This week, Riverdale #1 arrives, kicking off a series that ties into the CW TV show which has proved quite popular so far. With a murder-mystery spin, and very specific aesthetics like Twin Peaks with a neon-noir angle, the show is causing plenty of fan conversation. So, what can a comic bring to that? Well, ever since the show was announced, folks have been discussing the ways the CW series is or isn’t like its Archie Comics source material. We have a world, Riverdale, and well-known characters like Betty, Veronica, Archie, Jughead, and more, and yet it’s clear that the show is something new and different. The showrunner, however, is also the chief creative officer at Archie, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, which means the publisher is keeping an eye on how the two relate to each other.
And this week, a comic brings those two worlds together. The events in this line of comics will be set “between” the episodes of the show that we’ve now watched. This week’s #1 issue is set just before the first episode, and merging into moments off-camera and on-camera we’ll recognize from the show. The question is, does this add substantially to our understanding of this world and these characters, or is it just a lighter way to revisit the Riverdale of the TV show? The comic is also written by the show writers, Will Ewing, and Michael Grassi, so this would be an opportunity to fill out the world as we know it more fully.
This comic focuses on “Hell Week” for both Archie and Betty for the most part, with Archie being hazed as he joins Varsity football, and Betty receiving something of the same treatment in order to join the River Vixens as a cheerleader. In both cases, the experiences these two endure are surprisingly harsh, a little dangerous, and show their relationships and connections to their friends.
In Betty’s case, we even get a childhood flashback. The high school world these characters inhabit is shown to be more expansive than we might yet know from the show, and also reveals a darker undercurrent of what kids get up to when they have authority over each other–a little Lord of the Flies in flavor. And yet this is hardly fantasy–these experiences seem all too real in many ways, even if they are turned up a notch to heighten the drama. The show, too, keeps at least one foot firmly planted in reality to encourage you to suspend disbelief in bigger ways when necessary.
My biggest takeaway from reading the comic is that Riverdale is darker under the surface than I thought, and that’s partly due to characters who we knew had dark sides, like Cheryl Blossom, but it’s also that the assumed status quo, and the things the citizens accept as natural are a little more Darwinian and predatory than I quite recognized before. So, for that reason, I’d say that yes, the Riverdale #1 has expanded my understanding of the show.
The artwork by Joe Eisma and Andre Szymanowicz is also high quality, drawing on likenesses from the show without overly focusing on photo realism, and no doubt as the comic continues we’ll become even more familiar with the art world of Riverdale. The colors on the series so far are not the same rich contrasts as the lighting provided in the show, but that’s a refreshing thing. If the comic were exactly like the TV show, we might feel it was just an extension of the show. Instead we are encountering a world created by Archie Comics that exists alongside the show with a certain interesting permeability between them. I look forward to checking out Riverdale #2 on May 3rd.
Riverdale #1 is out in shops today, Wednesday, April 5th, and Riverdale airs on the CW on Thursday nights.