Betty & Veronica #189 (June 2003)
Archie Comics

I slunk down in potential embarrassment as soon as my friend eyed the copy of B&V #189 on my coffee table. "Oh wow, where did you get this?" he said with not a trace of irony. Turns out he used to avidly collect the whole panoply of Archie comics.

"Archie?" I thought to myself? The tamest, most generic comic book of all time, collected, recently, by a friend whom I consider to be reasonably cool? Granted, I've been HEAVILY listening to Bread in the past week, so I suppose I'm not allowed to throw stones.

Maybe Archie HAS become deck again since I last read him (uh, early college?). Maybe the ultra-sincere and straightforward good-timey-ness of the Riverdale crew had become attractive again following the drying-up of 90s jadedness. Hm … I had yet to even read page one of issue #189, and was strangely compelled to just get this over with.

The first story places our stars at the beach, unsurprisingly fighting over one Archie Andrews. Veronica is dating some loser wannabe poet wearing a top hat and ponytail, and true to form, not one of the non-regular characters is remotely likeable. Why is everyone remotely angry in these comics? Pent-up hostility and frustration from the folks working the slave grind at Archie HQ perhaps? There's such a dark side to all characters, which normally would draw me in, but I leave the table feeling as though I've just watched two uninterrupted hours of surveillance video of friends talking behind my back.

There's seemingly only two essential rules to all B&V comics – fight over the eternally bland Archie (he, also with shouty dark side); and turn face from flirtatiously inquisitive to ragingingly mad from one panel to the next. The lack of subtlety in these comics never ceases to amaze.

And as with all Archie comics, I read them desperately looking for clues for a date as to when it was drawn. There is a mention of "taiko drums" during story #2, which takes place at an all-day outdoor concert festival and features Archie teaching the still-feuding-friends how to rollerskate. (?) Granted, taiko drums are older than most of western civilization, so I guess rollerskates is the sole clue. I did see some sneakers in one panel, too. So I estimate that B&V #189 was created sometime between 1958 and 1988.

I was glad to see a one-page short story feature Ethel, who fortunately is drawn with much more kindness these days, depicted less like an awkward oafish farmgirl.

The biggest surprise, however, was a notice for the Riverdale Stars Talent Search, in which the company is looking for actor lookalikes, as well as a band, to portray "The Riverdale Rockers" and a band from the rival school. Suspiciously there's no explanation WHAT the parts are for (high-school touring ensemble, perhaps?), but you can register at Oh, hey, maybe this was written in the 2000s after all.

OK, let's leave with the positives: the colors were nice and bright, the lettering was consistent, Betty is still attractive and relatively safe for 11-year old nerds, and no strong anti-French sentiments appeared anywhere.

Review by Bradley A. Milton