Stories of kids trapped in video games have been around since… well, since video games have been around. But that doesn’t stop them from being good stories in the hands of good writers. Stephen Oswald is a good writer. He, along with the art team of Joe Staton, Bob Smith, Jack Morelli, Jason Jensen and Joe Morciglio, have made “Adventures in the Wonder Realm” an action-packed tale of derring-do, mixed with humor and some solid character moments.
As the five-part story comes to a conclusion, Archie and the gang prepare to face the Black Knight and rescue Reggie. This installment is very streamlined: though Archie makes some beautifully over-the-top speeches, and is promptly called on it by his friends, there’s not a lot of dialog. Oswald is content to let the art carry the story, and lovely art it is. Staton and Smith provide panel after panel of fluid, dynamic action sequences as the gang battles giants, lizardmen and dragons using everything from clubs and spears to automatic weapons. The four-page sequence where Archie alone faces the Black Knight is stunning. The fight is cleanly and clearly choreographed, making it easy to follow the action. Jensen and Morciglio’s colors are rich and vibrant, having a dark undertone to them that adds depth to the pages. Oswald ends the story pretty much saying that there will be “Adventures in the Wonder Realm 2” and I’m looking forward to reading it.
While “Adventures in the Wonder Realm” is reason enough to pick up this digest, it’s not the only reason to. The book is packed with a variety of wonderful stories.
Fans of the weird and mysterious can enjoy Paul Castiglia and Fernando Ruiz’s Archie’s Weird Mysteries. The two short stories reprinted here are morality tales of the kind The Twilight Zone used to tell, only less somber and more amusing. In “Lord of the Earrings” Betty finds a pair of magic earrings that turn her from the sweet girl next door to a diva that out divas Veronica! The second short is a humorous and creative take on W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” which Castiglia references in the story. The gang finds a mystical claw that grants wishes and soon Riverdale is experience blizzards in summer and dinosaurs running down Main Street. Both of these are clever, fun stories that get a lesson across without being didactic. Ruiz’s art is clean, attractive and expressive.
Science fiction fans can enjoy two Archie 3000 reprints and Mike Pellowski and Ruiz’s “Two of a Kind,” which has Archie and Jughead switching personalities thanks to a gizmo of Dilton’s.
Chuck Clayton gets a chance to show his more athletic side in “Fight Game.” While Archie writers have chosen to focus mainly on Chuck’s artistic aspirations lately, in his early appearances he was something of a jock. In “Fight Game” he agrees to fight a student from a rival school. The catch is that the competition isn’t straight boxing, but something of a mixed martial arts contest. This is a fun, dynamic story that shows Chuck knows how to use his fists and his wits. Plus, I enjoy the fact that the rival school’s coach looks a bit like Spider-Man‘s J. Jonah Jameson.
“The Beat Goes on” is an offbeat tale that’s guaranteed to draw an “aw” from a certain type of reader. In an unusual move, the story is told mainly from the point of view of Pop Tate’s old jukebox. And it works! The jukebox has a definite personality as it responds to Reggie’s insults, Pop’s care, and its own feelings of being an unloved relic. The art is attractive and expressive. At a guess I’d say it was by Rex Lindsey, but I could be wrong.
Besides starring in a couple of amusing comic tales, Moose hosts a non-fiction piece on various sports oddities. Written by Pellowski and illustrated by Bob Bolling and Jim Amash, the two-pager harkens back to the days when comics routinely had informational text pieces. I’m glad to see Archie bringing it back. Kids love to read short, quirky facts. Witness the popularity of the Guinness World Records books.
Archie & Friends Double Digest #5 brings together a collection of strong, enjoyable stories in various genres, making it a great value for the budget-conscious reader.