This is the issue where the "new look" for Archie's characters debuts, and I have to say, it did not get off to a rousing start.
The issue was written by Melanie J. Morgan (who I would love to learn more about, as I've never heard of her work before this issue) and drawn by long-time comic artist, Steven Butler, who worked on a number of Marvel titles during the 90s (including long runs on Silver Sable and Web of Spider-Man) but has been at Archie for the last decade or so (including a long run on Sonic the Hedgehog).
The issue has two significant problems, one of which can be dealt with fairly easily, with the other being a bit more difficult of a problem.
The first problem is Morgan's clunky, exposition-laden dialogue. Check out this first page of the issue...
"It's not always easy to be best friends with the richest girl in Springfield...also, here are some other things I need to fill you in on, step by step."
This is actually some of the better dialogue, as it gets worse later in the issue where Betty makes a point to say everyone's full name when talking to them, and mentions connections they have to other characters.
Like when Midge complains about not having her boyfriend Moose there, Betty points out "You know, Midge, that your boyfriend and the other guys are taking boxing lessons with Coach Clayton at the Teen Center tonight."
That being said, it's probably a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. If Morgan didn't introduce us to these characters, it would make this issue a poor introduction. So I can sorta forgive this problem, so long as it doesn't continue in later issues. I have somewhat faith in Morgan that it will not be a problem in later issues.
The second problem, though, is more significant - and it is that Butler's art in the comic just isn't that good.
I've seen plenty of art by Butler in his Marvel comics, and he never seemed to have a problem drawing people. He had a nice, clean style, reminiscent of Tom Lyle's work. Here, though, his characters all look bizarre, and even his sequentials look off.
This is just not a good looking comic book, which is bizarre, as this is a pretty big book for Archie, so combine that with Butler's history of good artwork, I really do not understand why the end result is so poor-looking.
I mean, look at the above pages! That is a "dynamic new style"? The characters all have oddly long faces - it is like they are caricatures, only the point of this style is to draw them as they would appear in, say, a Marvel comic book. But Butler has DRAWN "normal" characters in Marvel comic books, and they look a lot better than this. It's quite disappointing.
Even more so is the sequential aspect - Butler has always been a good sequential storyteller, at Marvel AND at Archie - but here, I was quite disappointed. Sadly, the above pages don't really show much sequential work (and the other available online pages are just as lacking), so you'll just have to take my word for it that his sequential work appears awkward and stilted.
However, on to the good parts. Morgan's main story (once she gets around to it) is a very strong one. There's a new kid in town, and he's a bit of a creep, but Veronica is drawn to him. Here is the chance Betty has - Veronica is willing to forget about Archie in favor of the new kid, leaving Archie all to Betty.
But Betty has to decide - is gaining Archie's undivided attention worth seeing her best friend date a creep?
That's an intriguing concept by Morgan that can certainly develop over the next few issues. I look forward to what she does with the idea - I just wish the art was stronger.
By the by, the FORMAT is such a great idea! For 50 cents more than a normal comic book, you get a full comic book story plus TONS of reprints. What a great deal. A great move by Archie. This is a great concept by Archie - I just wish the artwork would have been up to par.
With the clunky dialogue and the bad art, I have to say I would not recommend this comic book, but I think there is some real promise here, it just got off to a bad start. I applaud Archie for taking the chance, though!