New To You Comics: Riverdale Meets Sunnydale In ‘Vampironica’
by Tony Thornley
With the comics industry slowly returning from the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are taking the opportunity to introduce each other to comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This time around we take a look at a horror twist on a comics classic!
Several years ago, the Archie Horror line was born when Afterlife with Archie became a huge hit. The line hit pause for a few years, but returned relatively recently with a slew of new titles. One of those was Vampironica by Greg Smallwood, Meg Smallwood, Greg Scott, Jack Morelli, and Matt Herms.
When a powerful master vampire invades Riverdale, Veronica Lodge finds herself transformed into a vampire herself. Now, alongside her Archiekins and Dilton Doiley, Veronica is in a race against time to stop the vampires. And considering it’s Ronnie, she’s going to have to look great doing it too!
Tony Thornley: So I was torn on this entry, whether we should do Afterlife with Archie or this book. You’ve read some past Archie Horror and liked it, if I remember right. I have really loved this entire line. I haven’t read all of it, but there isn’t any part of the Archie Horror that I’ve read and didn’t like. I ended up settling on this one because this is my favorite of the bunch. And I have to say upfront, it’s absolutely because of the art. This is a STUNNING book.
Brendan Allen: It really is. I appreciated the art quite a bit. There’s plenty of the classic Archie house style, but it’s also sort of updated and fresh.
TT: Yeah, this is a Buffy style “girl meets vampire” book, but I’m really impressed by how much the Smallwoods keep the classic feel of an Archie book in here. It doesn’t feel like a Double Digest but we got a lot of the hallmarks of the publisher’s stories and themes. That’s to the credit of the art AND story I think.
BA: It is probably the most wholesome horror story I’ve ever read, though. Vampires and killing and whatnot, but it doesn’t ever really feel like we’ve left Riverdale. Even when Ronnie is stabbing fools in the neck with pencils or driving a stake into a vampire chest, it’s like, aw…
TT: Hah! I don’t entirely disagree, but I don’t think I’d call it wholesome. I mean, this is a very PG-13 book, but it never pushes the limits there. There’s a few creature moments that are mildly graphic (though I don’t think it’s anything you wouldn’t see on network TV), but it’s a great “soft” horror story for a young teenager.
BA: Yeah, I guess. I’d probably put this one on All Ages. The nature of the thing definitely appeals to the Middle Reader set, but there’s still that appeal to people my age and older for the nostalgic feels. And there’s nothing in here I wouldn’t show my 7 year old, either. He’s already pretty well versed in vampire lore. I don’t know where he gets it. Wife, probably.
TT: The Smallwoods tell a story that feels like standard vampire stuff (a little bit Salem’s Lot, a little bit Buffy). I think the thing that sets it apart is that character work. It’s very much set in a modern version of Riverdale- more like the Mark Waid comics reboot than the TV show- so the characters feel like real human beings instead of the broad caricatures of classic Archie comics.
I also think it’s at its strongest when Ronnie has someone to interact with- Archie, Betty, Reggie, or even Dilton. I liked that part of it a lot. But it doesn’t skimp on the action.
BA: That’s fair. Everyone does feel like natural extensions of the original characters, though. There’s no point where I was taken out of the thing by someone acting out of character. It all flows really well.
TT: For sure. For having the “Archie Horror” branding, I think it’s a bit more of a character-driven action book with some horror elements and spooky moments than a scary book.
BA: You did mention Buffy. It’s that same kind of feel. Horror, sure. But more focused on the kids and their relationships than anything else.
TT: Exactly, and that’s a strength of the story. But let’s go back to that art. So we get Greg Smallwood doing the line art and coloring for the first three issues, then Greg Scott and Matt Herms step in for the conclusion. There is no doubt that Smallwood’s work is stunning. He has a photo-real style that still has a great sense of motion and action. His characters have a ton of personality, and like you said, he evokes the classic Archie style without copying or imitating it.
Meanwhile, Scott and Herms’ issues are still very good, but they aren’t quite as strong. It’s honestly a bit of a change that disappointed me a little, but only in comparison to the opening acts. If they had drawn and colored the whole thing, I think it still would have been pretty great.
BA: I’m sure it’s a slick digital effect, but I liked how the lines were grainy, like actual pencil leads or charcoal or something. It added to that photo-real sense, while not really deviating at all from the classic character designs.
I honestly didn’t notice the art team tag out. Now, I’m going to have to go back and see where that happens.
TT: Yeah, they’re a great team on their own, but when compared to someone like Smallwood…
Anyways, I like this book a lot. It’s fun, spooky and full of vampire versus vampire action! What did you think in the end?
BA: You know, it’s a really safe choice. I did enjoy it, kind of in the way I enjoy reading Goosebumps with my kids. There’s some real tension, and some really kind of scary things that come up, but at no point do you think anything really dangerous is going to happen to any of the principals. Veronica really could have eaten Dilton toward the beginning there, and I would have thought the same.
TT: Maybe a little while down the road we should look at Jughead The Hunger, because it’s WAY more brutal than this. So what do we have next?
BA: Still on the October horror theme, we’re going back to the well with another Cullen Bunn joint, BOOM! Studios’ The Unsound.
Vampironica Book One is available now in single issues and collected editions from Archie Comics, both in print and digital editions.
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