After a meeting of minds with Veronica, Cheryl attempts to discover Pieter’s weak spot. Unfortunately, like many a best-laid plan, her attempts go awry.
This third chapter of “Queen Bee” lacks the more nuanced portrayal of Cheryl we’ve seen in the previous two installments. She’s all bad girl here: scheming, throwing temper tantrums, coming up with ridiculous plans, and making her “subjects” suffer. It’s a strong depiction of “Classic” Cheryl and wonderfully funny, but I missed the humanizing touches of the first chapters.
Writer Tania Del Rio does an excellent job in the scene between Cheryl and Veronica. The two characters have so many similarities, that it’s not uncommon for Cheryl to be written as a red-headed Veronica. There are subtle differences between the two girls, however, and Del Rio gets them across. Veronica is just a shade haughtier, a bit more patrician, and a bit less unethical. You can hear her condescension toward the nouveau riche Cheryl in the enlightening “As you know” speech. That speech also sets-up a great last page that turns what we thought we knew about Pieter on its head.
Enjoyable as the writing on this installment was, it was Jeff Shultz and Al Milgrom’s art that really sold it to me. There is a three and a half page scene in which the Pembrooke students are playing polo that is stunning. Del Rio was brilliant to include it in the story. First off, having the students play polo really separates Pembrooke from Riverdale High, giving the story a fresh feel. Second, it leads to some great slapstick, and third, Shultz and Milgrom outdo themselves in creating an incredible action sequence. Horses and riders thunder toward the reader, hooves and polo mallets breaking free of the panel borders. Gutters between panels are narrowed or eschewed completely to create a flow of movement. The horses are drawn in a more realistic style and look fabulous. Add Barry Grossman’s colors, a man who understands the way light plays against hair and changes its shade depending on the angle, and you have a perfect storm of artists.
Cheryl also makes an appearance in two energetic and amusing reprints. In “Swing Shift,” Betty and Veronica plot to keep her from monopolizing the boys at a swing dance. This one has attractive art and a great sense of movement. The panel featuring a montage of Cheryl and her dance instructor in action looks almost like an animated storyboard. I also like the fact that lyrics from actual ’40s songs are used in the background to set the stage. “Trouble in Paradise” has Betty and Veronica trying to keep Archie and Cheryl from meeting at a ski resort. Again, the art is attractive, with Cheryl looking particularly good. The situation’s inherent comic possibilities are played up with some nicely paced slapstick and a solid punchline ends the tale.
Kathleen Webb and Jeff Shultz’s “Who was That?” is a fun take on fans encountering celebrities. Webb writes a smart script with sharp dialog. I particularly enjoyed the fact that she left the celebrities nameless, rather than making them Archie-verse analogs of contemporary stars. It gives the story a timeless feel.
In “For Your Four Eyes Only” Betty’s new reading glasses have Veronica seeing green. The heiress’s attempt to prove she too can be “bookworm chic” leads to a wonderfully funny scene involving flirtation, mistaken identity, and Mr. Weatherbee.
John Rose, Tim Kennedy, and Ken Selig contribute “Peanut Butter Brownies,” a story that combines community service and humor. Betty’s scout troop is supposed to learn how to make pine cone bird feeders, but that plan hits a snag thanks to Jughead. Rose provides easy to follow directions for the bird feeders, which are clearly illustrated by Kennedy and Selig. While I like the idea of providing readers with craft ideas and directions, it’s the art that makes this story stand out. Kennedy’s approach to the characters is slightly off model and Selig doesn’t try to soften that. At times it almost looks like the figures have been cut out and placed over the background; there’s that sharp a delineation between character and setting. Betty and Jughead really pop off the page. My only complaint is with Betty’s wide-eyed appearance. It’s somewhat creepy in some panels.
At one hundred and sixty pages — with only about twenty of those being ads — and over twenty-five stories, gag strips, fashion pages, and puzzles, B & V friends Double Digest #211 is a great deal. Even more importantly, it’s an entertaining reading experience.