Here's another fine volume in the Library of American Comics series from IDW. Our hats are off to its creative director, industry veteran, Dean Mullaney, and his crack team. Bob Montana was the Jack Kirby of the Archie Universe, creating the visual and situational template that has endured for nearly 70 years. His work on these strips is absolutely outstanding and it probably represents his career high as an artist; leading to the conclusion that he must have been pretty pumped about appearing in the newspapers. The strip is built from the ground up on the assumption that a significant number of the strip's readership would be unfamiliar with the comic book appearances of the freckled teen and his gang and so have the added value of providing a sort of "origin of Archie." The big surprise reading this sumptuous, oversize 300+ page horizontally formatted, hardcover volume is how good they are! These are really great comics, that pretty much do it all: in addition to the expected gags, teen antics and domestic humor, there are stretches wherein these classic Archie facets are integrated into Roy Crane inspired serial adventures. This volume is really worth celebrating in that – believe it or not – this is the very first time these strips have ever been collected, and so will be – finally – getting the notice they deserve. The level of artistry on display in these strips will go a long way towards solving the riddle of Archie's longevity: he got off to a great start (and, it is worth noting here, Bob Montana shared his studio during these years with the greatest of all Archie artists, Harry Lucey, who obviously was inspired by Montana's work).
Finally, Dark Horse has put out a classic comics reprint edition that gets it right with paper stock and reproduction. This attractively put together hardcover collection of Archie "firsts" – appearances and issues – is printed in bold colors on flat, non-reflective off-white stock that is a pleasure to read. Here are the first appearances of Archie, Betty, Jughead and Mr. and Mrs. Andrews from Pep Comics #22, followed by the premiere issues of Archie Comics, Archie's Girls Betty & Veronica, Archie's Pal Jughead, and Archie's Rival Reggie, along with a bonus in the form of Reggie's first appearance in Jackpot Comics #5. However, Dark Horse has apparently acceded to the Archie Comics Co. aversion to giving credit where credit is due, evidenced by the lack of any attempt to provide credit listings beyond those of the cover artists of the four number one issues; and God forbid they should actually make an attempt to provide some biographical information and background on these historically important works. Luckily for us, Montana, Frese and Bloom did not shy away from signing much of their work, and in these halcyon days, The Archie Comics Co. did not prevent them from doing so. This volume is an intro lead-in volume to a projected series of Archie Comics Archives, and we here at Copacetic sincerely hope that Mike Richardson & Co. can manage to lift the veil of ignorance that is casting a pall over everything related to the classic Archie Comics catalogue.
While this 400 page digest size volume most certainly does not live up to its title, it is the best anthology Archie Comics has managed to publish in as long as we can remember – and possibly ever, considering how poor their track record is in this particular department – and it is especially significant in that the publishers have finally recognized the bare minimum of their responsibility to the people who built their business and has in this book published artist and writer credits for all the stories. Beginning in 1941 with the very first Archie story by Bob Montana and Vic Bloom from Pep Comics #22, The Best of Archie Comics continues on, decade by decade, through the subsequent seventy years, taking us all the way up to 2011. For us here at Copacetic HQ, the glory days of Archie Comics will always be the 1950s through the early 1970s, when Harry Lucey and Dan DeCarlo ruled the roost, and, for a few years at least, Bob Bolling and Bill Woggon were given free reign on Little Archie and Katy Keene, respectively. There is a generous selection of both Lucey and DeCarlo here, along with what is reputed to be Bolling's own personal favorite Little Archie tale, "The Long Walk," from Little Archie #20, and a modest sampling of Woggon's work, and so we won't hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who would like to be introduced to the world of Archie Comics.