Comics – More Than Meets the Eye: Rise of the Short Kings!

Archie's-Valentine's-Spectacular-2023Writer: Jamie. L. Rotante
Pencils: Holly G!
Inks: Jim Amash
Colors: Glenn Whitmore
Letters: Jack Morelli
Original Publication: Archie’s Valentine’s Spectacular, No. #1*
On-Sale Date: February 1, 2023
Length: 5

*This is an annual publication. As with all of the various floppies that Archie Comics puts out these days, it’s issue #1 every time, because fuck sequential numbering at this point.

I was debating whether to even review this story. I was eagerly anticipating it, because the character that was being introduced seemed interesting. However, as I read the story, I grew increasingly frustrated by it. I’ve never cooled on a story so fast. Ultimately, though, I’ve decided to review it, if only because it perfectly illustrates precisely what is wrong with Archie Comics these days.

This story is notable for being Holly Golightly’s second new work for Archie Comics after being away for around two decades (the first was a completely disposable story involving Jughead and Ms. Beazley). So it’s nice to see her back, at least.

Anyway, let’s get into it:

At the Valentine’s Spectacular Dance (what an original name), Archie, Reggie, Moose, and Jughead take an interest in Cassie Cloud, a girl with long light blonde hair (the lower part of which is dyed a light blue) and brown eyes. Cassie’s outfit is…quite something. She’s wearing orange pants, an orange sweatshirt (with a flower on the right sleeve), a purple T-shirt (with various flowers, a heart, and a sun on it) on top of her orange sweatshirt, a purple scrunchie with dark pink hearts, and white socks with pink hearts on them. Archie compliments her dancing. Jamie Cassie quickly makes a tall joke. Because she’s tall, you see. Not quite as tall as Moose but certainly taller than the other guys (although by how much varies from panel to panel).

An angry Midge asks Ethel who the fuck she is. An angry Ethel explains she’s Cassie Cloud, and she just transferred here from Centerville. I’m not all too knowledgeable about Archieverse geography. Is Centerville where Central High is located? Anyway, Archie tells Cassie: “It’s cool how you can dance without bumping into people.” What a dick. Reggie calls himself “the real arbiter of what’s cool at Riverdale” and says Cassie passes “the test”. Cassie doesn’t know what to make of that. Just ignore him, Cass. Jughead correctly guesses Cassie’s perfume is snickerdoodle scented. Snickerdoodle is Cassie’s favorite type of cookie (she makes a “killer batch” of them). Moose exposits how Cassie scored three touchdowns for the girls’ football team yesterday and asks her to give him pointers. She says maybe some other time and walks away. If she just transferred to Riverdale High, how has she already joined the football team and played in a game? Speaking of girls’ football, though, kudos to this story for doing something timely. On her way out, a random boy asks Cassie to dance with him. A black beanie-wearing girl (who probably isn’t Nancy) says he doesn’t even go here. So this dance is being held in the Riverdale High School gym. Betty’s confused over why Cassie doesn’t seem interested. Veronica, Midge, and Ethel are angry at the guys for having boners for Cassie, and Ronnie decides they should “do a little research”. Omigoddess, stay out of it, bitch; it’s none of your fucking business.

They follow Cassie to the cafeteria. An angry Ethel guesses it’s to make snickerdoodles for “[her] Juggy”. He’s not interested in you, you cunt; get over it. Anyway, it turns out that Cassie is playing a Dungeons & Dragons knockoff called Kings Rise, which was created by a nerd named Randolph, one in a group of Z-list characters that Cassie is playing with, the others being Simon and Toño. Raj and Dilton are the better-known members of the group. Apparently, Randolph has been working on Kings Rise for years; it’s a “labor of love”. Cassie finds that “so inspiring”. The Bitch Squad interrupts. Casse is happy to see them, but Ronnie demands to know why the fuck Cassie is hanging out with nerds. An angry Cassie says she’s a nerd, too. She explains, on Friday nights, they usually play Randolph’s tabletop game at Pep Comics, but the group was kind enough to move it here tonight, so Cassie could go to the dance, too.

