“Freshman Year" (part 2)
“Despite changing trends, different fashions, and the ever-evolving mood in the world around us…Riverdale High has basically remained the same place it’s always been…no matter what the era!”
Batton Lash’s opening narration, complimented by Bill Galvan’s “photos,” reminds us why Riverdale and Archie Comics continue to survive and thrive. No matter what the outer trappings are, at heart the stories are always about a boy, his friends, the two girls he loves, and the trouble they get into. As the manga invasion reminded us, it’s a story engine with a universal appeal.
Speaking of trouble, it’s his first day in high school and Archie’s already hip-deep in it. Not only has he had a run in with bullies, he’s run into Mr. Weatherbee. The year’s not off to a good start. And that’s not even counting the fact that he no longer has his best friend Jughead to talk with. Of course, Mr. Weatherbee’s year hasn’t started out all that well either. On top of having Archie and bullies to deal with, the Superintendent of Schools, the perpetually scowling Haverhill, is hinting Weatherbee won’t be at Riverdale High long. At the big alumni football game, one plot is resolved – with the help of a deus ex machine – while the other begins to boil.
Lash continues to impress. He seamlessly blends the new and the old, while giving Riverdale High a sense of reality it sometimes lacks. With the addition of Pencilneck, Samir, Superintendent Haverhill, and Jared and his gang of bullies, readers get the sense that Riverdale High is a large school and that life does not, in fact, revolve around Archie and the gang. While they’re the focus of the story, Lash shows they are still little fish in a big pond. It’s a neat trick and gives a fresh perspective on the material.
One of the best scenes in the book is when Veronica and Reggie go into Pop’s Chokolit Shoppe for the first time. Readers familiar with the older, self-assured versions of these characters who treat Pop’s as a home away from home will chuckle at their response to “Hey! Who let the little kids in here?” New readers, meanwhile, will go “Yes! That’s exactly what would happen!” It’s an iconic moment presented realistically. Other stellar moments are the first meeting of Moose and Archie and Moose and Midge.
I would have liked to see Lash do more with the bullies. They’re a plot device, and that’s all they are. Bullying isn’t the point of the story, but it is a fact of school life and I think Lash could have made more of the bullies and the situation than he did, without throwing off the balance of the story.
Bill Galvan’s art isn’t showy, but he and inker Bob Smith do some beautiful work with expressions and background details. Gotta love “Snack Shortage Plagues Montana!”
The first page is a prime example of how Galvan, Smith and colorist Glenn Whitmore create a sense of mood and place. The over-sized first panel is set-up like a yearbook page or a school PR flyer. In these snapshots Galvan depicts the gang through the ages without their being exact duplicates. The art team achieves a 1940s look in the first pic with a 2000s style.
One thing particularly noticeable in this issue is Archie’s eyes. They’re always on the move. Subtly altering the position of his eyes and his expressions, Galvan and Smith give Archie the appearance of responding to the speaker. Oddly enough the bullies lack this trait. Their eyes are hidden or simply black dots. This reemphasizes that they are merely one-dimensional plot devices and not as real as the other characters, giving an unbalanced look to the panels they share with the usual gang.
Whitmore’s color scheme for the sequence beginning on page nine deserves special mention. As Archie and Pencilneck walk down the street, brown leaves fall around them. Darker brown leaves are already heaped about on the ground. A diffused sunlight yellow is the backdrop. Those colors immediately evoke the memory of a late fall day. You can practically smell the leaves burning in the background. Later the two boys step in to shadow. Here Whitmore uses a periwinkle shade that suggests the early twilight hour. It’s a beautiful effect.
Jack Morelli also deserves credit for a fine lettering job. His choice of which word to emphasize is invariably correct and adds to the drama and humor of the story.
The “Freshman Year” storyline continues to be an interesting and entertaining read that shouldn’t be missed.
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