In Review: Red Sonja and Vampirella Meet Betty and Veronica #1

This has absolutely no reason to be so fun, but it absolutely is.

The covers: Hold on to something — there are thirty-eight covers for this premiere issue! The A cover by Fay Dalton is the one I picked up. It’s a scene from a locker room with Sonja and Vampirella sitting on a bench changing into football uniforms, with short shorts naturally and Vampy keeping her iconic red top. The Hyrkanian holds a football in her left hand and a long sword in her right, while the vampire stretches out a leg to tie her shoe. I love the bat that’s on the top of her toes. Behind these two are Veronica and Betty in cheerleader uniforms. Very cool. This was the illustration that’s been out to promote this series. Next is the B by Francesco Francavilla featuring head/bust shots of all four women against a composition of skulls, demons, and winged creatures. The characters look okay, but not terrific. I think this would look better in black and white. If you’re looking for a pulp fiction cover, look no further than the C by Robert Hack. All four leads are standing next to each other at the top half of the illustration, looking down at the reader. “Riverdale runs red in a rampage of bloody horror!” is stated in the top center. The title is in the lower center of this frontpiece, with the names of other characters in the lower right. The cover is on a mottled orange with the entire affair distressed for age. Very cool, though the ladies don’t look too good. Better is Paulina Ganucheau’s D cover. Against a tagged up brick wall, Veronica leans back and flashes a peace sign, Sonja squats with her sword in hand, Betty is sitting on the ground with a smile, and Vampirella sticks out her tongue as she levitates. This looks very 1980’s with the character design and colors. I love this! Another strong cover is the E by Laura Braga. This has Sonja in the foreground with her hands on her hips as her brown coat splays out behind her and Vampirella on the left with several bats around her and several skulls on the ground. Two vertical panels show bust shots of Betty and Veronica. I really like the characters and the colors are outstanding. How could I not like Dan Parent’s F cover, since he’s one of, if not the, premiere Archie Comics’ artist? In the back, Veronica has caught a wave on her surfboard but looks to her side anxiously, with Betty following suit in the foreground. A surfboard between them has Vampirella on a board smiling as Sonja rides the vampire on her shoulders. Sonja has a sword in her hand that she’s holding high. Funny and perfect for this combination of characters. Simply perfect. Cat Staggs is responsible for the G cover which has Sonja in the center crouched low with a sword held before her. Vampirella is rising up behind her with her fists clenched for action. On the left is a head shot of Betty, with Veronica on the right. Behind all four are the intense eyes of an unknown man. Great composition and striking colors on this. The B&W Incentive cover by Dan Parent is the same as the F, just without the colors. I love Parent’s work, so I also love this. The B&W Incentive cover by Laura Braga is just as sharp as the E cover, but, as with the previous book, no colors. The “Virgin” Incentive cover by Ganucheau is the same as the D, without any text. If you liked the D cover, you’ll like this. I’m sad to say I do not care for the “Virgin” Incentive cover by Hack, which is an aged poster with only the women at the top, and they don’t look so good. I’m also not a fan of the “Virgin” Incentive cover by Francavilla, which is the B without any text. I do like idea behind the Atlas Signature Edition by Francavilla. This is the same as the B, though the bottom eighth of the illustration is white to allow one of the creators to sign. Very neat way to have a place for a signature all set up! The “Virgin” Incentive by Dalton is the same as the A, just without text. I also like this. Next up is the “Virgin” Incentive by Staggs, which is the G without text. Also a great cover. The Blank Authentix cover features only the publisher and title at the top, with the remainder in white so that an artist can create an illustration or the series’ creators can sign it. Great idea, but on its own not much to look at. The “Red Sonja” Remarked cover by Ken Haeser is a white cover with an illustration by the artist of the famous red haired fury. I love Haeser’s style, so I like this. I also like the “Vampirella” Remarked cover by Haeser which has the most famous female vampire on it. Not to be outdone is the “Betty” Remarked cover by Haeser, featuring the blonde star of Archie Comics, or the “Veronica” Remarked cover by Haeser, featuring the raven haired star of the same books. There’s even a “Red Sonja, Vampirella, Betty, & Veronica” Remarked cover by Haeser featuring all four characters that’s a kick. The following four covers are available through Scorpion Comics: “Virgin” White Cheerleader Exclusive cover by Lucio Parrillo, “Virgin” Red Classic Exclusive cover by Parrillo, “Virgin” Red Cheerleader Exclusive cover by Parrillo, and “Virgin” Green Classic Exclusive cover by Parrillo. All feature Vampirella in her iconic clothing sitting on the floor with pom-poms between her legs. The background colors are different on each one. The “Virgin” Exclusive cover by Parrillo for Scott’s Collectibles is a stunner with Vampirella with her legs over a male victim whose heart she holds in her hand. Behind her to the left is a massive image of Sonja’s smiling face with a smaller version of the Howard character in the upper left holding a battleaxe. WOW! An unexpected pair of covers are the “Red Sonja vs. Betty Streetfighter Homage” and “Vampirella vs. Veronica Streetfighter Homage” by Warren Louw for KRS Comics. These covers must be turned sideways to see images that one would expect to see on the screen if they were Streetfighter characters. Very cool and I love that there are stats for each fighter. Another unexpected piece is the “Virgin” Exclusive cover by Joe Benitez with colors by Beth Sotelo available through Comic Hero U. This has a drop dead gorgeous Sonja wearing jeans and a Riverdale jacket standing behind a beautiful Vampirella who’s wearing Veronica’s clothes and sporting Jughead’s iconic hat. In the foreground Betty is wearing Sonja’s garb and is comically trying to raise Sonja’s sword, while Veronica is behind Sonja looking embarrassed to be wearing Vampy’s clothing. All the women are in the bleachers in the gym. Look to the far left and you’ll see Archie and Jughead wearing the girls’ cheerleader uniforms. Cool and funny with excellent colors! Three covers from Shannon Maer can be found through Unknown Comic Books: Exclusive cover, Exclusive “Virgin” cover, and Exclusive Alternate “Virgin” cover. The first two feature a killer image of Vampirella wearing an open Riverdale jacket and blue jeans as she leans before an open locker; the “Virgin” issue is the same illustration without any text. The third cover features Red Sonja in a Riverdale soccer outfit, ball in her right hand, sword held downwards in her left. Outstanding! The quartet gets the Pink Lady treatment on the “Virgin” Exclusive cover by Jessica Garvey at Speeding Bullet Comics. Sitting on the field beneath the scoreboard, all four women have on pink jackets. If you’re a fan of Grease, you’ll be a fan of this. I like the idea of this cover, but the characters aren’t great. Much better is the graphic Jay Ferguson cover, the “Virgin” Exclusive for Frankie’s Comics. This has Vampirella in a forest with blood smeared from her mouth onto her chest. She dabs at her mouth in utter ecstasy. WOW! Midtown Comics has a pair of covers by Mike Choi: “Virgin” Exclusive cover and Exclusive Sepia “Virgin” cover. This features Archie at a table at Pop’s with Vampirella sitting on his right, stroking his chin with a finger. Sonja is on his left with an arm around his shoulder. Her other hands holds a wicked dagger that’s just above the table. Behind this happy trio is the unhappy duo, Betty and Veronica. Betty looks worried for Archie, while Veronica looks cheesed. Dominating the background is a massive skull. Only the coloring differs this outstanding pair. The final two covers hail from Diamond Comics and feature artwork by  Ergün Gündüz: the 2019 Diamond Summit Exclusive cover and the 2019 Diamond Summit “Virgin” Exclusive cover. Betty has her arm out to take a selfie of the four of them. Veronica is not pleased at being squished, Sonja looks intense with an ax on her shoulders, and Vampirella has her hands behind her head as she flashes her teeth. The first has text, the second does not. Both are funny and cool. Overall grades: A A+, B C, C B-, D A, E A+, F A+, G A-, B&W Incentive Parent A+, B&W Incentive Braga A+, “Virgin” Incentive Ganucheau A, “Virgin” Incentive Hack D, “Virgin” Incentive Francavilla C-, Atlas Signature C, “Virgin” Incentive Dalton A+, “Virgin” Incentive Staggs A, Blank Authentix C, All Remarked by Haeser A+, All Parrillo A, All “Streetfighter Homage” A, “Virgin” Benitz A, All Maer A+, “Virgin” Incentive Garvey C-, “Virgin” Incentive Ferguson A+, All Choi A, and all Gündüz A

