Betty or Veronica?
Thanks to Archie Comics’ latest value-priced paperback compilation those on the fence between the spoiled brunette and nice-but-wacky blonde won’t have to render their final decision just quite yet. Like the previous three “best of” books Archie has released during the last few years, this latest volume spans seven decades over the course of 400 odd pages. As such, it gives readers a glimpse at how Betty and Veronica have evolved across the decades–for better and worse.
The book kicks off with a variety of stories from the 1940s that are set against the backdrop of World War II. What is especially interesting about these wartime tales is that they illustrate how dynamic Betty and Veronica were as characters even in the earliest stages of their existence. Although they each possess a consuming obsession with Archie, the pair also share a self-sufficiency that seems decades ahead of its time. Perhaps even more intriguing is how adult these books seem, with a reference to a concentration camp and a glimpse at Veronica at her most vicious (she hilariously refers to Betty as a “pants chasing hussy” at one point).
Since these older stories are seldom reprinted in the digests, they are packed with weirdness that will get Archie fanatics salivating. Interested in seeing off-model looks for the characters? Or the appearance of a character who is best described as a perverted prototype of Mr. Weatherbee? Then this segment of the book seems custom made for you.
As the 1950s rolled into the ’70s, readers witness the Archie formula falling into place: Betty and Veronica compete for Archie’s love and/or try out the latest fads. The sections covering these decades made up for the bulk of the book, as well as the most enjoyable reading.
It was throughout this 30-year period the Archie company was immersed in a period of creativity that was unmatched until recently. The reasoning for this is simple: given the limited confines allowed by the expectations of young readers there was bound to be some repetition in stories that constantly rehash the same basic premise (which partially explains why there are two separate stories featured in this volume that feature Betty and Veronica obsessing over a Tom Jones-inspired singer).
Yet writers like George Gladir and Frank Doyle would still miraculously keep things fresh through their collaborations with artists like Dan DeCarlo and Samm Schwartz, an Archie veteran whose wacky illustrations often became something sublime and transcendent. Whether it be the trick ending of “Guess Again” or the attempt to unravel the Jughead mystery that is “Clothes Make the Man,” the stories crafted by this era remain the funniest the company has ever produced. These two aforementioned stories alone justify the slight $9.99 cost of the book.
Unfortunately, the final third of the book is more dedicated to gimmicks — grunge Betty and vampire Veronica anyone?– than anything else, but it is redeemed by Paul Kupperberg’s “Taking Care of Business.” A full-length tale that was neatly referenced in Life with Archie: The Married Life before it was published in regular continuity, it chronicles what happens when a road trip results in an accident that leaves the girls stranded in the wilderness during a snow storm. With Betty out of commission due to a concussion, Veronica is forced to use her business savvy to save both of their lives. The tale is a tribute to these characters that shows how beneath their “frenemy” exteriors they genuinely care for each other.
Since the focus is on Betty and Veronica here, the book makes it evident that even though they be reduced to greedy or, especially in Betty’s case, crazy, one-dimensional stereotypes at times, these are female characters who have weathered and endured for 70-plus years. That is admirable in any form of literature, but in comics, let alone those geared towards kids, it is nothing less than applause-worthy. So consider this Betty and Veronica’s standing ovation. They may be a handful at times, but this book will make you love them as much as when you first made their acquaintance.