Thursday, August 23, 2012

REVIEW - Archie #636

Easily one of the most anticipated comics of the second half of 2012 for me, Archie #636 is based around a single plot point - the characters swapping gender - and that's just the main five. Written by Tania del Rio and pencilled by Gisele (also the artist for both covers), it follows the characters as Salem works a spell to change the gender of everyone in Riverdale. Archie becomes Archina, Reggie is Regina, Jughead is J.J., Betty is Billy and, finally, Veronica becomes Ron.

But, the big question is this - did it live up to my expectations? Well...

Not quite.

The plot itself was quite strange. Aside from the Sabrina framing, it didn't seem like there was any particular focus. Archina's day was a mix of various smaller things but unlike the majority of Archie stories, it didn't really have a clear story. Billy and Ron barely fought over Archina, the Boys vs Girls argument took up maybe three-quarters of a page in total out of 22 pages. Compare this to the standard cover, which makes a fairly big deal of the argument. The Betty & Veronica novel We're With The Band (you can find my review here) tackled the Boys vs Girls argument too, but it had the benefit of being a 150 page story rather than a 22 page comic and it was more satisfying for it. What happened in this issue felt like a selection of brief moments from other Archie stories without any of the build-up nor the resolutions.

The strength of this issue, however, lay in the humour. It had numerous pop-culture and internet meme references, but the puns were also incredibly good (such as Hot Dog's swapped name). In a strange way, the simple plot was almost a strength. It showed the comic would be pretty much the same if it was truly about Archina and the gang rather than Archie. Gisele also managed to capture the expressions perfectly well. J.J.'s expressions were those of Jughead, Ron's of Veronica and so on. It worked brilliantly, even if many other aspects didn't quite make sense. One 'swap' in particular is rather humorous, though I'll not say who it affects as it has to be experienced.
L-R: Archina, Billy, J.J, Regina and Ron.
Whilst I think the intention was admirable, the execution sadly didn't quite work as well as I'd hoped. If it was simply an Archie story with reversed genders, it could have been very enjoyable. But it wasn't. It was framed as an experiment by Salem with the marketing and the 'buzz' (and even Archie Comics themselves) adding this other dimension to it. If anything, making it a gender-swap (and Sabrina) story weakened it and took valuable pages away, leaving between 50-66% of the pages to be dedicated to Archina and her friends, and even some of those were used on discussion of the situation and Regina took the focus slightly more often than she should have.

All in all, Archie #636 both a great and a disappointing issue, but there is potential there and I hope that Archina, Billy, Ron and the gang come back for future issues. They could be really fun to read if done with a new story over a number of issues, and I have no reason to think that Tania del Rio and Gisele couldn't make it work. I don't regret buying two copies at all, but I must confess that I was hoping for a little more.

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