New To You Comics #123: ‘Tis The Season For `Happy Horror Days’
by Tom Smithyman
New To You Comics gets into the spirit of the holidays this week with Happy Horror Days, a one-shot from Archie Comics. It’s a new book, so whatever! Tony and I are each reading it for the first time.
The oversized one-shot is broken down into three stories, each of them exploring the horrors of the holiday season with some familiar characters. We’ll examine each of them then give you our overall impressions of the whole book.
Tom Smithyman: Let me start by saying that I haven’t read an Archie comic book in decades. I know most of the characters at a high level (and my wife and daughter are hooked on the CW’s Riverdale TV show), but beyond that, I’m pretty clueless. So when Jughead – who looked a lot more attractive than I remember him being way back when – casually talks about turning into a werewolf in the first story, I was more than a little confused. But hey, I went with it.
Tony Thornley: Tom, we need to cover Afterlife with Archie. Brendan and I covered it once with David Pepose, but it’s one of my favorites. Or maybe we can do Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I’ve never read that one. But werewolf Jughead and Betty the Monster Slayer are out of Jughead the Hunger, which I enjoyed but haven’t revisited.
Tom: Clearly the horror subdivision of Archie Comics is its own thing. I figure if DC and Marvel can have their multiverses, who am I to say that Archie can’t. And I have to say, I really enjoyed the first story, appropriately called ‘Twas the Night Before the Hunger. In it, Jughead explains to a fully armed Betty and Archie how his werewolf other self once fought Krampus, the anti-Santa who scare the crap out of kids who have misbehaved.
Given that the story is written by Frank Tieri, you expect it to be irreverently hilarious. And it is. With a foul mouth and a sidearm strapped to her side, Betty is a far cry from the girl next door. And Archie looks to be fresh out of Oliver Stone’s Platoon, struggling to carry a ridiculously huge gun. I thought artist Joe Eisma did a great job of capturing the essence of these characters in the first few pages.
Tony: I didn’t love this one. It was silly and irreverent which was good, but my goodness it was slight. Krampus showed up out of nowhere, had no dialogue, then werewolf Jughead ate him. I’m guessing that was because of the limited page count Tieri had, but in that case, cut the superfluous Archie and Betty stuff and just do an extended version of the Jughead/Krampus fight.
Eisma’s art was great though. I always like his stuff, and he gives the characters so much personality. Matt Herms brought a TON to the story with his color art too. In my opinion, this story was a win on the art, but a stumble on the story. The art is strong enough though that I still think it’s worth it.
Tom: I wasn’t as taken with the second story, Cat Got Your Tongue, deals with the Icelandic holiday tradition of the Yule Cat. This Jólakötturinn lurks around the towns and eats those who have not received new clothes before Christmas Eve. (Hey, it’s dark most of that time of the year in Iceland; they have to do something!)
Sheila Wu takes it upon herself to sew new clothes for the townspeople (why she and some other Archie characters are in Iceland and not Riverdale is an unexplained mystery). But nasty Reggie, Veronica and crew bully her constantly. In this story by writer Joanne Starer and artist Butch Mapa, the nasty teens eventually get what’s coming to them. It just wasn’t really my cup of tea.
Tony: I have a family connection to Iceland, so I think one struck me a lot better. It is weird that the characters were inexplicably Icelandic in this story, but I thought it was creepy and moody. I always love Twilight Zone-style cosmic karma twists. This is another one that the colors did a TON of work on. Glenn Whitmore uses bright colors set against gloomy greys to punctuate what Mapa is building with his layouts.
I dug this one a lot, but I can absolutely understand it not being everyone’s cup of tea.
Tom: Tony, do you want to describe the final story, Wrath of the Sugar Plum Fairy?
Tony: Reggie Mantle is an asshole, especially to women. So when he pushes it a little too far, some Christmas magic becomes karmic payback. In short, Reggie’s new girlfriend is not what she seems.
I liked this one, but it has the same problem the first story had – it was too short. I would have loved to have seen Candy, the Christmas homunculus, develop her relationship with Reggie a big more. See him mistreating her, while she clearly schemes against him, that sort of thing. I think Joe Corallo’s script is solid and I really enjoy Patrick Piazzalunga and Whitmore’s work on the art.I did however love the gruesome twist ending! It’s fun but again gets hampered by the brevity.
Tom: I like Piazzalunga’s art in this one better than the story from Corallo. Corallo didn’t have a lot of pages to work with, but the story seems a little too familiar: bad things happen to bad people. I also thought that it was too close in tone to the previous tale. Maybe it would have had more impact if they had separated the second two stories with the Krampus one. Or maybe it just wasn’t all that great!
So Tony, what did you think overall?
Tony: I liked it overall, but they needed maybe 10 to 15 more pages (total) to give the stories some room to breathe, the lead story in particular. I think with that, this would have been a lot more fun.
Tom: I’ll admit, it certainly wasn’t what I expected. But as you’ve said in the past, that’s why we do this column. Since I never would have picked up the book under ordinary circumstances, I would have been completely ignorant to the whole Archie Horror thing. I didn’t love all the stories, but I do love learning and stepping outside of my comfort zone.
Tony, what do you and Scott have in store for us to cap off 2022?
Tony: We are going to close the year with one of my favorites of the past 12 months, Marvel’s ever loving blue-eyed superstar The Thing by Walter Mosely, Tom Reilly and Jordie Bellaire!