Last Wednesday (3/14/2018) Archie Comics released the first issue of the newest series in their Archie Horror Line, VAMPIRONICA, and boy let me tell you what a treat it was to read. Artist and writer Greg Smallwood, along with his scripting partner and sister Meg, have crafted a brilliant first issue that left me salivating after I finished it (NO, not salivating for human blood. For more Riverdale Vampire madness of course!) The story goes as follows (SPOILER FREE): Veronica Lodge gets infected with the curse of Vampirism and, rather than snack on the hapless populace of Riverdale, she becomes a vampire hunter after learning that her hometown has become infested with nosferatu. The bloodlust is hard to control though, and if that wasn’t enough to worry about, the mystery of just who the mysterious Vampire Lord was who turned her hangs in the air, as well as his plans for Riverdale and Veronica’s beloved Archiekins. Can she stand up to new foes and former friends as she seeks to free her hometown from the bloody clutches of the undead? We’ll have to wait and see! In the meantime, feast your eyes on THIS:
Veronica packs a mean punch that puts even Buffy to shame.
Now on to our SPOILER-FILLED analysis. You have been warned!
Our tale starts in good old Riverdale, specifically at Cheryl Blossoms’s house, where a party (a real ‘kegger’ if I’m permitted a bit of slang here) is underway. Just as the horny young hostess invites a group of jocks to partake in some body shots, a blood-maddened vampire attacks, only to be punched silly by a badass-looking Veronica. Another Vampire shows up, and the brouhaha quickly escalates. This all leads up to an awesome scene where Veronica emerges from Cheryl’s pool victorious, dragging two recently staked undead behind her. Cheryl’s pool has become a literal pool of blood at this point, btw.
We then get a flashback to three days earlier, when Veronica asks Archie out on a date after cheerleading practice, only to learn that the dashing Mr. Andrews has already been spoken for – Betty’s taking him out for a night on the town. Dismayed but eager to save face, Ronnie collars an unwitting Reggie Mantle, loudly announcing that she has a date too. Reggie, as you might expect, is overjoyed, so reluctantly Ronnie has to commence making plans for their sham date that evening. And here I just have to interpose with what great facial expressions Greg Smallwood is able to come up with. Veronica’s is especially emotive. Case in point:Ronnie’s pouty face is my particular favorite.
That evening in the Lodge mansion, after getting confirmation from Reggie that he’s on his way to pick her up, Veronica heads downstairs to say goodbye to her mom and dad. She is greeted to a horrific spectacle in the study, where she finds her parents murdered, their throats ripped open, blood already pooling on the ridiculously expensive rug. She is attacked by her parent’s murderer, a silver haired old dude in a tux, who proceeds to take a chunk out of her neck. Things look dire for Ronnie but, showing remarkable fortitude and totally going against the trope of hysterical damsel in distress, she viciously stabs him in the neck with a pencil before fleeing the mansion in her sports car. Her attacker tries to prevent her escape, but then this happens:That’s right folks. Buffy ain’t got nothin on her.
Unfortunately, high on adrenaline and obviously in shock, Ronnie plows into Reggie at high speed, totaling his jaguar and splattering her own face all over the asphalt. She quickly recovers though, and it is at this point in the story that we learn just how rapidly an Archie-universe vampire’s bite takes effect. Ronnie instantly morphs into a monstrous vampire when she sees Reggie all covered in blood, Yep, that’s right, she has already been completely turned, after receiving a bite less than a minute ago in real time from, you guessed it, a Vampire. Luckily for Reggie (even though this is a moot point as later events will reveal) Veronica manages to regain control of herself and flees into the woods, discovering that her injuries have all miraculously vanished. The story ends with Reggie, hurt and trapped in the wreck of his beloved jag, receiving aid from a sinister source.
Megan and Greg Smallwood shared scripting duties on this issue. The dialogue was sharp, funny, and completely in sync with the Riverdale crew’s personalities, even though we only get to see Cheryl, Ronnie, Archie and Reggie. Veronica and Reggie were especially well-written, which is obvious, since the bulk of the story concerns them. As a reader you get a great sense of Ronnie’s emotions as she deals with the fact that Betty has Archie for the night, and her strength and resolve comes through in the one-liners she throws at her vampire attackers during the issue. Reggie is his familiar old douchy-self, and comes across as quite a horndog with his innuendos and text messages to Ronnie. He also manages to dis Archie in one of these messages, but it backfires as it only makes Veronica think of Archie more intensely. At the same time this panel sets up the eventual car crash that happens later on, when Reggie mentions that he’s almost at the Lodge Mansion and that he’s bringing ‘The Jag.’ These subtle nuances to the writing indicate that the Smallwoods worked from a well-thought-out script that not only serve the characters of the Riverdale crew, but also the beats of the story.
Wow. That’s really all I need to say here. Ok, OK! I’ll say some more – Greg Smallwood is one HELL of a draftsman. The characters all look appealing and expertly proportioned. The vampires are creepy and rabid-looking (all except for Ronnie – she’s a vision) and the backgrounds and settings are well-rendered and definitely ups the creepiness factor permeating the entire issue. The coloring is in muted orange brown tones, which gives a dream-like quality to the images and reinforces the sense of a horror comic where an idyl like Riverdale can quickly turn into a scream-inducing NIGHTMARE. The only small criticism I have is the inking – it is done in a heavy line that frequently blurs some edges, but this is negligible if you are of the mind that it enhances the hazy quality of the nightmare that Riverdale becomes at the end of this issue. So again I have to reiterate by saying: Wow.
Great art. Stunning writing. Megan and Greg have crafted an eminently readable comic. It’s a quick read, but definitely leaves you with enough to want to come back to. I for one can’t wait for the next issue to hit the shelves. So toss your crucifixes and garlic, dear readers, and bare your jugulars for Archie Horror’s newest hit VAMPIRONICA!