There’s nothing I like more than someone being a little subversive in their work. I’m not sure if that’s actually Adam Hughes’ intention in the new Betty & Veronica but that’s what worked for me on a couple different levels in this freshman effort. The relaunch of the Archie brand has moved on to its master plan, getting one of the premier cheesecake pinup artists in the industry to draw Riverdale’s two most famous sweethearts and as a bonus the same guy is writing the book as well. By the second word bubble we get the phrase “Our Titular Heroines” and the puns never really stop the whole way through. Is this Hughes pushing buttons, writing for himself, or just fun comic book writing 101? Whatever it is Betty & Veronica #1 is a success and lays some groundwork for a fun series that seems in line with the relaunched Archie brand.
The book starts with a flashback and we get some great dialogue of Archie and Jughead discussing the old “Who would win in a fight?” In the year of Cap vs Ironman, Bat vs Supes, and Trump vs Hillary, the book foreshadows Betty vs Veronica. Hughes is wordy here, but the dialogue is fun and witty and the panels are long and tall so the conversation is easy to follow. We get some classic characterizations with Betty painted as the girl next door tomboy and then Veronica, the silver spoon socialite. Hughes is being pretty clear that he isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel and double downs on that attitude with the main plot of the issue being how the gang is going to save Pop’s Chok’lit Shoppe from going out of business. I won’t ruin the puns here but you can tell Hughes is having fun writing the dialogue. He makes an interesting choice of having Jughead’s dog Hotdog narrate the issue in some type of old timey reporter voice. Hotdog likes to use run on sentences with too many adjectives but that’s what makes it a joy to read or maybe just speaks to me on a personal level. Everything is pretty light but well crafted with my favorite part being a passionate monologue by Betty halfway through the issue with you guessed it, more puns. I figured the writing would be the weak part of this book with the author’s pedigree but Hughes has a knack for dialogue and I was pleasantly surprised by the skillful writing not to mention the verbose vocabulary.
Lets talk about the art. Throughout the book the panels are varied and Hughes is not afraid to break up the panels with boarderless or semi boarderless panels. Occasionally a large character rendering will overlap several panels, almost a mood piece for the page, be that Betty carrying a bag of yard rocks or Midge riding on Moose’s back. The detail level is a step down from his cover art for sure, but everything is crisp, curvy, expressive and there is sufficient detail in the environments when it suits the panel. Hughes pokes fun at himself in a few different ways the most obvious being where he skips drawing a whole two pages and has the girls narrate the book instead while wearing swimsuits. It was a cute idea and kind of puts his detractors in a catch 22, but personally I’d rather have the full pages even if it was a good visual gag. Another fun bit is he uses ample amounts of swirling leaves on almost every page. As soon as I found myself thinking, “wow this guy is using a lot of leaves” there was a joke about it the next panel. I’m looking forward to an issue where its snowing in Riverdale and hopefully we’ll get the same blustery environmental treatment. I’ll also mention the coloring by Jose Villarrubia because he made the interesting choice to go with a muted tone. Its a stark contrast to the main relaunched series that is very vivid and bright and the faded colors give the book its own feel. The colors do an excellent job as well as showing the passage of time, with the issue starting out in the late afternoon golds and reds and then moving to the blues and greens of evening.
Overall Betty & Veronica #1 is a real joy to read. I’m hopeful this is a long term project for Hughes and he can keep up the output at a decent pace. Archie is on a real roll right now with a successful relaunched series, the Archie Horror books starting up again, and soon a new Riverdale TV series to watch next year. Betty & Veronica has the potential to fit right in with the rest of the stable and be a cornerstone of amazing art and witty dialogue in the Archie universe. I’m on board for issue 2 and beyond.