"The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.” (part 3: The Crisis at Riverdale High)
Secret Agent Andy Andrews and the other P.O.P. agents have been turned into mindless slaves by Mad Doctor Doom and the evil organization C.R.U.S.H. Can Archie and Dilton find an antidote in time? Or will all of Riverdale and the world be zombified?
Even though I walked into the storyline with this issue, I wasn't lost. Everything I needed to know about what's going on was right on the page. Tom DeFalco makes the issue accessible to casual readers, without over-explaining for those who've been following the story. One of the panels I particularly enjoyed was the one that clarified who Andy Andrews was. While Archie gives a brief voice-over, artist Fernando Ruiz provides a classic James Bond homage/Andy Andrews montage. This one panel works on two levels. For younger readers it establishes that Andy leads a dangerous, glamorous, exciting life. For older readers it firmly places this story in the category of classic spy adventures of the '60s and '70s. It's too bad we don't get to see Andy in action this installment, but Archie, Chuck, and Jughead do a solid job filling in for him.
In another writer's hands "The Crisis at Riverdale High" could have turned into a silly Austin Powers type story. Instead DeFalco plays it straight--well, as straight as you can when your heroes are teenagers saving the world from a green-skinned, pointy-eared mad scientist. It's a fun story, but more Man from U.N.C.L.E than Get Smart.
The script is intelligent, playing to the strengths of each character. Chuck, the comic book artist, handles the pop cultural references. He comes across a bit like Xander from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. Archie is impulsive, quick thinking, and willing to take charge when necessary. Jughead, though, gets my vote for the best use of character in plot. When he realizes Mad Doctor Doom is using food to further his plans for world domination, Jug gets down to business and turns his not inconsiderable talents to finding a way to stop him. As villains go Mad Doctor Doom is a good one. He's smart and not overly bombastic. He comes across as a threat, not a joke. Speaking of jokes, there's a wonderful gag involving Sharry the Spy Girl using her skill with disguises to freak out Reggie.
As mentioned before Fernando Ruiz, along with inker Rich Koslowski and colorist Tom Chu, does a superb job on the art chores. There's a sense of fluidity and motion within the panels. For instance, on page two Archie swings a suitcase at the mindless P.O.P. agents. Ruiz uses multiple images of Archie and speed lines to show the movement. The slight difference in each figure's pose, the thickness of the inked lines, and the gradations of color combine to suggest action.
Ruiz also constantly changes the angle the scene is viewed from. He doesn't employ a "shaky cam," changing the angle every panel, but he does switch viewpoints during the more dramatic scenes. This increases the sense of tension and urgency.
Ruiz and Koslowski also give readers Sharry the Spy Girl, a red-headed, leather-clad bad girl who looks like she could give the Black Widow some competition. And is it my imagination, or are some G.I. Joe look-alikes and other familiar faces running around in the background?
Readers who enjoy light spy adventures, who remember the original "Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E." series, or who just like a good story should check out Archie #612.
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