellow to green to play up the humor. Morelli’s lettering makes the flow of word balloons very easy to follow, even in crowded panels.
The plot doesn’t have any real surprises, the structure is standard and the major characters retain defining traits, but the creative team makes it all feel fresh, if not new. The reader knows what will happen when a rich girl has to slum it, but how it all happens again will delight. This is how to relaunch a classic. The new “Archie” continues live up to the hype. It’s one of the best new titles of 2015.