In the wake of a creative Renaissance at Archie Comics (with significant contribution from Dark Horse) comes “Archie Vs Predator,” written by Alex de Campi with pencils by Fernando Ruiz, inks by Rich Koslowski, colors by Jason Millet, and letters by John Workman. You can probably guess by the title alone that it’s absolutely insane. But how crazy is it really? Is it good?
Archie vs. Predator (Archie Comics)
It’s difficult to avoid comparisons between AVP (not to be confused with Alien vs. Predator, that other AVP) and the classic Archie Meets the Punisher. Both bring together characters and fictional universes that are completely disparate in just about every way, from tone to age appropriateness. Both demonstrate a keen understanding of what makes the properties great.
Yet here’s the key difference: in Archie Meets the Punisher, Riverdale pretty much remains as innocent as ever even as the Punisher hunts for a killer that bears an eerie resemblance to America’s Typical Teenager. In AVP, though, the iconic characters retain most of what makes them who they are, yet the presence of this new threat almost instantly unleashes an edgier, more sinister look at Riverdale.
Although none of the characters become aware of the Predator’s presence until the second of the miniseries’ four issues, it becomes clear long before that that something is wrong with the characters that countless readers have grown to love, even beyond Jughead’s impossible metabolism and Archie’s good-to-have problem of having to choose between two beautiful girls that love him (for God’s sake, Archie, just choose Betty! Betty!).
The comic begins with events that wouldn’t be out-of-place in any other Archie comic: Jughead wins a vacation to a tropical paradise, so the kids head off to the island for Spring Break. Yet even before the Predator shows up, it becomes clear that this is a much different look at the same characters that we’ve grown to love. Nobody ever curses, but the sexual undertones (which have never been too far-removed from the Archie universe) start bubbling up to the surface, with innuendos that only a young child (who should NOT be reading this comic) would misunderstand.
“No chick could resist the Regster,” Reggie says. “I’m a gosh-darn sexual Tyrannosaur!”
Let’s all pause for a moment to appreciate what Alex de Campi does here. The use of the word “sexual” immediately sticks out, because I’d be surprised if there were any other time when an Archie comic (at least outside of Afterlife with Archie, which I only read the first issue of) actually used a variation of the word “sex.” Yet this is still a world where no character, even one as boorish as Reggie, wouldn’t dare say “Goddamn.” Swear words simply don’t exist in de Campi’s vision of the Archie Universe, thus retaining some semblance of wholesomeness even as that world becomes infected by explicit sexual references (though there are no depictions of actual sex, so look elsewhere if you’re hoping to find cartoon teenagers doing it) and much, much more explicit violence.
Anyway, Jughead replies to Reggie with “Tiny appendages, very noisy, and headed for extinction? Sounds about right.” Which is great.
Later in the first issue, after a fashion contest goes terribly wrong, a bloodied, tattered Betty invokes a curse upon Cheryl and Veronica that brings the Predator to Riverdale. And that’s when Archie vs. Predator becomes straight-up slasher-horror.
This book is relentlessly violent, and none of your favorite characters are safe from having their skulls turned into one of the Predator’s trophies. It’s appropriately shocking. Granted, the bloodshed eventually becomes about as predictable as any other slasher, but readers with a certain sense of humor will get a perverse pleasure from seeing characters from a comic that has a reputation for being so squeaky-clean get mutilated.
Part of what makes this work so brilliantly is that AVP is drawn in the usual Archie house style, pretty much identical to what you’d find in the Betty and Veronica digests at the supermarket. Fernando Ruiz draws this book exactly as he would any other main-line Archie book before the relaunch, retaining that clean-lined, charming look even as characters are getting their spines ripped out. Inker Rich Koslowski plays along with thick, rich lines, as does Jason Millet, who provides the same bright, simple colors that you would expect from an Archie book, while letting hints of darkness in ever-so-slightly. Handwritten lettering is provided by John Workman, one of the best letterers in comics, with penmanship that is distinctive without ever being distracting. Plus, Workman still does the best sound effects in comics.
The central joke of Archie vs. Predator can get a bit stale at times, but every time you start feeling tempted to put the book down, de Campi and company throw something unexpected and brilliant at you that forces you to pick the book right back up. De Campi has said that there were things that Archie would not let her do, and given the amount that they did let her get away with, one could only imagine what she originally had in mind.
This hardcover edition features an introduction by Archie Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, an afterword by Dark Horse editor Brendan Wright, plenty of bonus art (including a host of awesome variant covers), and four two-page short features that served as backups in the original, individual issues that crossover Archie with various other Dark Horse properties. The backups didn’t do much for me, but if you’re a fan of Hellboy, Itty Bitty Mask, Finder, or Mind MGMT, you might get a kick out of them. Either way, the bonus content here tends to be more interesting than what you’d usually find in trade editions of serialized comics.
Is It Good?
Does a comic called Archie vs. Predator sound like something you’d want to read? If not, this comic won’t do anything to change your mind. But if you’re the kind of weirdo that loves Archie comics but is intrigued by the idea of seeing all of those characters get murdered, this book is a hoot.