Poor Archie. Even when he wins, he loses. And the first story of Archie #581 proves it.
In “Forget Me Not” he’s ready to celebrate the anniversary of his first date with Veronica. And as he says, “This year is a very special anniversary! I remembered it!” He’s even bought her the perfect gift – “an exquisite turtle-shaped desk lamp.” But before he gives it to her, he decides to tease Ronnie a little. Only the joke turns out to be on Archie.
This is probably one of the most realistic Archie stories I’ve run across lately. It’s the kind of thing that could happen to anyone and has. Really, who hasn’t had at least one bad experience with gifts and important occasions? The pacing has an easy, relaxed feel, though the dialogue has a nice snap to it – courtesy mainly of the sardonic Jughead, who has much more realistic expectations of how Archie’s surprise will turn out. For instance, Archie’s enthusiastic “Get it? I’ll string her along!” is met with Jughead’s, “Or give her enough rope to hang you.” Veronica doesn’t have to do much more than react this story, but she does it beautifully. She goes from cheery to depressed to sarcastic to upset to angry in five simple lines. It’s a nice piece of scripting. Even without the pictures her mood would be obvious from Boldman’s well-chosen words.
But it would be a shame to miss the art here. Stan Goldberg and Bob Smith’s renditions of the characters are as loose and easy as Boldman’s script. The boys have a nice weight to them. They look like teen-age boys who play football and video games. Veronica, however, suffers a bit in comparison. She’s not quite as “teen model” glamorous here as she is under other artists’ hands. She even looks a bit older than the boys in some panels. However, the sequence showing her losing her cool is very well-done. Her expressions, her body language, the mix of long and close-up shots, all combine for a very animated sequence. Goldberg and Smith also make a very effective design choice in one of the panels. Veronica is talking about presents while a suddenly nervous Archie holds her present behind his back. Rather than placing them in a regular panel, Goldberg has them positioned in front of a larger version of the box Archie is holding. It breaks up the page in a positive way and foreshadows the big trouble this package is going to cause.
“Messterpiece” is a fun little story that has Mr. Lodge jumping to conclusions and suspecting an Archie-disaster when the “masterpieces” on his walls aren’t quite what he expected. Could Boldman be slipping in a bit of commentary on modern art here? Nah, we all know only superhero and art comics are capable of social satire.
Though they obviously had fun creating the masterpieces, Goldberg and Smith’s Mr. Lodge isn’t the best looking here. In fact in one panel, he takes on an almost “by Picasso” look. Although that might be intentional on the artists’ part, it’s not a flattering look for him.
He looks much better, and Veronica is glamoured up a bit, in the next tale of broken dates and mistaken assumptions. Hmm, two stories in a row with Mr. Lodge being wrong? Well, the plot element might be the same, but Boldman makes sure the stories are very different. It’s “Just Plain Wrong,” or so Archie says after Veronica has to break a date with him to entertain the son of one of her father’s clients. When he marches over to confront her about her inconsiderate behavior the story twists. Yes, Archie is mad at the wrong person. It really wasn’t Veronica’s choice to break the date; she was helping out her father. But Archie’s frustration is natural and Goldberg and Smith’s art combined with Boldman’s words make it abundantly clear not only how the red-head feels, but also how the other characters feel too. There’s no ambiguity in the words or art.
“Surprise” is the gem of the issue. Betty has been reading up on how to keep a relationship fresh; but her attempts might just drive Archie crazy. This is another naturalistic tale that’s just within the realm of possibility. It’s not as much of a stretch to imagine it occurring as it is “Messterpiece” or “Just Plain Wrong”. It’s cute and amusing with an end panel that’s just plain sweet.
Archie #581 is for people who aren’t into superheroes or fantasy or “art” comics, but who do like solid, well-illustrated stories.
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