Best Shots Advance Reviews: ARCHIE #22, PIZZA TREE

Pizza Tree
Credit: Ryan Onorato
Credit: Pete Woods/Jack Morelli (Archie Comics)

Archie #22
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Pete Woods
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“Over the Edge” continues to be an emotionally devastating story for not only victim, Betty Cooper, but the whole town that loves her. Archie #22 highlights Riverdale’s favorite memories of Betty Cooper as the townspeople and the reader wait in suspense for writer, Mark Waid, to reveal the fate of one of Riverdale’s most beloved characters.

Archie #22 focuses on Betty’s parents, Archie, Veronica, and Principal Weatherbee’s relationship with Betty Cooper. Waid picks an interesting diverse amount of characters to give a view of Betty’s impact on Riverdale from different angles - as a daughter, girlfriend, best friend, and student.

In so doing, Waid doesn’t just utilize into a general feeling of concern and sadness, but is able to tap into a much wider spectrum of heartache, finding the same kinds of shades and variation that a painter would find in his palette. Take, for example, a flashback with Betty’s parents, where tension between the two sleep-deprived parents suddenly gives way to accidents and laughter. (“God forbid she finds a boy as clumsy as her daddy,” Mrs. Cooper says, in a nice wink to the accident-prone Archie.)

Meanwhile, Veronica’s flashback to when she first met Betty may be the strongest sequence of the book. After swatting away the “vultures” looking for a piece of the Lodge fortune, Waid is able to make a small moment seem profound, just by having Betty hand Veronica a soda. While many people would see this scene as forgettable, Waid uses it to illustrate Betty’s down-to-Earth goodness - at the end of the day, she doesn’t see Veronica as a rich girl, but as a regular person who just needed a pick-me-up. It shows how a small gesture can go so far to impact a person’s life.

Waid’s longest flashback, featuring Archie and Betty, winds up being the most relaxed, as the scene relies more on Pete Woods’ art. Starting with a comedic scene of a tiny Archie falling off a stone wall again and again, Waid and Woods eventually allow the scene to blossom with a gorgeous two-page spread showing the scope of Archie and Betty becoming childhood friends to a full-blown couple. This montage is filled with fun moments between the two having water gun fights to them holding hands while watching the sunset.

Still, while Woods’ artwork had some strong moments, on the whole it is a weaker aspect for the issue. Woods’ style is solid, but because of its simplicity, it doesn’t always hit all the emotional beats in Waid’s. There are times where facial expressions should be more detailed, especially when the panels aren’t using close-ups for characters. While in general Woods’ style works for this usually bright series, it winds up running counter to the script’s suddenly tense turn.

Archie #22 builds up all the emotion needed for one dramatic reveal that will change Riverdale and Betty’s life forever. This issue showcases one of the most important aspects of Archie - Riverdale as a community - so that when one person suffers the whole town suffers. “Over the Edge” continues to be one of the series’ strongest arcs as it gives permanence to the normally light-hearted world of Archie.

Credit: Ryan Onorato

Pizza Tree OGN
Written by Mark Poulton
Art by Ryan Onorato
Published by Arcana Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

As readers grow up, so does the content of comic books, making it hard to find true all-ages reads on the shelves of your local shop these days. Even comics that are safe for kids to read, devoid of bad language or suggestive art, aren’t necessarily child friendly; pages can be dense and dialogue-heavy, with a vocabulary several reading levels above the actual target audience, with tricky panel layouts that make it hard for a young eye new to comics to follow along. Sure, plenty of adults may read popular "all-ages" titles too, but at what age can a young reader sit down and try out those books unassisted?

There’s an art and exceptional skill to writing books truly geared towards new readers, and that skill is what writer Mark Poulton brings to the table with Pizza Tree, a charming kid-friendly graphic novel perfect for parents to use to introduce their kids to comic books, as Poulton did by collaborating with his own son Chase.

Pizza Tree, debuting this weekend at Comic-Con International: San Diego and available in shops later this summer, follows young Chase Poulton’s efforts to prove to his parents Mark and Chrissy that pizza does in fact grow on trees. With the help of a purloined piece of pepperoni and a stuffed P’thulhu, a Lovecraftian pineapple god, Chase manages to sprout a monstrous tree laden down with tasty pepperoni pizza leaves in the Poulton’s backyard. As could be expected from a tree made of pizza powered by mysterious dark magic, the Poultons’ lives take a dramatic and adventurous turn in a playful, light horror tale in the style of the more comedic end of the Goosebumps spectrum.

Artist Ryan Onorato keeps the art simple and the colors clean and straightforward, using simple orange palettes for daytime scenes and spooky blues at night. The clean, straightforward style, paired with Poulton’s easy panel layouts - usually four to a page, and no more than six - make a visually appealing book perfectly suited to new readers to page through. The characters are engaging and expressive (the thick eyebrows Onorato gives the characters in particular) and the panels are never too littered with details that could distract or misdirect young eyes transitioning from picture-heavy storybooks to a story-heavy book with pictures.

Poulton’s dialogue is always clear and straightforward, with an easy vocabulary that isn’t oversimplified or excessively childish; he finds a solid middle ground between being too challenging for brand new readers or too simple and dull for adults. In turn, the limited dialogue and larger panels give Onorato the freedom to use a large, bold lettering style perfect for kids’ eyes - his “p”s and “d”s are a little tricky in the first few pages, though, making “Poulton” look like “Doulton” until you’re given additional words and context to establish which letter is which. It’s less of a problem later in the book, though - a child will know pizza isn’t “dizza” and “friends” isn’t “frienps.”

Pizza Tree is an engaging and truly all-ages graphic novel that perfectly blends spooky elements with a sweet family tale. Poulton, an experienced children’s book writer, has a keen eye for engaging layouts that keep the book visually interesting without overcomplicating the pages, and Onorato’s bold visual style works well with Poulton’s layouts and the more outlandish elements of the story. For those bold folks trekking out to SDCC this weekend, it’s worth keeping an eye out for Poulton and stopping by, and for any comics fans looking to introduce the medium to the young readers in your lives, this will make a perfect birthday or holiday gift when it hits shops later this year.

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