Dazzling art and gorgeous variant gallery aside, 'Vampironica' is surface-level spoops

Dazzling art and gorgeous variant gallery aside, ‘Vampironica’ is surface-level spoops

Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Vampironica’ #1, out March 14 from Archie Comics.

Cover to 'Vampironica' #1. Art by Greg Smallwood/Archie Comics

Cover to ‘Vampironica’ #1. Art by Greg Smallwood/Archie Comics

By Clyde Hall. In their ongoing reinvention of Riverdale and its residents, the Archie Comics creative staff has placed the quality bar on a pinnacle just shy of low orbit. That standard has carried forth as they’ve explored their horror themes, especially Afterlife with Archie. Their newest ongoing series, Vampironica, poses the dilemma that social butterfly and cheerleader Veronica Lodge would face if she was suddenly turned, no longer just a vampish competitor for the affections of Archie Andrews, but into an actual, hemoglobin-quaffing vampire.

Co-writing brother and sister team Greg and Megan Smallwood spoke in interviews of staying true to the materialistic, individualistic Veronica readers are accustomed to, while exploring vulnerabilities and inner strength brought to the fore by her undead status. I was all set for a first issue hearkening to the fun of Cordelia Chase from Buffy and Angel storylines, embellished with the trademark modern Archie Comics sensibilities and style. I imagined Ronnie coping, amidst the horrific goings-on, with such newfound problems as having to settle for Midnight Madness Sales at her favorite boutiques, and no longer casting reflections in mirrors (its own brand of horror for a fashion-conscious cosmetics connoisseur). Mostly, I had confidence in the Archie track record to exceed any lame expectations I might have as they brought vampirism into their horror comics fold. In that regard, Vampironica #1 fell short of that high-poised bar of excellence.

It’s true, I may have been spoiled by previous Archie horror products that were exemplary in maintaining the characterizations we expect while expanding on them within whatever macabre vein they’re tapping: zombies, lycanthropes, witches. It’s also true that a flood of modern vampire fiction has made readers harder to surprise or delight with fresh approaches to the un-life styles of the dead and arisen. Still, there are problems with this launch.

Of those problems there’s nothing that can’t be overcome as the series unfolds, but they’re present and bog down the works. The book has terrific art by Greg Smallwood. It’s colorful yet shadowed, the rich scarlet of blood ever-present on a well-defined, shadow-dabbled path trod by the Children of the Night. But the layout of panels leaves a lot of blank white space, space that could be used to tell more of the story. Coupled with gorgeous yet dialogue-free panels of blood-sucking vamps and the aftermath of their rampages, this leaves the issue feeling padded and lacking in sufficient detail to fully set up the storyline and its mysteries.

Variant cover to 'Vampironica' #1. Art by Djibril Morissette-Phan/Archie Comics

Variant cover to ‘Vampironica’ #1. Art by Djibril Morissette-Phan/Archie Comics

Yes, vampires have descended on Riverdale. Residents have fallen prey beneath their gnashing fangs. And one of them is our Ronnie, who manages to hold onto enough of her personality, her willpower, to resist becoming a mindless minion of a Big Bad. Past that, the issue relies on an after-story Riverdale Gazette prose article to set up elements of the unfolding vampire infestation that could have been explored and posed in panels. It feels, in the end, like a story that might have cleverly winked at the fans of Twilight, touched upon the Cordelia redemption elements of Angel, and peppered in some of the more mature tropes of True Blood. Instead, it sparks memories of such similar fare without adding much satisfying to the interpretation.

On the plus side, the artwork itself is top-shelf, including the covers. The variants for this and upcoming issues are some of the best the Archie line’s produced so far, and that’s no mean feat. There is a solid section, with details, of the ongoing Betty-Archie-Ronnie romantic triangle and Veronica’s approach to handling competitors on the Field of Amour. The Smallwoods have stated that the series has elements inspired by films like An American Werewolf in London and Fright Night, and the latter especially comes through in this issue with a sharp moment of homage.

That Riverdale Gazette article does present an intriguing history of the town, along with the roots of the vampiric plague afflicting it now. This should be grist for the future storyline, within the comic book pages perhaps instead of a continued Gazette article series. After all, creative flashbacks are a proven storyteller’s friend with tales of immortal, blood-thirsty fiends.

Not every comic book project (or TV show, or movie series) hits the ground in overdrive, and all the elements needed to make Vampironica an equal to the post-Afterlife with Archie line are present. In interviews, the Smallwoods have given a clear, inspired vision of what they want to achieve in their series, a vision they have ample talent to realize. If the creative team can shift things into higher gear as the series continues, there’s no reason this couldn’t become a must-have for the readership reveling in the updated Archie mythos.

Archie Comics/$3.99

Written by Greg and Megan Smallwood.

Art by Greg Smallwood.

Letters by Jack Morelli.

6 out of 10

‘Vampironica’ #1 hits stores March 14.