“Wowee! The girl who gets to be Jug’s prom date will gain the rep of being a real man killer!” That’s a line I never thought I’d read, but it’s the basis for George Gladir and Fernando Ruiz’s “Prom Drama” the lead feature in this issue of Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals Double Digest.
Though the set-up is weak – after listening to Archie complain about the money he’s spending on the prom for four panels, Jughead decides he has to experience the “best night of your life”? – it’s rather nice to see Jug, rather than Archie, as the center of a “harem” story. Three girls – including Ethel – are competing to become his date, and it’s good to see their intelligent exploitation of his weakness – food. Just goes to show, paying attention in science class does pay-off. I also appreciated Jug’s line about giving his date “some wild flowers that I pick,” which is, I assume, a nod to several classic stories in which Jughead does just that with dire consequences.
Though his Archie looks more '50s style than '08, in the main Ruiz’s art style is attractive, having a clean uncluttered look that gives readers a chance to appreciate the small details he adds to the panels. One in particular held my attention, as it features a dead ringer cartoon version of the '60s era Peter Parker.
Following “Prom Drama” is “Little Lost Drummer Boy”, another Jughead tale. This is possibly the best looking story in the entire issue. When Ronnie’s new synthesizer makes his drums obsolete, Jughead tries to find a new instrument to play – with interesting results. The script is intelligent, but it’s the art that puts this story over the top. The characters look terrific; realistic without being photo-realistic, they have a heft to them that anchors their figures to the panel. The full backgrounds in all but two panels also give the illusion of real people inter-acting with real places. The second to the last panel, showing Jughead with his back to the reader, leaning on a trunk lid is a just a fantastic naturalistic pose. Would-be comic artists should really study “Little Lost Drummer Boy” for a painless lesson in story and panel composition. It wouldn’t be time wasted.
The fairly witty “Teacher’s Pest” has Archie correcting Reggie’s grammar – with painful results for an innocent bystander – while “It’s All in the Family” has Mrs. Clayton coaching the basketball team while Coach Clayton is in the hospital. The latter story has several panels of well done basketball action. There’s a real flow to the sequence. Whoever the uncredited artist was, he or she was not only very good at suggesting motion, but also expression. Coach Clayton’s face shows more mobility in these panels than I’ve ever seen before.
The book-length “Undercover Blossom”, featuring everyone’s favorite vicious redhead, Cheryl Blossom, is probably my favorite story in the digest. Disguising herself as “Shirley Merriwether,” she’s infiltrated Riverdale High as a new student to cause mischief and mayhem. Cheryl is just so Cheryl in his story – absolutely reveling in the trouble she’s causing. But she’s not just causing trouble for trouble’s sake, it’s all part of a Machiavellian plan to get Archie all to herself. You have to admire her determination, if not her scruples. Yes, it’s totally unbelievable that she’d be able to pull this stunt off, but so’s She’s the Man and I liked that movie too.
“Just a Simple Melody” and “Gig Gaga” are two Pussycat stories that showcase ditzy Melody. And I say ditzy for a reason. In neither of these stories is Melody a “dumb” blonde. She’s smart. She just looks at things differently than everyone else. A modern day Gracie Allen if you like. In the first story, she’s the one to stop a robbery at the Cabot’s, and in the second, she’s instrumental in getting the Pussycats a gig.
Moose also gets a starring role in two stories that reveal there’s more to this character than his dumb jock image. “The Real Moose” is basically Moose talking to readers about things that he likes. It’s a sweet piece. The second story, “Keep Your Chin Up,” has Dilton learning more than one lesson from his big buddy. There’s some cute wordplay here, but the real heart of the story is the friendship between Dilton and Moose.
“Second Chance” is a strange, yet perfect for Earth Day, story. With no explanation it opens with Betty and Archie swimming to their domed underwater school. Over the next few panels we learn these are actually look-alike descendents of the Riverdale gang who were forced to move underwater because of the pollution on the surface. But as we soon see, the sea dwellers haven’t learned the lessons of the past. Ending on an unusually somber note, “Second Chance” is heavy-handed in its message, but none the worse for it.
With its wide variety of stories and styles, this digest is a superb value that shouldn’t be missed.
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