Growing up, I was always a Betty Cooper kind of girl. There were aspects of Betty that I related to -- both vague and concrete -- especially in her later materializations: her tomboyish propensity, her socially conscious nature, and the fact that she was a member of the Archies (let's just say I had an ill-fated run in a rock band or two myself). In retrospect, however, I'm not entirely sure that my alliance with the fictive Betty was wholly based on her character; it might have largely been my aversion to Veronica Lodge.
In previous iterations of her character, Veronica reminded me of a typical middle-to-high school mean girl: an upper class snob, elitist and shallow. I never understood how Betty could put up with her behavior, and more or less recognized the inorganic nature of their friendship, explaining it away as a cheap plot device. She reminded me of girls I knew, real life Machiavellis in pleather pants and overpriced Abercrombie t-shirts with glittering decals.
But then again, my visceral dislike of Veronica Lodge was not entirely her fault. Veronica, like all of the other characters in Riverdale prior to the Archie reboot, where two-dimensional, figurative cartoons to uphold -- as I have said before -- an escapist suburbia-based American pastoral. The lack of multidimensional character development gave the former generations of Archie its charm; their single-minded desires and wishes (like, in the case of Veronica, her imperative to make Archie hers and hers alone) were all the readers really needed.
In Mark Waid and Fiona Staples' third issue of their new Archie line, however, we're finally introduced to the latest version of Miss Veronica Lodge, one that has made me completely reconsider my former readily-admitted prejudices against the teenage heiress. Over at Kotaku, Evan Narcisse's headline in his brief article about the Archie character deemed her "a better type of Kardashian" who "might have some actual charm, wit and personality." I'd take it one step further -- in the more-than-capable hands of Waid and Staples, Veronica is an actual, complex, and vulnerable human being.
Even though Veronica appeared briefly at the end of Archie #2 -- namely when she glimpsed Archie as he accidentally (but completely) destroyed the Lodge's "mansion-in-progress" -- the newest issue follows Archie, and by default, Veronica, on her first day at Riverdale High School, where we learn that she was once a reality TV star. Plot-wise, the premise is simple: having become completely infatuated during their first encounter, Archie volunteers to be a guide for Veronica on her first day at her new school, which leads Archie to become her lapdog for he day, much to Jughead's frustration. (Jughead, ever the pragmatic observer, simply states to Archie's face that his crush isn't based on a romantic notion, but on "natural horndoggedness.")
It becomes quickly apparent that there are certain facets of Veronica that have stayed true to the series: her bombastic overtures, her biting one-liners, and even her penchant for calling Archie Andrews "Archiekins." She wholly charms Mrs. Grundy's class, enamors Staple and Waid's original supporting character Sheila by complimenting her self-made sartorial creations (at least for a good while, until things make a sudden turn), and earns the adoration of the Riverdale High body politic for the first two-thirds of the issue by simply showing up. Unlike the Ronnies of old, it's apparent that Veronica now has a very subtle, carefully-crafted facade meant to charm everyone, which only reveals a more tender and relatable incentive: her desperate need to be liked, a quality that anyone who has ever attended high school can relate to.
But after Veronica incurs an incident in the cafeteria of embarrassingly epic proportions (which won't be spoiled here -- but let's just say it involves a very bad reaction to a sloppy joe), Veronica runs into the bathroom, which she perceives to be empty; she stares at herself in the mirror before having a breakdown, ultimately confessing that she has never felt so alien or alone. It's jarring to see an invincible pillar like Veronica not only break down in tears, but to let down her guard -- her protective armor -- and to let the reader know that the unbreakable Veronica can too have moments of self-doubt, insecurity, and most importantly, unchecked and unbridled emotion. It's a Veronica that isn't a cartoon -- it's a Veronica that is simply human. In short: even girls like Veronica get the blues.
While the series may be named after Archie, the true focus of this issue is on Jughead and Veronica, who are portrayed to be ultimate foils, Jughead's introversion bitterly clashes with Veronica's brash, room-filling charisma, and his sulking cynicism and self-awareness with her presumptive privilege. Even the characteristic pile of food on Jughead's lunchroom tray is a miniscule but telling contrast to Veronica's aforementioned aversion to public school cafeteria food -- which I failed to mention is also her first encounter with it, no less.
While the reader is not quite sure how serious Veronica's interest in Archie is -- though at this point, it'd be more realistic to say "not very" -- Jughead's animus is clear: he's Archie's best friend and de facto protector. Ultimately, the issue sets up a structured, long-con tension between Veronica and Jughead (as well as Betty, who Jughead has roped into the whole debacle), possibly hinting at an escalating trajectory as bitter arch-rivals for many issues to come.
Once again, this issue of the flagship reboot is paired with a vintage complimentary comic -- in this case, Veronica's first appearance in the Archie universe a la Pep Comics #26 -- and once again, the drastic difference between the first characterization of Veronica is more of a mouthpiece, a two-dimensional straight man to Archie's authorially humorous dialogue, a plot point for his slapstick foibles. It's a character that the Veronica of today would hardly recognize -- and that's better than a good thing.