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Running in "Betty & Veronica Double Digest" #s 151-154 is the storyline "Bad Boy Trouble," featuring the much-hyped "New Look." Gone are the trademark Dan DeCarlo snub noses and black-dotted eyes, traded in for a "realistic" art style. What could have prompted Archie Comics to meddle with a formula that's worked for 50+ years?
An article in The New Yorker a few months back discussed the "Barbie Vs. Bratz" syndrome -- how, basically, little girls were abandoning in droves the classic fashion doll for her "hip" rival. Now, the Barbie sculpt is a bit more realistic than the Margaret Keane-eyed, monster-footed Bratz. But the Bratz *are* more "adult" -- more, frankly, sexualized. And girls as young as eight are choosing these more adult dolls over "Barbie's Fairy Princess Party."
It's a good point to remember -- the girls *themselves* are making the choices here. Maybe they are heavily influenced by pop-culture and their environment. But they're pushing the lever, they're making the consumer choice. And if you don't believe me, hang out in the doll section of Toys R Us sometime.
Personally, I think that is part of the motivation for the "New Look" Betty & Veronica. Part publicity fodder, part marketing experiment. And Veronica Lodge -- *the* Veronica Lodge, not her "doppleganger" -- is showing a bit of insecurity over the whole deal:
"Riverdale High was invaded today by THEM. No, not 8-legged, brain-sucking aliens – aliens would have been much LESS scary!
No, RHS was invaded by “The Faux Duo” – the fake “US”. No, they didn’t actually show up – I don’t think they have the nerve to do that. SOMEBODY put one of their new Makeover Comics – B&V Digest #151, INSIDE MY LOCKER! I found it when I got to school this morning.
The art for the "Faux Duo" -- by the team of Stephen Butler & Al Milgrom -- is cute and fun, though, especially with the huge eyes, not *that* much more realistic. The realism, if anywhere, is to be found in a) the fashions & b) the figures. The"New Look" takes a cue from Bratz and clothes "B & V" in contemporary, form-fitting outfits. Not that the girls are drawn particularly buxom or "slutty" -- but when "New Look"ed, the wasp-waists and modest bosoms of the girls look a lot more noticeable.The "Bad Boy" of the story's title, one "Nick," wears a leather jacket, heavy metal T-shirt, gold medallions, and a soul-patch. Yes, a soul-patch. Nick regales Betty & Veronica with a host of clever come-on lines:
"Hey! Chill, Blondie! A saint I ain't! Where I come from, folks don't pay for what they can get for free!"
"Forget your friends. Come on, let's go for a spin on my cycle!"
"You act like sneaking into a movie theater is a major crime. Believe me...I've done worse things."
I'm not sure if it is writer Melanie J. Morgan's intention to mark Nick right off the bat as a total creep, or if he is supposed to have that charming, roguish, "Spike from Buffy" quality that "grows" on you over time. But I immediately hated this guy. So does Betty:
"I have the ominous feeling that Nick st. Clair is bad news."
However, Veronica *so* completely falls for Nick after roughly 5 minutes of conversation that she hops on the back of his motorcyle and rides off with him.
Here's where things get a big murky in this story.
1) Is Veronica *that* dumb and naive as to leave for God-knows-where with a young man she barely knows, especially one who is so obviously, as Betty says, "bad news?"
2) The scene with Veronica leaving with Nick is immediately followed with Betty worrying sick about her, noting that she won't even answer her cell phone. Then the concerned girl rushes to Mr. Lodge's mansion to apprise him of the situation. This is a little intense for an Archie comic. I'm not saying that it shouldn't be done. But I've just never read anything this realistic in one of those comics before.
And yes, it is a bit realistic. How many otherwise-intelligent girls fall for boys who have "trainwreck" plainly written all over them? As Veronica explains,
"I find him mysterious and exciting."
I should also note that opportunist Nick initially hits on Betty, only to turn to Veronica when he finds out that her father is a billionaire. Again, is writer Morgan using this to illustrate what a total wretch Nick is, or does she really plan to make us care about him in some way? I think the 4-parter could work if Veronica gradually learns -- the hard way -- that Nick is no good. That would be a very capitvating, hard-hitting "teen" story. But if he becomes one of those "hoodlums with a heart of gold" that messes up Ronnie's life 5 ways to Sunday only to be taken back again and again -- it's time to put that tired old cliche to rest.
Interestingly, the last cover of the series features Betty with Nick. I'm hoping it's just a ruse by Responsible Betty to get Nick out of her life once and for all.
As for my final verdict on the "New Look" Betty & Veronica -- it's an interesting idea, but I don't think I'd want to live there. The Bob Montana/Dan DeCarlo look gives "Archie" its unique & iconic pop-cultural currency. Ultimately, through book sales as well as licensing, it is worth more to the publisher than any experiment.
But also, I wouldn't give a girl under the age of 12 a copy of "Bad Boy Trouble" to read. What I always liked about "Archie Classic" was its inherent "all ages" quality. Unlike many contemporary superhero comics, I wouldn't have to think twice about handing "Betty & Veronica" or "Jughead's Jokes" to an 8-year old. But I don't want to let Nick St. Clair or the faux-Veronica's apparent lack of common sense anywhere near my theoretical rugrat.