ARCHIE #3 gloriously hits its stride in a tight, clean story that gives everyone a moment to shine.

ARCHIE #3 by Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Andre Szymanowicz, Jen Vaughn, and Jack Morelli.

It’s Veronica’s first day at school. Those are tough for everyone, but apparently it’s especially tough for… Archie?

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ARCHIE seems to have decided that the rules of its world and narrative will be dictated by the needs of its story. That, to me, is an excellent decision, as it pays off in dividends in this issue. The world is particularly wacky, but never does it feel forced. Characters’ actions may seem extreme, but even at this point the characterization has been so strong that those actions read as just absurd extensions of said characters rather than completely out of them.

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I’m not quite sure if the issue could get away with it all if it weren’t so well-executed. The frantic pace is jammed to a halt by a reaction shot, or a single joke is constructed perfectly over a set of panels, or the words are stripped away at just the right time to let the images speak for themselves–not a single thing happens that doesn’t contribute in some meaningful way to enjoying this story.

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And that’s what you should do. That’s clearly what ARCHIE’s game is. It wants to entertain but, despite its tone, it takes that seriously. The story and humor may veer into both the absurd and the slapstick, but it’s always grounded in undeniably believable context. Archie’s desperately trying to move on; Jughead’s looking out for his friend; Veronica struggles out of her comfort zone; Betty (who again gets the best arc of the issue) wants to be cool and aloof but is too damn good a person to let Veronica’s day become a complete disaster. All these wants are demonstrated so clearly–through their facial expressions, through their reactions, through the specific emphasis they put on words–that what unfolds throughout the issue is the purest form of drama.

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It’s light and entertaining drama, but drama nonetheless. Again, don’t confuse “light” with “insignificant”. There’s a great message in ARCHIE #3 about the lengths we’ll go to to be okay, about the lies we’ll concoct, about the angles at which we’ll bend to see the world the way we want it to. For someone like Archie that means diving headfirst into something new so you can’t think about the old; for someone like… well, everyone else, that means rejecting the new so strongly because you’re afraid or just not ready to let go of the old. It’s a struggle as potent for teenagers in high school as it is for everyone else, and that’s ARCHIE’s strength.

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It may look cartoony and silly and bend the rules of logic and reality, but that’s because ARCHIE’s got a big, beating heart that can’t be contained by normal rules. I guarantee anyone who reads ARCHIE #3 will find some moment to point at and scream, “YES! I’VE BEEN THERE!” Which is why everyone should read it.

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