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‘Big Ethel Energy’ Vol. 1 (review)

Written by Keryl Brown AhmedArt by Siobhan Keenan
Published by WEBTOON /
Archie Comics

 

I really wanted to like the new Archie Comics collection Big Ethel Energy.

I’ve always felt Ethel Muggs was treated as just a throwaway character, the butt of an awkward, long-running, and unfunny joke.

Mixed in with all the diverse, likable characters in the Archieverse, Ethel was rarely treated as an equal—just an awkward annoyance.

Since more of Archie’s readers probably related to Ethel than to Veronica, that just never felt right.

The tagline for this book is, “She used to be the laughingstock of Riverdale. Now she’s a successful New York journalist with a DGAF attitude.” Wait…what??! Did an Archie book just reference the dreaded “F-word?” What would Al Hartley say???

Big Ethel Energy has been running as a webcomic and this collection reformats the panels. The story is credited to Keryl Brown Ahmed, with art to Siobhan Keenan. The art is inconsistent and has what seems to be the now required manga touches. It’s the writing where then problems begin.

First of all, since this was originally paced for a long-haul serial webtoon, it drags quite a bit in book format, with no real climaxes, no real answers to questions asked, and no resolution to any subplots. You read along and eventually it just stops. (I skipped ahead in the still-running online version. Seems mostly more of the same, although at least with a little progress.

Worst of all is that these aren’t even remotely recognizable as the Archie characters. The tattooed Jughead here is clearly meant to invoke the TV Riverdale version. Archie himself is just…there. Veronica is a Kardashian; Reggie seems little more than a boytoy; Moose is a hot coach; The Bee is Lex Luthor, at least visually, and the retired Miss Grundy—“Geri”—looks more like Peter Parker’s sickly Aunt May. Betty comes closest to being in character.

Ethel herself, is not who she used to be. That’s the whole point of this book after all. She’s an attractive, successful writer who’s been living in Brooklyn but agrees to return to Riverdale to write a piece about her old home town. Doing so opens up old wounds that have never healed. There are some interesting interactions as she sees her old classmates again for the first time and realizes that she’s not the only one that’s changed.

Last week, as I write this, was my 45th high school reunion, and I opted to skip that, for many of the same reasons that Ethel didn’t want to revisit her high school years.

Not long before that, though, I got together with my first girlfriend (from 6th grade) whom I hadn’t seen nor spoken to in 50 years and we had a most enjoyable walk through the neighborhood we grew up in. She and I were total strangers now, with lives completely different from each other, but our pasts were forever tied together.

My point is that, like Ethel, I’m a writer, and I know the feelings, good and bad, that can come up when revisiting one’s past so I should really have been able to relate to Big Ethel Energy, but I couldn’t. In the end, I neither knew any of these people nor was I given any real reason to care about any of them except Ethel herself. A disappointment.

 

 

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