REVIEW: Romance & burgers in the ARCHIE LOVE & HEARTBREAK SPECIAL

It’s Valentine’s Day in Riverdale and love is in the air… along with the irresistible odor of fair food!
Writers: Thomas Pitilli, Stephanie Cooke, and Sina Grace
Artists: Pitilli, Lisa Sterle, and Iolanda Zanfardino
Colorist: Matt Herms
Letterer: Jack Morelli
Covers: Pitilli, Paulina Ganucheau, and Dan Parent
The Archie Love & Heartbreak Special is the latest all-new one-shot anthology from Archie Comics! With three stories that are each based around an evening at the Riverdale Fair (a sure fire set-up for romance), this issue delivers classic Archie-style storylines with a freshly-prepared twist.
While some of the other recent Archie Comics anthologies, like 2021’s Chilling Adventures in Sorcery and Archie’s Holiday Magic Special have featured a “frame,” the Archie Love & Heartbreak Special eschews this structure in favor of a trio of consecutive stories, each of which take place on the same night, but follow different pairs of characters. I appreciated this interesting conceptual design, which was a neat way to explain how the three segmented stories relate to one another without any extraneous exposition.
I also appreciated the effort to offer a trio of couplings that weren’t limited by traditional expectations associated with a Valentine’s Day-themed anthology. In the first story, “Bughead in — ‘The Best Things in Life Are Free,’” writer and line artist Pitilli gives us a tale that centers one of the most popular pairings from Riverdale: Jughead and Betty. 
However, rather than veer directly into the interpretation of these characters (and their relationship) on the CW, this story instead finds a sort of synthesis between the classic Archie Comics version of the characters and their more recent TV teen heartthrob incarnations. This results in a low-stakes story that sees the pair casually strolling around the fairgrounds, sharing a burger, and eventually sharing a nice view. This is paired with some simple but effective panel layouts for an extremely effective opening story (and a special shout-out to the laugh out loud moment that sees Jughead being thrown out of the ferris wheel, not to mention the movie that’s advertised on the Bijou’s marquis).
Next up is “Dilton’s Date with Disaster” by Cooke and Sterle, which sees Veronica spending an evening with Dilton. Once again, these stylish incarnations of the two classic characters call to mind their Riverdale counterparts, but this story takes advantage of the fact that the CW adaptation unceremoniously did away with Dilton in the third season by instead allowing the character to play a starring role in the story’s proceedings.
This leads to a fun and lighthearted montage of the disaster-prone Dilton’s attempt to show Veronica an enjoyable evening, culminating in a hilariously unfortunately incident on the ferris wheel. In addition to offering an entertaining story of a date-night gone wrong, this story features some fantastic art by Sterle, whose alacrity with clothing and character reactions both come into play heavily.

And in the third and final story, “Kevin Keller is Self-Possessed!” by Grace and Zanfardino, we get the most traditionally “romantic” story in the batch, in which Kevin goes on a first date with new guy Devon. In addition to telling a sweet story about letting go of one’s expectations and instead concentrating on finding value in the situation as it unfolds, this story features excellent art (with Kevin’s “just be cool” pose upon Devon’s arrival being especially amusing). Plus, I appreciated the way this story featured the return of Betty and Jughead in the final panel, offering a nice cyclical structure to the one-shot.
Finally, as has become customary for these one-shots, the back matter includes a two-page behind-the-scenes look at putting the issue together from editor Jamie L. Rotante, which includes some interesting looks at the development of the character designs and provides some insight into what went into putting the creative team together.
If you’re interested in picking up a copy of the Archie Love & Heartbreak Special, you may still be able to find one at your local comic shop (and you can preorder a copy of the next all-new Archie Comics anthology, Little Archie and Friends, which will arrive in April, when you do so). 
Alternatively, you can still order a copy of the one-shot directly from the Archie Comics webstore.
Have you had a chance to pick up the Archie Love & Heartbreak Special yet? Which of the three stories was your favorite? What’s your favorite Archie Comics romantic pairing? The Beat wants to hear from you! Give us a shout-out, here in the comment section or over on social media @comicsbeat.
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