The story: This story was written by Amy Chu, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s incredibly entertaining. The first two pages show the first victim finding his fate at the hands (or mouth!) of an unseen antagonist before the story transitions to Vampirella changing from a bat into her human form before Sonja. The Hyrkanian is there because Vampirella promised “high adventure and good pay.” They’re looking for the morgue, where the “most recent admission” is located. How the two enter demonstrates to the reader how they differently handle situations. The antagonists are introduced at the bottom of Page 7, just as Betty and Veronica enter the series. The reason for their inclusion makes absolute sense and it’s at this point that the dialogue becomes incredibly fun; however, there is a great response from Sonja in the first panel on Page 4. The high school girls’ lines are fantastic, matching their past appearances in other comics, while the older women are very much in line with their previous books. The reader will have a huge laugh at the last four panels on Page 14. Sonja’s new tribe is extremely fitting. The book ends with a return to the horrors that stalk Riverdale and I’m so looking forward to seeing where Chu takes these ladies. Overall grade: A

The art: Maria Sanapo has got a tough task: keep Sonja and Vampirella fierce looking and Betty and Veronica fun. She accomplishes both. The beginning of the book has a neat ambiguous death that turns to the large bat approaching Sonja. The third page is a full-paged splash that has Vampy transforming into her human form. I like that Sonja is shown with her hand on her sword, unsure until the last minute that it is her friend. The look on the individual’s face that ends Page 4 is funny and appropriate. I love Vampirella on 5 as she is in her element! Sonja’s disgust in the fourth panel on 7 is great. Betty and Veronica’s entrance is fun, with Betty’s face priceless. Both girls’ faces at the bottom of 12 captures their personalities perfectly! And the visual that ends 14 had me laugh out loud when combined with the dialogue. Sonja steals Page 15 with her indifference, while Betty tries to get her to behave. There’s some good action on 17 – 19 with Sonja’s tribe. The book ends with a ominous image that foreshadows Sanapo will have more horrors to share next month. I really enjoy Sanapo’s work. Overall grade: A 

The colors: I expect dark colors for a book that features Sonja or Vampirella, while I expect bright colors for the girls in Riverdale. Vinicius Andrade delivers both in this first issue. The first seven pages are fairly dark, and appropriately so, as the fighters are shown investigating a murder. The fiery oranges used for the transformation on 3 are terrific, and check out how that color effects Sonja. Neat! Vampirella’s eyes get a neat look on 5, showing the reader through colors what she’s capable of. The lighting on this pair on 7 is cool as they’re not under the lamp. The one panel that shows the antagonists is awash in crimsons that look killer. Betty and Veronica’s addition to the tale brightens up the proceedings, with even the background lightening the scene and the tone. I love that Betty wears a soft pink and Veronica sports violet to bring out her bangs. Sonja’s crimson hair always makes her a stand out when she appears, even among her tribe. The final page uses red extremely effectively, showing the reader how horrific the scene is. Overall grade: A

The letters: Taylor Esposito creates this issue’s scene settings, dialogue, screams, yells, whispered text, and sounds. I’ve seen Esposito’s work on other books and enjoyed it, but this dialogue style is not working for me. It’s too thin and makes everyone’s speech come out as soft. Even when characters speak with emphasis, with their words put in italics, it comes across as weak. It’s a choice that’s doing a disservice to the art. The scene settings, though, are fantastic. They are instant eye catchers and command attention whenever they appear. The scream on Page 2 is epic, which is an outstanding way to introduce some terror into this tale. The whispered dialogue is fun, as the reader hears some things not meant for others. The sounds are good, but are grounded in events at Riverdale High, so far. I have a feeling they will only get larger and appear more often as the antagonists continue their way through victims. I’m loving this element of the book, save the dialogue, sadly. Overall grade: B+

The final line: As with many of the improbable Archie character team ups, I didn’t think that this could work. It works tremendously. It’s got a bit of off panel violence, with the majority of the issue focused on introducing the threat and showing how Vampirella and Sonja try to blend into Riverdale High with help from Betty and Veronica. The characters are absolutely true to their incarnations in other series, with both sets of women having some terrific lines and moments. The visuals were equally good; I loved the characters’ expressions. This has absolutely no reason to be so fun, but it absolutely is. This is not your usual comic book team up. Overall grade: A-

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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