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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Reggie 5

Our opening rotation brings us back around to RIVERDALE, with the cover of ARCHIE'S RIVAL REGGIE #5 from 1951. The Reggie of this George Frese cover doesn't seem as sure of himself as the current version of the character, but keep in mind that the Archie of 1951, though much more attractive than his initial appearances, was still having bad nose and teeth issues.

ARCHIE'S RIVAL REGGIE ran 14 issues, ending in 1954. It came back as REGGIE in 1963, continuing the numbering from the original series. Four issues later, it became REGGIE AND ME and, under that title, it ran through issue #126 [September, 1980].

The only other information I have on the above issue concerns its possible value. The newest edition of the OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE pegs a near-mint condition copy of the issue at $350, while the COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS has it at $175. My visit to eBay found two copies currently available. There's a nice-looking very good copy being offered at a "Buy It Now" price of $27.95 plus shipping, and a "beat to heck" copy at a "Buy It Now" price of $19.99 plus shipping. If I had any money, I'd be all over the VG copy.

All I could learn about George Frese online is that he was a key artist and writer for Archie Comics in the first years of the 1950s. I confess this not to flaunt my shameful ignorance, but to give the more knowledgeable among you the opportunity to enlighten me. Feel free to e-mail me with anything you know about Frese, his career, and his life. I'll be delighted to share your comments and information with your fellow TOT readers.

We're going to be hanging around Riverdale for all of today's column, so you might want to hit Pop's Chocklit Shoppe for a snack. His burgers and shakes come highly recommended.

******

ARCHIE COMICS

Someone asked me why I write about Archie Comics so often, and my answer is the same as for most of what I write about. I think they're important. Their 65 years of publication has made them a part of the American fabric. They are virtually guaranteed to be suitable for readers of all ages. They have high visibility in the real world via display in supermarkets, merchandising, and a number of movies and TV shows. I truly admire the considerable cleverness and skill involved in coming up with entertaining stories that are, by their very nature, variations on familiar themes. It's a rare thing for an Archie comic to receive less than three Tonys from me; they're almost always fun and their digests are among the very best bang-for-your-bucks buys in comics. That's why I write about them as often as I do.

Archie and Friends 100

ARCHIE & FRIENDS #100 [$2.25] features a 12-page tale in which the Archies compete against the real-life Veronicas in a battle of the bands that doesn't come off as planned. Dan Parent writes and pencils with Rich Koslowski on the inks. This title seems to have evolved into a music-and-manga comic, with the stories focusing on the Archies and on Josie and the Pussycats.

Josie and the Pussycats have gotten a manga makeover, but the stories and the look just don't work for me. I could see the strip going for a different style than the Archie stories, but these new Josie tales are flat and visually uninteresting.

My favorite story of the issue was "Fan Clubbed" by Parent and Koslowski, featuring Veronica's "wacky cousin Marcy." I don't love that Marcy's considered "wacky" due to her participation in science-fiction fandom, but I like her drawing on her experience to take over the band's fan club. I think Marcy has a lot of potential and hope to see more of her in future issues.

ARCHIE & FRIENDS #100 earns three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Betty 155

BETTY #155 [$2.25] is pencilled by Stan Goldberg from cover to cover, and that's always a good thing. He's the best Archie artist since Dan DeCarlo, and the characters always look "right" when he's drawing them.

There are four stories in this issue. George Gladir shines in his tales: one in which Betty daydreams about her ancestors, and a second in which she uses her knowledge of body language to advise her friends on matters of the heart. You know what they say about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.

In "Perfectly Ridiculous," Mike Pellowski takes a witty look at Betty's perceived perfection. Closing out the issue, Kathleen Webb's "Smelling Good" is a "new perfume" tale. Such stories used to be common in teen humor comics and, sadly, this one suffers from that very familiarity. It needed a new angle.

BETTY #155 also earns three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Betty and Veronica 217

BETTY AND VERONICA #217 [$2.25] was one of those rare weaker issues mentioned above. However, I loved Webb's "Self-Descriptive Terms," which cleverly played on the "Are you a Betty or are you a Veronica?" slogan. This amusing story was pencilled by Jeff Schulz and inked by Al Milgrom.

BETTY AND VERONICA #217 receives one Tony.

Tony

Sabrina 75

The manga-ized SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH #75 [$2.25] continues the soap opera adventure that has been the style of the title since Tania Del Rio came aboard as writer and penciller. There are major character and plot developments in this issue and the appearance of a new magical menace. SABRINA holds my interest and has me eager to see what happens next; that's good enough to earn this current issue three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Veronica 170

VERONICA #170 [$2.25] was the best Archie comic of this batch. Writer/penciller Parent's "Queen of Denial" is a delightfully silly tale in which a daydreaming Veronica sees herself as the legendary Cleopatra...with a Riverdale twist. It's followed by two Pellowski stories: "Team Support" (in which Veronica's dad asks her advice on a minor league baseball team he's buying) and "Afterschool Program" (a detention story notable for its well-timed punch line). This one earns four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

ARCHIE DIGESTS

It would take a week's worth of columns to do story-by-story reviews of Archie's digests and double digests. Instead, I'll just hit the high spots of the latest issues I've received.

