Stories by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
“Archie”: Brian E. Paterson (w), Elliot Fernandez (a), Thomas Chu (c), John Workman (l)
“Betty”: Britta Lundin (w), Jim Towe (a), Glenn Whitmore (c), Janice Chiang (l)
“Veronica”: James Dewille (w), Thomas Pitilli (a), Andre Szymanowicz (c), John Workman (l)
“Jughead”: Will Ewing (w), Alitha Martinez (a), Andre Szymanowicz and Thomas Chu (c), Janice Chiang (l)
The Riverdale One-Shot is everything I hate about tie-in comics and the suggestion that there are more untold comic tales coming from the world of The CW’s Riverdale fills me with dread. It’s not a bad a comic. It’s not an offensive comic. It is, though, a boring and unnecessary comic that fills the tiniest of gaps with obvious mundanity. This comic means to explore and explain what happened in Riverdale the summer before the show begins. But — we already know what happened that summer, thanks to the occasional piece of expository dialogue in the show and our own very basic inferences.
Riverdale, while not exactly being a dramatic masterpiece, is basically capable of employing the whole dramatic toolbox: foreshadowing, suggestion and metaphor, meta references to other teen, crime and teen-crime dramas, showing AND telling. It’s employed capably to flesh out the familiar cast of Archie comics, through reference and association, and transport them to a new Dawson’s Creek meets Twin Peaks milieu. It wonders: “What if Archie were a sexy teen crime drama?” And it produces a credible answer to that question, with an initiating incident — a shooting/drowning — in the very first episode. What follows is an interconnected series of mysteries more and less minor, your standard multi-generational small town conspiracies, and various teen dramas and crimes. Of course there are plot threads snaking back into the show’s past, but what came before episode one, at least so far as the core cast, is not so interesting. Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead are characters so ubiquitous in American pop culture that even people who haven’t read the comics get them. The one who likes burgers. The one who’s mean and rich. Newly pressed into a noir mold, it’s no more complicated. The one who likes burgers and bitterly rooting out hypocrisies and crimes. The one who’s mean and rich and a femme not so fatale after all. There is nothing about these central four characters we don’t already “know” or that we can’t trust the show to get around to.
More pressing questions like what is the origin of Alice Cooper’s suppurating paranoia, or is “Geraldine” “Grundy” a serial killer of teens or just a serial abuser of teens are better left for the show. Saving those kinds of revelations for the tie-in products breaks a compact with the audience. The Riverdale One-Shot and promised subsequent comics can’t explore the big mysteries and the core cast is interesting primarily because of how they respond to each other in the post-murder context of noir Riverdale. So what’s left for the comics to do, save sell a thing to a fan?
The creative teams go through the motions of covering territory the show has already trod. Archie got hot over the summer and was manipulated into a sexual relationship with a teach — gross. Betty blossomed during her LA internship and returned to Riverdale with new confidence — kay. Veronica went from Archie Comics Veronica to Riverdale Veronica because her dad is a fraud — oh well. Jughead worked at the drive-in, resented Archie and ate some burgers — great, because for some reason he’s yet to eat a burger on the show. The characters sound more or less like they do on the show, in part because Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa wrote the stories if not the scripts, and in part because I, as a consumer of the show and now this comic, have filled in that little piece of nuance. The comics themselves, four loosely connected What I Did On My Summer Vacation reports, do little in this respect. The artwork, both linework and colouring, is uniformly serviceable, lacking any real sense of character. Characters talk. Rooms exist. Time passes, I guess. None of this makes an impression because the illustration work here is strictly nondescript. Was there an actual background in any of these stories? I can’t recall. I read the comic about an hour ago — not one scene or panel or gesture now comes to mind.
Have you noticed me talking around the comic? It is certainly a comic book. Well. The point is The Riverdale One-Shot delivers Riverdale-related material but does nothing more than that; it exists merely as a vehicle for brand extension. It is, as I said at the start of this review, everything I hate about tie-in comics: a vacuous touchpoint for brand-consumer relationship building, making Riverdale a ubiquitous and generic media product you consume by habit more than interest.
Got to get that new content…I guess.