Sunday, May 5, 2019

Four-Color Fairy Tales: Betty and Veronica Fairy Tales.

If you had told me a few years ago that I’d be writing about comics from this publisher, I would have been skeptical.  I mean, it’s not like they’re not a major comic book company in their own way.  It’s just that ever since I was a kid I always thought they looked a little dull and corny.  But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who felt that way about Archie Comics.

Archie Comics have, like many comic book publishers, been around since the late 1930s.  They used to be named MLJ and mostly published superheroes at the time, if you can believe it (characters like The Shield, The Web, The Comet and The Black Hood).  That is, until Archie Andrews debuted in 1941 and became the company’s most popular character.  From there, it was a future of mostly squeaky clean teen comedy.  I think most people (including myself) think of Archie Comics as the people who sell those digest-sized comics that you can buy in the checkout lane of the supermarket.  However, Archie has been having a bit of a moment lately.  A moment that’s managed to even catch my interest.  The cause seems to be the philosophy that their characters work in any genre.  The most obvious examples of this are the mystery drama Riverdale and the horror show The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  However, there have also been horror comics about Jughead Jones, Veronica Lodge and Cheryl Blossom, a series that stars Betty and Veronica as leaders of a vigilante biker gang (yes, really) as well as some more mainstream relaunches that skew just a little older than usual (my personal recommendation is the Archie series written by Mark Waid).

This book, Betty and Veronica Fairy Tales, isn’t from any of those recent endeavors.  It’s total old-school Archie, complete with the Dan Decarlo art style.
The book consists of nine fairy tale and children’s literature adaptations as well as a two-parter that’s more of a mash-up.  All of them written by writer Dan Parent and illustrated by a number of different artists.  And as the cover suggests, most of them starring Betty and Veronica.  For the uninitiated Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge are two high school girls from the small town of Riverdale.  Betty is a sweet, down-to-earth, girl next door type while Veronica is a confident (some would say arrogant) and self-assured rich girl.  Despite their differences, the two girls are best friends.  They’re also rivals in love for red-headed everyteen Archie Andrews.  Why are they both after Archie?  Honestly, I don’t know.  As much as I’ve come to like Archie, I’m pretty sure they both could do better.
Adaptations like this, where established characters are essentially cast as “actors” in the stories, aren’t anything new or unfamiliar.  As such, a few of the stories are about what you’d expect.  For example, “Snow White and the Riverdale Dwarves”, “Betty and the Beast” “Sleeping Betty” and “There’s No Place Like Riverdale”.  When it really gets interesting is in stories like “A Tale of Two Cinderellas”, “The Little Mermaids”, “The Story of the Rapunzels” and “Reggiestiltskin” in which they double the heroine role so they both can play it.  In those cases we get things like a version of “Cinderella” in which everyone gets turned into frogs in the end, a version of “Rapunzel” in which Rapunzel has a twin sister who goes looking for her and a version of “The Little Mermaid” in which both mermaids start pursuing other options after Prince Archie starts seeing someone else.  I actually appreciate them exercising that option, because it’s far too easy to cast Veronica as the villainess.  There’s also a version of Alice in Wonderland that does have Veronica as the Queen of Hearts, but is interesting because it goes off the rails in other ways.

Probably the story that stands out the most is the last one “What’s the Story?”.  This story highlights one of the more unusual aspects of Riverdale.  Apparently, there are paths through the local woods that walking along can cause fantastical things to happen.  There’s Memory Lane, which allows people to travel back in time.  The other is Storybook Lane which leads to a part of the woods called Storyland (I’m assuming it’s an old amusement park) and a statue that, under certain circumstances can get someone stuck in a fairy tale.  This is what happens to Archie and the rest of the town of Riverdale as everything gets turned into a fairy tale mash-up, and in a twist the real fairy tale characters end up in a world that’s far too mundane for their liking.  Most of the story is Archie going around kissing various girls to try and break the spell.  However, it is different from every other story.  It also reminds us that Archie Comics could be weird even before the “every genre” thing started (after all, there’s a teenage witch living in the next town over and Jughead was once a member of the Time Police).

There are a few other things that I like about the book.  There’s a sort of straight-forward, blunt edge to the comedy that’s amusing.  For example, a part in “Sleeping Betty” where someone straight-up tells the Wicked Fairy Veronica that the spell she’s casting on the princess is excessive.  Or the enchanted objects sarcastically calling out the Beast that jailing his potential sweetheart isn’t the best start to a relationship.  One other thing that stands out is that despite the generally kid-friendly quality of Archie Comics, they still have a little more edge than other fairy tale adapters [:cough:Disney:cough:].  And since this is a comedy about teenagers, they can be a little more honest about the fact that all that “fairest of them all” and “love at first sight” stuff comes down to physical attractiveness.  So, we have stuff like Evil Queen Veronica asking “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the hottest of them all?”  It’s a little refreshing, honestly.

Betty and Veronica Fairy Tales is a decent little book, though maybe not anything groundbreaking in terms of fairy tale adaptations.  But amusing in its way and a fun little read, especially if you’re an Archie Comics fan. 

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