As the rest of the group leaves, Ronnie holds Cassie back (fucking rude) and asks if she really enjoys playing with these guys. Cassie says they’re great. Dilton is smart and the best dancer that she’s ever seen. Betty’s been practicing “that dance” all week. Here’s a big problem: they’re drawn as floating heads looking at drawings of Dilton dancing. How does Betty know what, specifically, Cassie is talking about? Anyway, Cassie says Raj has such a love of film and can find the beauty in anything. Midge remembers how “poignant” that his short for the Riverdale Film Fest was. Is Riverdale really big enough to have its own film festival? Cassie says Toño makes the best fajitas that she’s ever had in her life. Ethel says fajitas are her favorite. Cassie says Simon can seem “rough around the edges”, but he always has the backs of the people that he cares about and only goes after bullies (Reggie being an example). Ronnie admits she’s even been impressed by some of his pranks. Cassie says Randolph is charming, witty, and “such a gentleman”.

“The next morning”, at school (wait, this is Saturday!), Cassie is hanging with her group in the hallway. She talks about a split that Dilton did. Dilton says his mom is still mending his pants. Ethel compliments Raj’s hair. Ronnie compliments Simon’s new “chic” glasses. Neither girl says it to their faces. Archie invites Betty to walk to math class with him. She doesn’t reply. Moose tells Midge that her mom said she walked to school today and asks her why she didn’t want to drive with him. Rather than answer his question, Midge says she’s going to sign up for film as an elective (keep in mind that they’re already deep into the spring semester at this point). Jughead tells Ethel that she didn’t bring in her Valentine’s Day cupcakes and asks her if everything is okay. She doesn’t reply. Reggie sees Cassie walking arm-in-arm with Simon and asks what she sees in that nerd. As Ronnie, Midge, Ethel, and Betty walk away, Ronnie says it’s what’s inside that counts, leaving the guys confused.

This story was so disappointing. I was looking forward to this cool new character. While we do get a few facts about Cassie, a lot of the story is taken up by her (and the other female characters) talking about the lesser-known, “nerdy” male characters.

On top of that, it’s been cool to be nerdy for well over a decade now (at the very latest, since Iron Man heralded the start of the MCU in 2008). Critical Role started nearly eight years ago and features professional actors playing Dungeons & Dragons. I hear coworkers discussing tabletop RPGs and video games in the break room at work, and some of them don’t even look like “nerds” but rather more like redneck types.

The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019) had been accused of perpetuating outdated stereotypes of nerds while it was on, and here’s Archie Comics doing the same thing four years later. Even Archie’s Weird Mysteries did an episode where Archie learned the ignored outcast characters had something to offer, and that episode came out in early 2000. This story would make sense as a “teachable moment” in 1993, not 2023.

That illustrates the biggest problem with Archie Comics: they’re constantly behind the times, and they’re desperately trying to be seen as relevant. When they’re not suddenly re-introducing long-abandoned superhero and detective characters for whatever fucking reason (possibly just to trademark them, so they can offer them up to film and TV studios for non-comic adaptations), they’re introducing new characters that fill some kind of niche, most of whom henceforth won’t get nearly as much to do as in their initial appearance.

Current example: Cassie Cloud, tall nerdy girl. Her name is Cloud, because her head is in the clouds. Because she’s tall. Get it? Her height isn’t even brought up beyond the second page, though, and she doesn’t get teased about it, so why bring it up as an issue at all? Just watch Tall Girl and Tall Girl 2.

This story was hyped so much (while is understandable, considering “new character” is what passes for “events” in the Archieverse these days), so it’s so disappointing to see it completely miss the mark.

Whatever. I’m off to buy some fajitas and snickerdoodle cookies and have a celebration. Welcome to Riverdale, Cassie Cloud. Here’s to you.

Author: markmooreauthor

I love watching anime and superhero movies, and I love playing video games. I also write fan fiction and original fiction.

2 thoughts on “Comics – More Than Meets the Eye: Rise of the Short Kings!”

  1. Hasn’t that always been the company’s issue for a few decades now, that they been behind the times? I always assumed that’s one of the reasons why most comic shops don’t carry them anymore (unless it’s the current one shots and occasional digest; at least in my area). That’s pretty much the main reason people loved the reboot title; it was seen a refreshing and long awaited breath of fresh air.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Archie Comics can afford to publish any ongoing series or even miniseries anymore, just occasional one-shots. And we haven’t had direct market sales figures since April of last year, so we have no way of knowing how well that any one-shots that they do release are doing. And they haven’t published circulation figures for the digests in years. It’s anyone’s guess how they’re doing, but my guess is “worse than the latest figures available”. Brian Hibbs does yearly comics sales charts based on the BookScan data, which claimes to capture at least 85% of bookstore sales in North America (including Amazon). I asked Hibbs about Archie, and he said, in 2021, the best-selling Archie book sold “well below” 3,000 copies.

      Liked by 1 person

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