“Freshman Year” (part 4)
Pencilneck is back! Pencilneck is back! The skinny, ski hat wearing, TV-obsessed teen returns this issue and does his part to complicate Archie’s life as Riverdale’s favorite redhead tries to study for midterms and ends up hosting a mid-week party instead. Meanwhile Archie’s parents find out what his teachers really think of him. And Mr. Weatherbee confides in Ms. Grundy that there’s a spy on the staff of Riverdale High. Other highpoints of this issue include the introduction of Chuck Clayton, the first meeting of Ethel and Jughead and the first conversation between Midge and Moose.
It’s getting harder and harder to think of new ways to say what a great job Batton Lash has done with this storyline. I fully expect to be rendered wordless by the time the finale hits my hot hands. But before that happens, I want to point out how Lash has added layers to the personalities of these characters over the course of his run, without violating characterization that’s come before.
For instance: Moose. Lash has retained his trademark “D’uh,” but subtly implies that there’s more to the young blonde than just muscles. He might be shy around girls, but he’s quick enough to come up with a reason to walk with Midge. And it’s a reason that plays off her interest in art, showing that Moose does indeed pay attention to what’s going on around him. (And kudos to Lash for playing up that aspect of Midge’s personality. She needs to be interested in something other than Moose, Reggie, and cheerleading.) He’s also brave enough to “bare” himself, so to speak, to keep Midge’s attention.
Then there’s Ethel. Lash quickly establishes her interest in Jughead, without the lunacy that often accompanies it, and shows her confident pursuit. She’s still using the food angle to catch his interest, but with a different twist. It’s also implied that Ethel has friends who travel in different circles than Archie and company, which is a major change from her usual portrayal as an oddball, loner, almost outcast.
“Secure confidence” is probably the trait Lash has most emphasized in this mini-series and it’s especially apparent in this issue. The kids might mess up, but they know that no matter what happens, their parents still love them. This is nicely illustrated by the conversation Fred and Mary Andrews have on the way home after Parent-Teacher conferences. This scene also does double duty as a foreshadowing of the issue’s dramatic finale.
Speaking of Parent-Teacher conferences, the art team of Bill Galvan and Bob Smith do a beautiful job capturing the stiffness and awkwardness of the parents present at this event. Mr. Andrews trying to fit into a too small desk is a particularly nice bit, as is the panel showing the couple trying to avoid the Coopers and Mr. Weatherbee.
The expressions on Ms. Grundy and Mr. Weatherbee’s faces as they discuss the spy at Riverdale also deserve special note. They have a speaking subtlety about them that adds to both the drama and humor of the moment.
I’m also impressed by the homage displayed in Chuck’s “Detention Comics” and the beautiful three page montage showing a typical day at Riverdale High. The montage is just gorgeous. The first page features a close-up on the school’s façade covered with five small panels showing the students’ usual antics. The second page pulls back for a long shot of the school. Six panels of varying sizes and placement create almost a border for the scene. This is reversed on the third page as flora and fauna serve as a three-quarters frame for the action.
Glenn Whitmore again impresses with his use of black and light shadow. In the early pages as Mr. Lodge arrives at the school, the purple sky shows it’s evening. Whitmore underlights the rest of the area with white and yellow, making it look like outdoor and car lights are illuminating the scene. In another panel, Mr. Weatherbee and Ms. Grundy’s faces are lightly shadowed by a light from somewhere above and behind them. This gives their faces a more rounded, three dimensional look. Though Whitmore’s not using a particularly shaded palette, he’s achieving beautifully nuanced effects.
All in all, another superb issue by Lash, Galvan, Smith, Whitmore, and Morelli.
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