"World Tour Part Two: Manic Mission to Madrid"
If you haven't picked up the second issue of Alex Simmons' World Tour storyline yet, do it now. While "Manic Mission to Madrid" isn't going to knock James Patterson's Maximum Ride books off the shelves anytime soon, it is an exceptionally well-told adventure that combines mystery, suspense, and excellent characterization. Someone who hasn't picked up an Archie book in years can read this issue and be immediately comforted by the familiarity of the characters, if not the setting. The kids act the way they always have: impulsive Archie can't decide between Betty and Veronica, but is quick to be jealous when they show interest in someone else; Veronica is vain and rich; Betty, sweet and unspoiled; and Jughead's greatest love remains food. But while the distinguishing characteristics remain the same, Simmons also allows these characters to act and sound like real kids. They reason and learn and question themselves. And they have a sense of humor. They're smart kids who crack bad puns.
Simmons continues to slowly thicken the plot. In London the gang dealt with a thief; here in Madrid they discover that thief was part of something much bigger. While exploring the city, Betty is nearly killed when she's pushed into traffic. Only the timely intervention of one of their tour guides saves her. It's then that Archie begins to suspect more is going on than just a random burglary attempt. His suspicions are confirmed when a beautiful woman approaches and informs him "The fate of Europe is at stake." It's a nice melodramatic line that builds suspense and gives readers some hint of the scope of the plot. Simmons also subtly suggests through dialog that nasty things are happening to people who are captured by these spies. It's nothing overt or overly scary, but it adds to the suggestion of danger.
I'm slightly disappointed that the subplot involving Moose and his struggles with schoolwork wasn't followed up on in this issue. It added plausibility, grounding the fantastic in reality, as well as giving a minor character some spotlight time. In this issue, the subplot is the more familiar one of Archie being jealous of the girls' attention to the tour guides. It works well and Simmons uses it to give Archie some unexpected depth, but it's always good to see the less familiar characters get some quality page time.
Though his character profiles need some work, in general Rex Lindsey does a stellar job with the artwork. There's a full page montage of Madrid landmarks that is just beautiful. We see the city's highlights--which include both antique and contemporary sights--and the gang's reaction to them. It's a page that has a great deal of information and detail packed in to it, but it has a clean, uncluttered look.
Lindsey also provides readers with a well-done action sequence involving Archie, Jughead, and a herd of bulls. Though he uses the basic grid and sticks mainly to a straight-on eye-level view, he creates a sense of motion with a mix of close-up and long-view shots. It's clear, basic storytelling that tells the story without getting in the way of it.
Colorist Stephanie Vozzo's Madrid is a place of bright white skies and sidewalks and brown and red shaded buildings. Her colors never overshadow the story, but I confess I wonder what the book would have looked like with a slightly richer color palate, especially after seeing her work on the page where the two spies meet in a back alley. She uses dark greens, blacks, and violet to superb effect. Her shadowing and lighting is beautiful, giving the whole page a modern noir look.
"Manic Mission to Madrid" easily fulfills the promise of the first chapter of the "World Tour" storyline and serves as a first rate set-up for the next chapter, while telling a complete story of its own. That's not something every comic book can claim. Fans of well-told adventure stories will want to join this tour before it's over.
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