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‘Betty and Veronica: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale’ (review)

Written by Tim Hanley
Published by Rowman & Littlefield

 

Today, I’m writing in my official capacity as a reporter for the Archie Club since 1969! Still have my official pin and reporter card!

Betty and Veronica: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale is a new book by Tim Hanley.

One would think from its title that it would be a book about Betty and Veronica but it really isn’t.

Oh, the author takes a stab at it, looking at the changing roles of both venerable Archieverse characters in comparison to women’s changing roles in society in general.

In the end, though, there wasn’t really that much to say on that subject as the goal of Archie’s creators has always been to bring the characters back to the status quo after each new adventure.

By design, there never has been any continuity in Archie stories other than the consistent characterizations. Thus Betty Cooper is the proverbial girl-next-door with a heart of gold and Veronica Lodge is the stereotypical rich sub-deb who wants it all.

Dependent on individual story needs, they are either BFFs, arch-rivals, or, frenemies.

As legendary Archie editor Victor Gorelick once said, no matter how many stories deal with their birthdays, they are perpetually 16 and a half years old.

There’s no Archie copyright anywhere in my review copy, not even for the lovely color cover illustration of the girls; no illustrations and certainly no stories reprinted. Instead, the author simply describes a lot of stories from over the years in some depth. Since each story has no bearing on the next, while these descriptions are often quite interesting, they tell us little about any evolution of the characters, especially since for a very large portion of the early part of their 75 year plus run, their adventures were written by the great Frank Doyle. Throughout that time, of course, the prolific Doyle was an aging white man whose ideas of womanhood didn’t really change much.

So, yeah, I’m not really seeing this as what it seems to be at all.

However…!

What I found it to be was actually quite a good, and accurate, summary of the overall history of Archie Comics and its various media spinoffs. Speaking as someone who has himself worked in various capacities on nearly a dozen books and articles about Archie Comics, its history, and its characters, it’s very clear that Tim Hanley did his research. In fact, one book I worked on is cited extensively in the acknowledgements along with one article I assisted another writer on.

Chapter by chapter, Hanley relates the history of the company from the perspective of Betty and Veronica being its major characters rather than Archie. It’s a fascinating way to look at things. While they remain essentially the same in the comics until recent years, the text follows their variations on radio, in TV pilots, on records, in Al Hartley’s parallel world Christian Archieverse, and in animated cartoons, all with details and trivia likely to be new to even the most hardcore Riverdale buff. Yes, the current TV teen super-soap is covered as well.

By the end of the book, we even finally start to see Betty and Veronica get with the times in ways other than just their fashions.

And the history of Archie Comics can’t be told without a history of the industry in general, its problems in the 1950s, and the creation—with John Goldwater prominently involved— of the Comics Code. It’s all here, simplified to a large extent, but I noted no real errors.

While the occasional personal opinion sneaks in, Hanley mainly sticks to the facts, avoiding gossip, for instance, in connection to the relatively recent tabloid headlines surrounding the company.

In the end, it all comes off like a particularly long magazine article rather than the in-depth book it purports to be but a very readable, interesting, and informative one.

Booksteve recommends.

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