Cheryl Blossom is determined to teach cute new boy Pieter who’s in charge at Pembroke Academy in Tania Del Rio’s “Queen B,” the lead-off story in B & V Friends Double Digest #209.
There’s a His & Her Circumstances feel to “Queen B.” For those not familiar with that title, the manga/anime series revolves around the competition and subsequent romance between two high school students. Both characters project a “perfect” image, but are a mass of insecurities inside. In “Queen B” we have Cheryl, who seems to be very confident. Her main occupation is controlling everyone around her. She’s feared and has lackeys, but no close friends. In contrast is Pieter, who is friendly to everyone and admired by everyone. These two types of personalities are bound to clash. There are hints in Del Rio’s script, however, that Cheryl isn’t as sure of herself as she lets on. The redhead’s insistence on everyone keeping to their proper place, in their assigned role, without fraternizing with other students in other cliques, suggests Cheryl is a very insecure person trying to bolster her own self-esteem. If she were truly confident, she wouldn’t care what other people were doing.
Del Rio takes her time with the story, setting up Cheryl, her relationships, and her environment before introducing Pieter into the mix. As characterized by the former “Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch” writer/artist, Cheryl comes across as more witchy than manipulative. She criticizes her classmate’s taste in jewelry, is hostile to Betty and Veronica when she encounters them, and bosses her crew around without compunction. She doesn’t display that cunning nastiness we saw in the recent “Battle of the BFFs” mini-series. She also seems a bit younger here than she does in the “BFFs” storyline. There’s something about the way she talks and behaves that screams “Middle School Student” to me. Jeff Shultz and Al Milgrom’s rendition of her might also have something to do with it. She just seems younger than usual.
Speaking of Shultz and Milgrom, they do a superb job on the art. The word that springs to mind to describe it is “delicate,” but that’s not exactly right. The drawings are smaller than in the other stories in the digest, but they’re no less expressive. There’s also a very open feel to each page even though most of the panels are bordered. It’s not the shojo manga style you find in books like Black Bird or Honey Hunt, but it feels like them in a way.
The decision to dress Cheryl and her classmates in a uniform was brilliant. It’s a visual cue that immediately lets readers known this isn’t a Riverdale High story. It also contributes to the shojo manga feel. There’s a strong sense of movement and energy to the story. The panel where Cheryl slams her trey down on the table and the one where she chases after Pieter have a very animated feel to them.
Besides Del Rio’s enjoyable opener, two other new stories appear in the digest. Kathleen Webb’s “The Gift of the Giver” is a Christmas story that is sweet without being sappy. Veronica’s plan to give to charity to keep from feeling guilty backfires and she has to find a way to fix things before Betty’s Christmas is spoiled. The story captures both Veronica’s selfishness and impulsive kindness. The art by Shultz and inker Henry Scarpelli is attractive and expressive.
George Gladir’s “Super Cool Laptops” puts a different spin on the 3D craze. This seven pager marries technology and characterization, giving reader’s a crash course in who these characters are. Moose’s temper, Reggie’s vanity, Jughead’s free-loading ways, and the eternal Betty-Archie-Veronica triangle all get call-outs in humorous and attractive scenes illustrated by Shultz and the late Jon D’Agostino.
Several wonderful reprints fill out the volume as well. If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for a favorite tween girl, B & V Friends Double Digest #209 fits the bill.