Greg Smallwood and Meg Smallwood (writers), Greg Smallwood (artist), Jack Morelli (letterer)
March 7, 2018
Come closer, and I’ll tell you something—don’t worry, I won’t bite. The truth is, I’ve always been #TeamVeronica. That’s not to disparage her best friend, perennial girl next door Betty, but Veronica—rich, spoiled, cheerleader from hell Veronica—always seemed more fun. When I think of her, I think killer fashions, killer attitude, and now, it seems, killer vampires. Vampironica #1 by brother and sister creative team Greg Smallwood and Meg Smallwood is the latest Archie Comics monster mash, the iconic teens having already faced zombies, witches, werewolves, and a Sharknado or two. (Next up: Josie and The Pussy-Cat People.) Rest assured, this first issue is everything the amazing cover promises—Veronica Lodge becomes a vampire—though this comes with a certain lack of mystery. But I can’t deny that Vampironica has teeth.
Honestly, it’s always been a bit of a mindfuck to see the Archie Horror brand expand over the last few years—a darker, more Gothic take on Sabrina the Teenage Witch feels like a natural progression, but then I remember Archie discovering Jughead’s severed head and spinal cord in a vending machine in Archie vs. Predator and feel vertigo coming on. But perhaps the students at Riverdale High are such archetypal, all-American everykids that there isn’t a genre they can’t be slipped into. What slasher movie, after all, doesn’t have a roster of fresh-faced teens to slaughter?
If the title Vampironica sounds familiar to you, there’s some history there. A 2012 Betty & Veronica story by Dan Parent pitted Betty the Vampire Slayer against a Veronica seemingly transformed into a PG-rated parody of Vampirella, only Vampironica was revealed to actually be a vampire clone of our original Ronnie. It was the kind of spoofy, convoluted insanity that only comic books can get away with, which means it’ll be in Riverdale season four. (“Vampironica” was also the name of a . . . less PG take on Vampirella in the pornographic Archie spoof Cherry Poptart, but I’m probably not supposed to mention that.)
The Smallwoods’ Vampironica is much more straightforward. We begin with vampires crashing Cheryl Blossom’s pool party, but they’re quickly dispatched by a stake-wielding Veronica. Her pointy fangs and blood-red eyes reveal that Veronica is also one of the undead, and we jump back three days into the past to discover what happened the night a vampire broke into the Lodges’ mansion and sunk his teeth into her previously perfect neck.
As I said, it’s a straightforward origin story, exactly what you’d imagine “Archie with vampires” to be, but it also feels a little easy. Readers already know that Veronica is a spitfire, so we don’t question it when she snaps from crying over her parents’ corpses to trying to run over their murderer with her car. And when we first see her at Cheryl’s party, trussed out in the same leather jacket and fingerless gloves of every post-Anita Blake urban fantasy heroine, hope that this will be a more subversive or twisty vampire story dims. Veronica Lodge doesn’t wear anyone’s cast-offs.
There’s something appealing about this familiarity, however. Greg Smallwood’s magnificent cover, featuring a vamped-out Veronica striking a cheerleading pose in front of a full moon with a pile of dead football players at her feet, looks like it could be a lost Fear Street novel. He also has a good eye for characterization; compare Veronica’s performative pout at Archie when he tells her he has a date with Betty to the more genuine look of sadness she wears when she’s looking at Archie’s picture, alone in her room where no one can see her. The artwork is stunning; Smallwood is a perfect fit for both the wholesome world of Riverdale High and the terrifying world of the bloodsucking undead. We feel the creeping unease as the innocent town we know from countless supermarket Archie Double Digests is invaded by something monstrous and unknown.
Vampironica #1 is a promising, though not mold-breaking, story of small town horror, and the girl who could save her friends or destroy them. Greg and Meg Smallwood have crafted an atmospheric and chilling first issue. Veronica Lodge fans, prepare to vamp it up.