Archie Digest 225

ARCHIE DIGEST #225 [$2.49] has two new stories written by Mike Pellowski with art by Bob Bolling/Al Milgrom and Pat Kennedy/Rich Koslowski. They're both good, but my favorite tales in this digest are "Carrier Pigeon" (Archie wrestles with the ages-old problem of carrying a date's incidentals at a dance) and "The Classics" (Arch and Jughead argue over which of them is the straight man in their comedic relationship). Fans of super-hero parody will also want to check out "The Return of Cap'n Dare," with Jughead as a super-hero who doesn't always think through his heroic deeds. I'm giving this digest three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Betty and Veronica Digest 165

The new stories in BETTY AND VERONICA DIGEST #165 [$2.49] are by Pellowski, Kennedy, and Jon D'Agostino (Archie and the girls on the trail of a missing wallet) and Kathleen Webb, Dan Parent, and D'Agostino (an "eternal triangle" story). But my pick for best of the digest is the wacky 21-page "I Need My Own Space," in which the trendsetting Veronica becomes the first teenager to go up on the space shuttle and walk on the moon. Three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Jughead and Friends 10

JUGHEAD & FRIENDS DIGEST #10 [$2.49] has 19 pages of brand-new comics. "Fun For the History Books" by writer/penciller Fernando Ruiz and inker D'Agostino offers Jughead's dad's somewhat odd take on their family history. "The Solution" by George Gladir and the Ruiz/D'Agostino team is another Jughead-as-super-hero story. Both tales had me chuckling, as did the reprinted "Fit To Be Tied," which took the pursuit of the male (Jughead and Archie) by the female (Ethel and Betty) into the realm of physical comedy. This one also earns three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Archie's Pals 'n' Gals Double Digest 102

ARCHIE'S PALS 'N' GALS DOUBLE DIGEST #102 [$3.69] has several above-average tales. The new stories are "Bus Boy" by Pellowski, Kennedy, and Ken Selig (Archie rides the school bus) and "Wedding Blisters" by Pellowski, Bolling, and Bob Smith (Archie and the gang attend a wedding of older friends and talk about their matrimonial futures). Among the reprints, which include stories of Josie and Sabrina, my favorite would be "Meet the New Coach," which I'll be discussing a little further down in the column. This double digest is particularly good and worthy of four Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Betty and Veronica Double Digest 142

BETTY AND VERONICA DOUBLE DIGEST #142 [$3.69] also has a pair of new tales. "Expert Advice" by Pellowski, Kennedy, and Selig has the girls seeking relationship tips from a newspaper advice writer. In "Cyber Savvy" by Gladir, Jeff Schulz, and inker D'Agostino, the girls go virtual mall-shopping. There were many enjoyable stories in this issue, but I'll single-out "Cosmic Caper" in which Betty, Midge, and Veronica dress up as Melanie Moonbeam, Susie Starpower, and Chrissy Comet for a mall appearance. I hope Sailor Moon has a sense of humor. I also wouldn't mind seeing a full-length Sailor Moon homage/parody with the Riverdale gals. This digest gets three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Jughead's Double Digest 121

There are three less-than-outstanding new stories in JUGHEAD'S DOUBLE DIGEST #121 [$3.69], but among the choice reprints are some charming "Little Jughead" adventures: "You Don't Know Beans" (with little sis Jellybean), the weirdly funny "Book Banter" (Reggie gets hexed), and "Love Stinks," yet another tale I'll be discussing in this column's next segment. I'm only being slightly generous when I award this issue four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

DIVERSITY IN RIVERDALE

If I could change anything about Archie, it would be to add more diversity to his Riverdale world. Confident cuss that I am, I think it could be done in a manner consistent with the "suitable for all ages" philosophy of Archie Comics, that it could widen the appeal of their comics, and that it would serve a socially useful purpose in helping young readers accept themselves and the already diverse world around them.

What would it mean to a special needs child to be accepted by Archie and his friends? What would it mean to a gay boy or girl to discover they would be welcome in Riverdale? Can such contemporary subjects be addressed in the lighthearted stories that have always been the hallmark of Archie? My answer to the first two questions is that it'd be wonderful. My answer to the third question is that it's certainly a challenge worth undertaking.

Beyond the political consideration of such stories, there is a practical one. The Archie cast of characters is already a large one. The five leads - Archie, Betty, Jughead, Reggie, and Veronica - come with parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, Pop Tate, and a butler. Then you have Moose, Midge, Dilton, Ethel, Chuck, Nancy, and visits from Cheryl Blossom, Josie and the Pussycats, Sabrina, and others. Hispanic students Frankie and Marie were introduced a number of years back, but they rarely appear these days. Bridget, a slightly large singer, hangs around with the girls on occasion, but no longer lives in Riverdale proper. Even with four new tales in most 32-page issues and two more new ones in the digests, there aren't enough stories to spotlight new characters without crowding out the old, though, again, I think it's a creative challenge well worth the taking.

Meet the New Coach

All of which brings us to "Meet the New Coach" from ARCHIE'S PALS 'N' GALS DOUBLE DIGEST #102. In that story, Robin Gantner was hired to be Riverdale's new girls gym teacher. Coach Clayton says Gantner "was about the best basketball player he ever saw before an accident put her in that wheelchair." He even invited her to fill in as the coach of the boys basketball team, where she succeeded in getting Reggie to be more of a team player.

When I read this story in its original publication, I thought Gantner was a great addition to the cast and hoped she would prove to be a keeper. Alas, I don't think she ever appeared in another story. Maybe it's time to reintroduce her or, better yet, someone similar to her.

One of the most haunting news stories I've read since President Bush launched his war on Iraq reported on a basketball player who lost an arm in combat there. Visited in the hospital by her former coach, she bravely and sadly quipped that he wouldn't have to worry about her shooting with the wrong arm anymore.

That brave soldier and her fellow injured soldiers deserve to be represented in our comics. Our young readers need to be guided to appreciate the sacrifices that have been made for their country by these soldiers. Such stories could be told with compassion and humor, just as was done in "Meet the New Coach."

Love Stinks

Reprinted in JUGHEAD'S DOUBLE DIGEST #121, "Love Stinks" had Jughead just getting to know a girl when her career soldier father was unexpectedly transferred to Germany, forcing the family to leave Riverdale. That made me think about our contemporary soldiers and National Guardsmen whose tours of duty are extended well past their contracted agreements pretty much at the whim of government chicken hawks. My sentiments might be too political for Archie Comics, but I think there's a Riverdale story worth telling about the treatment of such troops and the often overwhelming burdens their deployments place on the families they leave behind. We've seen Archie and the gang extend a helping hand to so many in need, wouldn't it be great to see them do the same for our military families?

By virtue of their all-ages philosophy, the recognition they enjoy among comics readers and "civilians" alike, their longevity, and their young demographic, Archie Comics is in an unique position to tell the kinds of stories I've been discussing and, in doing so, bring a bit of beyond-their-neighborhood perspective to their young readers. I urge them to explore these possibilities.

******

KATY KEENE

Katy Keene

One more Archie Comics item for today. I want to applaud the company for the forthcoming return of Katy Keene, and especially for allowing my pal Andrew Pepoy to update her look. Pepoy draws Katy as sexy without being lewd. If the stories are as good as the art I've seen so far, I suspect it won't be look before Katy once again stars in her own comics title.

While we're waiting, check out the promo ad above for news on where Katy will be appearing. Then, to see how you can get in on the fun as well, check out this press release:

Katy Keene is Hollywood's newest superstar, and, at only 21, she is appearing in movies and on TV, modeling for magazines, and recording hit records. Katy lives in Hollywood with her teenage sister, MacKenzie, where [Katy is] romantically pursued by movie producer, Rodney Van Ronson. Katy also has an apartment in New York City, where K.O. Kirby, extreme sports star, hopes to win her heart. Always hoping to upstage Katy in both showbiz and romance is her rival, Gloria Gold.

Katy, along with these friends and others, lives the glamorous and fast-paced life of red carpets and movie studios, traveling to the fantastic places of the world, but Katy needs your help. She needs ideas for what to wear to Hollywood premieres or just around the house, as well as ideas for her friends, too! And where should she go? And what should she do in her movies and adventures? Part of the fun is up to you, the readers, so please send your designs and ideas to Katy by email, fax or mail to:

Katy Keene
325 Fayette Ave.
Mamaroneck, New York 10543
Fax: 914-381-2335

E-mail: KatyKeene@archiecomics.com

Please send your name so that Katy can give you credit if she uses your suggestion. Keep an eye out for Katy's upcoming stories in Archie Comics titles to see if she's using your idea and giving you the credit you deserve!

Welcome back, Katy! We've missed you!

******

CLOSING NOTES

At Casa Isabella, we're in the final two weeks of the school year for Eddie and Kelly...and also in the first two weeks of their baseball and softball seasons. In short, it's an extremely hectic time. In the interest of keeping my sanity relatively intact, TOT will only be appearing three times a week this week and next week. After that, I should be able to resume the not-as-usual-as-I-would-like Monday through Friday schedule. Thanks for your patience and for spending a part of your own busy day with me. I'll be back on Friday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 05/29/2006 | 05/31/2006 | 06/02/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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THE "TONY" SCALE

Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

Tony
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TonyTony
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

TonyTonyTony
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

TonyTonyTonyTony
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

TonyTonyTonyTonyTony
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.



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