Monday, December 26, 2011

REVIEW: The Best of Archie Comics

Celebrate 70 years of Archie Comics fun with this massive full-color collection of over 50 favorite comic book stories hand-selected by noted Archie writers, artists, editors and historians. Also included are loads of entertaining behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the comics, their creators, and Archie's unique impact on America's pop culture!

The Best of Archie Comics is, as the title and blurb suggest, a retrospective that goes from the 1940s, when Archie first appeared, through to the present day. It's divided up into decades and showcases some shorter pieces from each one, with the main focus being Archie and its related titles, although some other series (Lil' Jinx, for example) do make an appearance. Whilst most of the pages are dedicated to reprinted full-page stories, there are cover art galleries and some pages of newspaper comics, and this breaks it up a little bit and showcases the different styles of comic that Archie Comics have printed over the decades. Some of the comics contained within this volume have never been reprinted before, whereas some have had various appearances elsewhere. This all combines to create a book with a lot of variety, and as such has something for everyone.

Each decade is fronted by an introduction that talks about the American social views of the time, and this gives context to the following stories. For example, it says that the 1950s were when teenagers began to really break away into their own "thing", and as such their titles like Archie adapted to that, but in a different way to other forms of entertainment. Whilst the social view was that teenagers were rebellious and unruly, Archie tried to represent them as something more average - a bunch of teens that got along, fell in love like anyone else, hung out at innocuous places and whilst they may have caused mayhem and problems at time, it was the product of accidents and carelessness rather than wanton destruction and vandalism.

That said, I personally didn't really enjoy most of the comics as such, and I think I can explain why. Unlike buying a comic from a shop or on a collection, you get a singular experience that is often engaging. With this volume, however, the pieces aren't particularly there to entertain and they're often one part out of many. There are some funny pieces, there are some emotional pieces, but it doesn't particularly have the context nor does it put you in the mindset to enjoy them as such. It's almost as if you're walking through the Archie Museum and these pieces are on the wall with a note underneath explaining why they've been chosen. You may chuckle at some, you may enjoy others, but it's weighed down with that heavy air of a gallery rather than the light-hearted and bright feel of many comics.

That's not to say it's boring or dull, nor worthless. The context alone for the changes to the series along with the analysis of the time periods helps give background to the series and what happens in the subsequent selections from that decade. It brings a level of understanding to them that you simply don't get with many comics, and in a way it's educational, both about American history but also a comics publisher.

In terms of negative aspects, I did feel like the quality of the book was rather poor at times. Some covers were of low quality which contrasts with the clearer representation of some others, and particularly with the earlier comics the sharpness and visual quality can vary quite wildly, although no piece is rendered unreadable. It isn't helped by being printed on what feels like standard "book" paper, the kind you'd expect in a novel rather than the matte or glossy pages you find in most major graphic novels or comics. Whilst it offers an authenticity to the volume, I felt it did detract a little, considering this was supposed to be a celebration of Archie Comics. Also, for all the mentions and references to the musical aspects of Archie Comics, i.e. Josie & the Pussycats and The Archies, there was very little about them. I believe there was only a single Josie story, and The Archies got nothing more than a couple of mentions. I would liked to have seen more pieces for both groups, especially Josie & the Pussycats as they had their own title and, as mentioned in the introduction to the year 2000, their own live-action movie.

To conclude, I felt that The Best of Archie was a noble attempt to compile some of the best shorter (and a few longer) moments in Archie Comics history. There's a good selection of titles, from Archie itself to Katy Keene, from Lil' Jinx to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and material selected from each decade, from 1940 to 2010. Some of the comics will make you laugh, some won't, but if nothing else this collection is a largely well put together retrospective of one of the biggest comics companies around. Whilst the marketing on the back suggests it's a good introduction to Archie, I would instead suggest it's more of a supplementary collection rather than an introductory one.

Recommended to fans of Archie, comics in general or those interested in the history and development of comics.

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