With the second part of “The Match-Makers” due out any day now, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at how the story began.
This is another “New Look” story that will run through four issues of Jughead’s Double Digest, with well-known comic artist Joe Staton handling the character design. I think Staton is one of those artists who you either like his style or you don’t. Unfortunately I fall into the latter camp – and I don’t know why. There’s nothing wrong with his work here: The characters are recognizable, he fills his panels with background detail, yet it never overpowers the action in the forefront, and he does a nice job with facial expressions. There’s even a four page sequence of the characters playing volleyball in gym class that I think is outstanding. The characters look like they’re playing volleyball. Staton has them in the right positions for spikes and set-ups. There’s a sense of movement as he catches Moose in the moment of spiking and Dilton as he runs for the net. The action is easy to follow, flowing cleanly from panel to panel.
One of the reasons this particular sequence works so well for me is that it’s set mainly against a white backdrop. It’s just the characters moving. All the extraneous detail is gone. Staton is such a punctilious artist, it’s something of a relief to rest your eyes on a simpler panel once in a while.
I suspect the character design is going to be the biggest stumbling block for the readers in my library – and elsewhere. Though they’re instantly recognizable, they’re rendered in a style that’s part caricature, part realistic. In some panels it works beautifully. For instance, one showing three-quarter length shots of Reggie and Archie bracketing a head shot of a thoughtful Veronica. In others, not so well; the rather sketchily rendered Betty and Jughead against the realistically drawn neighborhood.
Melanie J. Morgan’s script suffers a bit from the same uneasy blend of caricature and realism. The gang decides Jughead needs a girlfriend, especially as the up-coming class picnic is having a couples’ competition and Jug will be left out if he doesn’t have a partner. The problem is that Jug is shy around females. So far, so good. Morgan sets up the premise well, without lengthy exposition or clunky dialog. The interaction between the characters reveals their personalities. Especially well done is the banter between Jughead and Reggie. These two have a special dynamic that has to be handled with a light touch. Go too far the wrong way and they come off as jerks. Here though, the insults are sharp without being mean.
But when the girls decide to stoke Jug’s ego to help him get over his shyness, the plot takes a 70s sitcom like turn. Morgan tries to incorporate traditional Archie Comic concepts into what has been a fairly realistic story up to this point. You end up having scenes with a harem of girls fawning over Jughead and Jug manfully staggering under Betty’s weight as he carries her to the nurse’s office and she compliments him on his strength. They’re cute bits, but they don’t really work within the rest of the story. Fortunately these kinds of scenes disappear by the end of the chapter.
Al Milgrom’s spectacular job on the inks also deserves a mention. With as much detail as Staton puts into his panels, the art could have easily devolved into a murky mess. Fortunately Milgrom knows his way around a panel. His judgment is infallible. He never uses a thick line when a thinner one will allow readers to appreciate the form of the character better.
Stephanie Vozzo also turns in some fine work. As I mentioned before, she knows when to leave a background white so the action takes center stage. In other panels, she uses a great deal of green and yellow for the backdrop. These warm shades give Riverdale a sunny look, but are neutral enough that the characters never fade into the background.
Following “The Match-Makers” is the book-length “Target Trula,” which has Jug plotting revenge on the girl who used him to become popular. This story is a real winner – with plenty of action, mix-ups, and a twist ending. The character designs are attractive, and while working within the standard grid, the uncredited artist uses a variety of shots to create and hold visual interest. It’s an interesting story to place right after “The Match-Makers,” as it also deals with Jug and his feelings for girls. While it definitely takes a more comedic spin on the material, there are some who will say it’s the better story.
“Sensitive Subject” is an oddly charming story featuring Reggie trying to convince a girl that he’s actually a sensitive soul; while “Rude Awakening” plays with the classic “princess awakened with a kiss” story. It’s fluffy but fun.
Despite my criticisms, I actually like the opening chapter of “The Match-Makers” and am looking forward to the next installment. But even if the main feature doesn’t grab you, this digest has plenty of other stories readers looking for a light read can enjoy.
What did you think of this book?
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