THIS REVIEW OF ‘VAMPIRONICA: NEW BLOOD’ #1 CONTAINS SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Vampironica tried to be Angel/Cordelia with a side of Buffy Summers. Then came an ‘Underworld Riverdale’ with Vampironica and Jug-wolf. Despite the tropey team-up angle of the latter and both series’ revolving door of artists, Jughead: The Hunger vs. Vampironica did a degree of needed weeding from the first Countess Ronnie series. Now Archie Horror has her back for Vampironica: New Blood and their belfry finds balance. The best elements of what’s come before remain, while the storyline as presented in issue #1 is more compelling.
Which means it doesn’t read like a simple reworking of existing, exhausted horror themes. Frank Tieri and Michael Moreci may bring parts of Tieri’s plot threads from J:THvV into the title, and those would for the most part be very good additions. The epilogues of that series left tantalizing glimpses of future developments for heroes in both realities.
In Veronica’s case, that includes a return to her own Riverdale (via multiversal spellcraft) and trying to forge ahead after the blood-soaked events of the first series. That ended with all Strigoi eliminated, either returned to human form or destroyed. Except that Veronica found in her Hunger world exploits this wasn’t entirely accurate. Not for Riverdale at large, and especially not where she was concerned.
Other vampires have also endured, one presenting his true nature almost brazenly to certain Riverdale residents as he embarks on a dark reckoning. Ronnie confronts her parents who confirm that she isn’t a human turned into a vampire, but rather she was born a vampire and one from a powerful bloodline.
Meanwhile that new arrival and fellow vamp Edward Fogarty sets about infiltrating Riverdale High and getting close to the gang. His is a nice nod of a name lift for 1980’s monster kids: A. Edward Fogarty was co-inventor of the bat-shaped and mosquito-shaped Blood Suckers writing pens from 1983. The ones that seemed to fill up with your plasma, the viewable blood-well then draining as you wrote. This Fogarty has more on his agenda than novelty monster pens, however.
The inaugural issue winds down with Ronnie and Dilton Doiley tracking down information on the Lodge family’s progenitor vamp, confronting Fogarty and his blood-sucking minions, and finding an unexpected ally who’s also vampiric. The script by Tieri and Moreci is tight and focused. They know exactly where they’re headed; they don’t impale us with endless horror film references or Archie gang humor, and they introduce enough threads to simulate a sticky, crypt-born cobweb of conundrum.
A noteworthy deviation from previous Vampironica outings is the lack of bloodletting and beloved character deaths—or undeaths. Going for the jugular early and often can be effective, but so is building tension rather than quick body counts. With Tieri and Moreci, danger mounts, threats develop, but with restraint. Their take is still fangy, still fun, but also crafty. It’s a desirable change from what’s already been done.
Welcome carryovers from J:THvV include Veronica’s lingering uncertainty regarding a steamy kiss with were-Jughead of the Other World and a sweet silver-plated sword she must wear gloves to wield. Tieri enjoyed and excelled at scoping the differences between many Riverdale Realities in his crossover. Making the remnants part of this story adds cool cohesion.
Only skill can balance playful and horrific, but Audrey Mok accomplishes it with the first panels. A snarling, terrifying Were-Jug morphs into a Hot Dog so charming, we hear strains of “Sugar, Sugar” in the background. She smoothly shifts gears between those aesthetic opposites several times over the course of the issue. A few panels kindle a Twilight aura. It’s a tale of high school vampires, after all. But when she unleashes the monstrous, it’s a serious horror comic moment with nothing sparkly.
Matt Herms’ colors also morph, between heart of night and noonday lunch break. He provides a dreamlike quality with the coloration on both. Few hues blaze. With her catwalk between realities, vampiric revelation, and furry elbow rubbing with lycanthropes, Ronnie feeling adrift in a dream state—a pending nightmare state—is clever.
Letterer Jack Morelli’s SFX fonts are the most stylish you’ll find in a horror comic. You imagine him getting final Veronica approval for the sound representation when she tosses vampires across the panels. “No, that’s too much and too Munch. Ugh, this one’s so fifteen hundred years ago. This. Yes. An elegant Swoosh. Perfection.”
Much as I wanted to like the first Vampironica run, as much promise as the concept had, as much as Greg Smallwood’s art on the first issues made it a beautiful read, ultimately the series overall didn’t satisfy. This marks a superior re-start.
Archie Horror / Archie Comics / $3.99
Written by Frank Tieri and Michael Moreci.
Art by Audrey Mok.
Colors by Matt Herms.
Letters by Jack Morelli.
7.5 out of 10
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Vampironica: New Blood’ #1, courtesy of Archie Horror!
Cover A by Audrey Mok.
Cover B by Laura Braga.
Cover C by Rebekah Isaacs.
Cover D by Greg Smallwood.
Cover E by Wilfredo Torres.