Updated: Feb 28, 2021
The Great Debate is a weekly column examining new and classic books about the creators, craft, and history of comics. If you know of upcoming books you would like to see reviewed, please let us know in the comments!
Author: Tim Hanley
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
Publication Year: 2020
WHAT IS IT?
Betty & Veronica: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale looks at nearly eighty years of competition and friendship between Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. Tim Hanley not only relates the girls’ comic book history, but also explores their animated and live-action iterations on radio and television.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Betty and Veronica starts out with a look at the early years of MLJ Magazines, the publisher that would become Archie Comics. Hanley recounts how the first Betty and Veronica stories came about, and proceeds to follow them from generation to generation, examining how the girls and the Archie gang evolved as America changed. He ends with an extended examination of the Riverdale television series that has revitalized the Archie brand.
Betty and Veronica does an excellent job of detailing each girl's core character traits, and then showing how their portrayal and popularity changes from decade to decade. By doing this, Hanley is able to show how the girls emerged from Archie's shadow and developed one of the longest-lasting and most authentic female friendships in American popular culture.
Hanley writes in a very smooth, readable way. Betty and Veronica is breezy and conversational, a slice of pop culture that effortlessly blends American history and comic book history.
I enjoyed how the book makes you feel like you are sitting in a bubble with the Archie gang, watching them as eighty years whiz by outside the window. Everything else is changing, sometimes incredibly rapidly, while the kids remain oblivious, their appearance and portrayal remaining timeless and classic.
Hanley has obviously done his homework. The depth of his research allows him to deal with behind-the-scenes events concerning the publishers and creators of the Archie comic book line, as well as folding in portrayals of the Archie gang in radio and television.
For me, the most interesting chapter was “The Ladies and the Lord” which deals with artist Al Hartley and the Christian comics he created for Spire Comics featuring the Archie characters. I had seen some of these comics before, but never knew the crazy story behind them!
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
All of the book’s images are grouped together near the back, in a section of sixteen glossy full-color pages. The images chosen are fine, but I have never particularly liked that strategy and would have preferred it if the graphics were integrated into the text near the content that they were referenced by.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Tim Hanley has delivered another engaging comic book history filled with insider stories, cultural context, and a massive serving of nostalgia. Betty and Veronica is easy reading and it's lots of fun. This is a book nearly any comic fan will enjoy.
Who it’s for: This is a great book for Archie fans, of course. But it’s also a nice option for anyone looking for an entertaining and accessible piece of comic book history.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
For more Tim Hanley: The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale
If you just want to relax and enjoy a comic: Archie: Vol. 1 by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Hanley has written a number of books and articles on comics history. His previous books have told the history of a number of important female comic book characters: Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, and Catwoman. You can learn more about him at thanley.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @timhanley01.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
If you can, find a local independent bookstore, and buy there!
The copyright for image(s) used in this review are likely owned by either the publisher of the book, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the book. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
This book is © 2020 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED