Echidnas, Marriages and MoreA column article by: Penny Kenny
Whether it's action, romance, or comedy you're looking for, Archie Comics' latest graphic novels have something for you.
Archie Freshman Year Book 2 by Batton Lash, Bill Galvan, Al Milgrom, Jack Morelli, and Glenn Whitmore (978-1-87974-71-9, $9.99). Batton Lash's Freshman Year mini-series is one of the best Archie stories ever. Following the gang through their first year of high school, Lash quietly expanded the Archiverse and showed readers the gang's insecurities and aspirations with humor and heart as they matured over the course of a year. Freshman Year Book 2 follows up on the original concept by spot-lighting cast members in a series of side-stories, things that happened between panels and issues. Here readers see what Jughead did in Montana after his family moved there for a time; how Betty and Veronica became an internet sensation; what happened when Reggie ditched the gang for the "cool" kids; how Chuck caught the attention of a budding Hip-Hop star; and the secret life of Pencilneck G. The stories collected in this volume are smart, funny, and full of heart. Lash understands and respects these characters, as do artists Bill Galvan and Al Milgrom. Galvan de-ages the gang, but they remain recognizably themselves. Also included are sketch pages featuring several of the new characters. Glenn Whitmore's colors are bright without being overpowering. He creates a glowing shadow effect on the faces that is very effective and attractive. This book should be on the shelf of anyone who appreciates fun, intelligent stories of young teen-agers.
Archie the Married Life Book One by Michael Uslan & Paul Kupperberg, Norm Breyfogle, Andrew Pepoy & Joe Rubinstein, Janice Chiang & Jack Morelli, and Glenn Whitmore (978-1-936975-01-3, $19.99). In case some of you haven't heard, Archie Comics took the unprecedented step of having Archie get married. Not just to Betty, but also to Veronica. In two separate storylines the redhead faces the problems of in-laws, finding and keeping a job, and even death with his wife and friends at his side. This volume collects the first six chapters of the Life with Archie magazine and is a convenient way for newcomers to catch up on the series. It's also rather nice to have the stories without the interruptions of articles and ads. Archie the Married Life is family friendly soap opera with sudden revelations and reversals of fortune. It's addictive. You have to know what Kupperberg's going to do next. Breyfogle and his various inkers turn in some beautiful work. The characters are older and somewhat more realistic looking. The pages have strong, dynamic layouts. Glenn Whitmore does some beautiful, atmospheric coloring. My one complaint is that I would have rather had all the Veronica chapters collected in order and then the Betty chapters in order instead of the alternating format we get, but that's me. The way it's set-up is the way it appeared in the magazines, so I suppose it was more cost efficient to collect it this way. If you enjoy meaty, romantic, dramatic storylines you need to pick this collection up.
Knuckles the Echidna Archives Volume 1 by Ken Penders, Mike Kanterovich, Kent Taylor, and various artists (978-1-879794-81-8, $9.95). Sonic's "friendly nemesis" Knuckles finally gets his own archives. In this volume, Knuckles encounters Enerjak for the first time as he tries to rescue his friends the Chaotix. He'll learn the secrets of his people's past and fight the Dark Legion. This collection packs plenty of bang for the buck. The action is fast-paced and easy to follow. Ken Penders and the other writers make Knuckles a sympathetic, intelligent character. The art, though in a cartoonier style, is clean, dramatic, and expressive. I especially like the Kimba the White Lion homage. As a tired, beaten Knuckles makes his way through the desert he is inspired by the ghostly image of his father. The colors are bright, vivid, and appealing to younger readers. You don't have to be a Sonic the Hedgehog fan to enjoy this book, just a fan of well-told, exciting stories.
Mega Man Volume 1: Let the Games Begin by Ian Flynn, Patrick Spaziante, Rick Bryant, Gary Martin, Matt Herms, and John Workman (978-1-879794-85-6, $11.95). If you happened to miss picking up the first four issues of the Mega Man comic or if you just like having the complete story under one cover, this is the volume for you. Here simple helper robot Rock becomes the mighty Mega Man to stop the evil Dr. Wily and his Robot Masters from taking over the world. The story is fast-paced with plenty of humor, action, and heart. For a story that can be described as "One robot beating up other robots," writer Ian Flynn packs in a lot of emotional complexity. Rock has to deal with the changes power makes in him and what those changes do to his relationship with his sister and his creator. It's very well done. The art is dynamic and expressive, with easy to follow sequences and attractive colors. Also collected in this volume are the variant covers, the "Short Circuits" gag strips, and character sketches. This volume is a perfect gift for a young Mega Man fan or action SF fans.
Sonic Universe Volume 1: the Shadow Saga by Ian Flynn, Tracy Yardley!, Jim Amash, Jason Jensen, and Teresa Davidson (978-1-879794-86-3, $11.95). Shadow, the tormented Ultimate Lifeform, joins with Rouge the Bat and E-123 Omega to form Team Dark. Together they find Chaos Emeralds, battle Robotnik's creations, and cross time and space. This is a fun storyline. It has sort of a G.I. Joe Special Forces by way of funny animals vibe going for it. There are outer space battles, battles in weird dimensions, battles in snowy mountains. But for all the action, there are some nice quiet moments, such as when Shadow and girl genius Hope Kintobor bond or Shadow and Sonic share a moment of respect. The art is expressive. Tracy Yardley! does a beautiful discomfited Shadow and his action scenes are easy to follow. The colors are crisp. A variety of extras fill out the volume, including the "Off Panel" gag strips, character biographies, and a Kintobor/Robotnik family tree. While Shadow fans won't want to miss this collection, it's also a great way to introduce new readers to the fun and excitement of the Sonic universe.