“An Axe to Grind”
Dan Parent covers are always a treat and this one is no exception with Betty and Veronica sporting “mod” witch looks for this Halloween “Spooktacular." The cover’s colors not only attract the eye, but also establish the character of the girls. Betty’s bright pink and blue casual ensemble immediately marks her as the girl next door, while Veronica’s more sophisticated purple outfit declares her to be a woman about town. With this cover, Parent balances neatly between showcasing the Archie brand, while at the same time suggesting a fashion magazine for tweens.
Colorist Barry Grossman starts off with some beautiful mood setting colors on the contents page. The burnt orange background that lightens to sienna as the eye travels down suggests Halloween without distracting the reader’s attention from the titles.
In the featured fiction selection, “An Axe to Grind,” Betty and Veronica are planning a girl’s only Halloween. And of course the boys plan on crashing it. After all, it’s a night for tricks, isn’t it? Throw in a stormy night and an axe bandit(?!) and the stage is set for thrills.
While never chilling, this twelve-page story is still entertaining. Without directly parodying horror movies most youngsters will have heard of, if not seen (at least I hope they haven’t seen them), the story manages to suggest them while going its own Riverdale way. The extra length allows Parent to add twist on twist without rushing the story. He also gives Jughead and Reggie some clever dialog.
On the art front, I’m not fond of Parent’s profile work. The girls are too snub-nosed. But his story layout is fantastic. The look of the pages is what really makes this feature work. Monstrous creatures peek around the edges of panels, watching the story unfold. Zig-zagged borders suggesting the storm outside divide some scenes, while overlapping, tilted panels hint at the characters’ anxiety and build suspense. The two panels depicting the boys spotting the Axe Bandit are just beautiful. In the first, the Axe Bandit is silhouetted against a full photoshopped moon in a suitably dramatic pose. In the second panel, which runs the width of the page, lightening bolts divide the dangerous "evil" character from the normal "good" characters. While providing a cool looking moment, it also sets up the classic horror movie cliché: Natural chaos against Everyman’s order. Grossman highlights the Axe Bandit’s black shadow with yellow, giving the Axe Bandit a mysterious, demonic look. Meanwhile the boys on the other side of the panel are brightly lit with no shadow. Classic horror tropes.
Following the story is a quiz readers can take to test their knowledge of Halloween and classic horror literature. Adding interest to these pages are the illustrations of a glam rock Ronnie and, well, I’m not sure how you’d describe Betty’s outfit. A friendly Halloween variation on a Hitler youth uniform maybe.
The five pages of movie posters feature is corny, but fun. Every reader will have her own favorite. Mine include: When a Teacher Calls! and Attack of the Low Test Scores! Parent’s images evoke the movie posters of the '50s, while still being decidedly Archie-style.
The issue closes out with a two page fashion spread and a piece on throwing a Halloween party. The fashions would be almost impossible for readers to emulate and some of the party ideas seem a bit too elaborate, but the basic ideas are sound. Tweens could come up with variations that would work for them. And again Parent does some beautiful design work. These pages look like they’ve come out of a scrapbook. You can almost see Betty and Veronica carefully tacking the pictures on the page and adding the identifying tags. In fact I’d take up scrapping myself, if I could find some mounting paper that looked as good as Parent’s background sheets.
But scrapbook fan or not, Betty & Veronica Spectacular #85 is a great pre-Halloween treat for readers.
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