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Review: ‘Betty & Veronica: Senior Year’

Betty & Veronica: Senior Year
Writer: Jamie Lee Rotante
Artist: Sandra Lanz
Archie Comics; $14.99
Rated Teen

The eternal youth of the kids of Riverdale High School has kept them ever-relevant to generation after generation of young comics readers, but it has also precluded certain kinds of stories: Stories about Archie and friends as grown-ups, for example, or, more interestingly, about Archie and friends growing up.

For the last decade or so, however, Archie Comics has been finding different ways to break their self-imposed rules, and while we have long since gotten comics about the kids as grown-ups, we haven’t really gotten a real coming-of-age story. At least, not until Jamie Lee Rotante and Sandra Lanz’s Betty & Veronica: Senior Year.

In the special miniseries-turned-graphic novel, the creators chronicle the one year that the trapped-in-amber high schoolers can never completely experience in the regular comics. Beginning at the end of the summer before their senior year, when best friends Betty and Veronica are reminiscing about how close they became in the previous few months, and how they are somewhat anxiously looking forward to where they will be in a year’s time.

So the girls make a two-part pact: They pinkie promise that they will try to find a college that they can both attend together, and that they will never let a boy come between them, “Especially a certain ginger who shall not be named.”

From there, the remainder of the comic finds those promises repeatedly challenged over the next four seasons, as each of the five issues/chapters takes a couple of weeks or months: From the end of summer to fall to winter to spring to the beginning of the next summer.

The girls do mainly stick to their promise not to let Archie Andrews come between them, and while the character the publisher is named after plays a role in the comic, and even a part in one of the misunderstandings between the girls, his is a relatively small role, and this comic breaks quite sharply from Betty and Veronica’s 80-year war for his attention and affection. Like the other Riverdalians, he’s a supporting character in their story, but the boy who plays the biggest romantic role is, oddly enough, Reggie, who has just broken up with Betty at the beginning of the book.

No longer defined by their romantic rivalry, the girls instead run a gauntlet of challenges that will be familiar to most teenagers: Being singled out and attacked in different ways at a college party, spreading themselves too thin, trying to live up to their parents’ expectations, worrying about the mortality of older relatives and, because as different as this might be from the norm it’s still an Archie comic, misunderstandings about who has a crush on who and who is pursuing who.

Below these more dramatic episodes, Rotante keeps the plot simmering with the the girls’ uncertainty about what they want to do with their lives after high school, and where they want to go to college; specifically, how they can be true to themselves without betraying one another. As the seasons change, they have various blow-ups that drive them apart, but they always drift back together, as friendships, like any relationship, get tested. And when you’re a teenager, they get tested a lot.

The style of artwork on Senior Year is, in its way, as big a departure from the norm of Archie Comics as the premise of the series is. While the publisher has long deviated from their older house style, with different artists bringing much more of their own style into defining the characters and their world, Lanz’s artwork is quite realistic. The features and expressions of individual characters appear quite simple, giving them a somewhat soft focus and vague quality, but the figures and their posing all look so representational that there’s a feel of photography about individual panels.

Essentially, it looks like the old house style, if you could somehow extract the cartooning elements out of it and replaced them with realism. There’s something almost yearbook-esque about Lanz’s art, and while it’s not my personal favorite of the many styles on display at Archie Comics these days, it’s certainly appropriate for this particular story.

As Archie Comics departures go, Senior Year isn’t nearly as colorful as some, like those in which Betty and Veronica contend with the supernatural or are themselves supernatural or, say, lead a biker gang (as in Rotante’s previous Archie comic, Betty and Veronica: Vixens), but it’s definitely much easier to relate to.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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