Best Shots Review: VAMPIRONICA #1 'a Gore-geous Debut' (8/10)

"Vampironica #1" preview
Credit: Greg Smallwood (Archie Comics)
Credit: Greg Smallwood (Archie Comics)

Vampironica #1
Written by Greg and Meg Smallwood
Art by Greg Smallwood
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Horror
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Credit: Greg Smallwood (Archie Comics)

Veronica Lodge is treated to a full EC Comics makeover in the beautifully decompressed debut of Vampironica. Helmed by talented siblings Greg and Meg Smallwood, Vampironica finds Riverdale’s richest teen queen turned into a Vampirella-esque hunter of the undead. Like the off-the-wall Riverdale, this debut fully commits to it own wild concept, while still keeping the Archie cast’s core characteristics intact. Though the debut’s story stops right at the moment you really want it to keep going, Vampironica #1 is a gore-geous opening debut for Archie Horror’s latest monstrous spin-off.

It’s party time at the Pembrooke Estates - but what starts with body shots quickly ends in terror as feral vampires crash the festivities and aim to make a Bloody Mary out of Cheryl Blossom. That is… unless Vampironica has anything to say about it! Sporting a kick-ass leather jacket and a wooden stake, Veronica makes the scene just in time to literally slay. Meg and Greg Smallwood certainly have the art of openings down pat, because Vampironica’s is an all-timer. Right from the jump, the pair establish the (ahem) stakes, Veronica’s new avenging undead status quo, and the cheeky tone of the title. Better still, it's a visual feast provided by the heavy inks and moody colors of Greg; a quick, but clean debut action scene that harkens back to his pulpy days on Moon Knight.

Credit: Greg Smallwood (Archie Comics)

That said, after such a dynamic opening, the momentum of this debut can’t help but falter a bit, as the Smallwoods then have to bring their readers up to speed. Backtracking three days, the writers establish Veronica’s status quo as a human, before succumbing to her tragic origin. Though this allows the pair some tried-and-true romantic dynamics between the core Riverdale love triangle, this trip down memory lane makes the whole debut feel a little decompressed. While there’s some juicy bits later on the script, showing one more scene back in the present day - or even a macabre cliffhanger back at Cheryl’s party - would bump this solid debut to the next level.

But that said, the Smallwoods even operating at “pretty good” is still nothing to shake a stake at. The pair’s script gets everyone right and slyly translates them into this spooky new reality, but what really will sell this book is Greg Smallwood’s expressive and moody artwork. Like the script, Greg is sincerely committed to the tone and look of this series, moving from sunny, Norman Rockwell-esque scenes of Ronnie and Betty at cheerleading practice to stylish bloody horror set pieces with ease. Aside from the opening, the issue’s other standout sequence is when Veronica is confronted by a vampire. As she tries to escape her pale-skinned attacker, Greg gets to display a bit of the visceral quality that made his Moon Knight so fun, and gives Vampironica a sudden jolt of very real horror amid its cheekiness. Though the Smallwoods truly leave you wanting more by the time the issue hits its ending, Vampironica is a fun and undeniably beautiful jaunt through a new Archie Horror spookhouse.

Credit: Greg Smallwood (Archie Comics)

She’s beauty! She’s grace! She might literally eat your face! Despite this debut issue’s decompression, Vampironica #1 still feels like a worthwhile read, thanks to its commitment to its novel, darkly delightful premise. Meg and Greg Smallwood might not be showing us their full hand with this opening issue, but they show us just enough to hint that they have some aces up their sleeves for later on.

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