Betty #194A comic review article by: Penny Kenny
Betty#194 proves that while art styles may change, slapstick humor, comic misunderstandings, and romantic troubles never go out of style. The five reprints collected here capture the iconic qualities of the characters and remind readers why so many people retain fond memories of Archie Comics. Plus, they're just plain fun. In Frank Doyle and Dan DeCarlo's "How Sweet It Was," Betty tries to earn some quick cash to buy a dress for a date with Archie. When she doesn't have any success selling "Costly Cosmetics," Archie lends a hand - with smashing results. Betty's optimism, one of her notable characteristics, is on full display here,
though she gives up a little quicker than her modern incarnation would. Still, you can't blame her for that when you see the opposition she faces. Younger readers might be surprised at the paternalistic way Archie talks about Betty -- "She's a good kid, Jug. She deserves a nice break now and then" -- but Doyle is following the early template of Betty loving Archie and Archie loving Veronica instead of the more familiar love triangle. Doyle's "Strange Love" is from a later era and features a Sabrina who has significant interaction with the non-magical Archie cast. In this story, the teenage witch uses her magic and Archie to get back at her boyfriend Harvey. This Sabrina harkens back to the mischievous, even callous at times, version of the character's first appearance. She uses her magic for her benefit with no qualms about it. The addition of the regular Archie cast makes for entertaining comic confusion in the style of the BewitchedTV series.
An unidentified author contributed the very amusing "Errant Boy," a tale that begins with Archie helping out Betty, but quickly evolves into a competition between Betty and Veronica. This is a smart, funny script. Betty and Veronica are both manipulative, having an edge their contemporary versions do not. Archie is hapless, but not a fool. In a way "Errant Boy" is similar to Billy Wilder's screwball comedy The Major and the Minor.
It's a ridiculous situation played straight by smart (but not as smart as they think they are) characters. The art for each of these stories is provided by Dan DeCarlo, a master of the female form. There's no mistaking his girls for anything but girls. The 50s era fashions of full skirts in "Errant Boy" emphasize the girls' trim waists and full bosoms. "Errant Boy" is also notable for having six to eight panels a page; yet neither pages nor panels feel crowded. Each panel contains exactly what it needs to tell the story. It has a very polished look and feel. DeCarlo also creates great comic looking characters. The bruiser Archie encounters in "How Sweet It Was" is a classic knuckle-dragger, while his wife looks like she walked out of Carol Burnett Show sketch. DeCarlo's panels all have an animated feel to them, as if he were putting a cartoon on paper. There's a montage of four panels in "How Sweet It Was" showing Betty going door to door that is just wonderful. The overlapping of the panels creates a sense of speed and movement. Bill Woggon's "Katy Keene" also makes an appearance this issue, though the focus of the story is on the tall-tale telling Skipper Mason. Here the dapper old Santa Claus look-alike explains to Katy and Sis how he came to bring them a monkey for a present. This is a fun story full of jungle animals, sharp writing, and comic twists. Woggon mixes comic and more realistic art styles, giving the story a visual feel similar to Chester Gould's Dick Tracy. Rounding out the issue is a Joe Edwards "Li'l Jinx" one-pager. It's a pun gag I found amusing, but I'm not sure younger kids will get it. Still the expressions Edwards depicts almost carry the story on their own. If you're a comic historian Betty #194 is a relatively cheap time capsule of art and attitudes from the '50s through the '70s. If you're just a casual reader looking for some fun, this issue also provides plenty of that.
For the past thirteen years, Penny Kenny has been an elementary library paraprofessional in a rural school district. For the seven years prior to that, she headed a reading-math program designed to help first grade students with learning difficulties. Her book reviews regularly appeared in Starlog from 1993 to the magazine's unfortunate demise in 2009 and she has published several e-novellas under a pen name. She has been a reviewer with Comics Bulletin since 2007.