The first issue of Betty & Veronica Friends Forever: What If gives readers a number of alternate realities. We see versions of Riverdale where Jughead is the Riverdale High stud instead of Archie; where Betty and Veronica are witches; where the Coopers are rich, and the Lodges poor; and a reality where Archie has an identical twin called Bart.
Betty & Veronica Friends Forever: What If #1
Bill Golliher (Writer), Rich Koslowski (Artist), Jack Morelli (Letters), Dan Parent (Artist), Glenn Whitmore (Colours)
January 15, 2020
I quite enjoy ‘what if’ stories. I spent some time reading up on DC: Elseworlds stories and found a few of them more enlightening than canon material. However, I never felt the need to read alternate realities of the world of Archie—growing up, I read whatever Archie Comics I got a hold of so there was never any continuity to speak of. (Plus, I’m getting alternate versions of the characters and stories via the CW show, Riverdale, and the tie-in Riverdale comics.)
But I was still intrigued by the concept of Betty & Veronica Friends Forever: What If—these stories would be outside of canon, but rooted in readers’ understanding of the characters as they were in the original comics. The concept does sound fun but the execution left much to be desired. I have been enjoying the Archie comics I’ve read and reviewed for WWAC—some of the plots and characterizations have been progressive and powerful, even inspirational. Betty & Veronica Friends Forever: What If #1 doesn’t mirror those sentiments. In fact, there are elements of the stories in this book that I found downright problematic.
The opening story, with Jughead taking Archie’s place as the boy all the girls swoon over, was regressive in its portrayal of female characters. Yes, Jughead loves to eat, but every single female character trying to win Jughead’s heart by cooking for him seemed like a plotline out of the 1950s. When ‘go back to the kitchen’ is still used as a way to shut out women from conversations, do we really need a book marked for all ages to harp on about women serving men?
But this isn’t the only story in Betty & Veronica Friends Forever: What If #1 that gave me pause. The final story—where Archie has an identical twin, Bart—was deeply troubling to read. In the story, Archie and Jughead try to help Bart get a love life. They don’t do this by developing Bart’s personality or interests. No, he impersonates Archie on pre-arranged dates with Betty and Veronica. Yikes.
I’m sure that even up until the 90s, this story would have seemed fine, but I’d like to think that we live in more civilized times now and we know that fooling people into believing you’re someone else is tantamount to assault. I’m seriously disturbed by the fact that these plot lines got past the editor. Or maybe it isn’t surprising, considering this book has been created by an all-male team. How is that still happening in 2020?
Betty & Veronica Friends Forever: What If #1 never really challenges our notions of Betty and Veronica as people either. Throughout the book, they are depicted as romantic rivals who will do anything to get their man. This is particularly frustrating considering how other Archie properties have shown us more complex aspects of Betty and Veronica, but this book doesn’t even try. The only plotline that tries to do something with these characters is the third story where Betty and Veronica’s social and financial status is swapped. But the story fails to do anything with that switch—Rich-Betty is shallow, rude, and self-centered. Veronica is a pushover who bemoans her lack of money. It’s such a basic rendering of this plot when we could have got something more nuanced. For instance, we know Betty is always out to do good for Riverdale and for the disadvantaged. With Veronica’s wealth, why not make a massive difference to the people of Riverdale? And Veronica is hard-working and wily—despite her lack of resources, she would have found ways to make a name for herself. This is what I was expecting from the story. What we got was a lot of fuss about going to the opera.
I don’t expect Archie Comics to create sublime content that will rock my world. However, I do expect the stories to reflect the times we live in now—not the ones that existed when comics were first created. Betty & Veronica Friends Forever: What If #1 does the bare minimum in terms of storytelling—and that too comes across as dangerously regressive. And to have an all-male team on a comic book in 2020 is just plain wrong—because that narrow point of view comes across on every single page of this book, making this one of the worst Archie comics I have possibly ever read.