Archie Archives Volume Four (Dark Horse, $49.99)
In my last review of Dark Horse's ambitious Archie Archives, I confidently called the WWII period the "Harry Sahle era," as he was the primary artist on volumes 2-3, which collected stories printed from spring of 1943 to summer of 1944, while Archie creator Bob Montana was in the military. My confidence was misplaced!
Archie Archives Volume Four reprints stories that originally ran from Archie Comics #11 (Nov-Dec 44) through Pep Comics #53 (Jun 45), and Sahle contributes only a couple of stories. Instead, Bill Vigoda draws the lion's share -- which is a shame, because I find his work less amusing than Sahle's (or Montana's), although it's not for lack of trying on all the slapstick. Also, Vigoda opts for a more realistic look for Betty & Veronica, which is jarring in the context of a cartoon Riverdale with cartoon males. Frankly, I find it a little creepy.
Maybe I should blame the stories rather than Vigoda, whose work is pleasant enough. They're mostly by "Writer Unknown," which probably tells you all you need to know. I'll toss in for free that I found Unknown's stories to be unimaginative and repetitive. And when I say "repetitive," I don't just mean Unknown lifts from previous Archie stories, although he or she does. But Unknown also swipes from him- or herself -- there's one scene of Archie being chased over a fence that is repeated in every particular a little later in the book.
In all fairness, none of this would have been much of a problem in 1940s -- kids were the primary readers, and didn't read every issue, and would be unlikely to notice the repeitition. But even so, these stories simply aren't as entertaining as the ones in previous volumes, so I feel a little let down.
Fortunately, the next volume will being the post-war era, which should not only see the return of Montana and other major creators, but also the expansion of the line, which means greater attention on the supporting cast. That will be welcome after watching Archie repeat the same antics story after story.