I wasn’t crazy about the previous volume of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ noir series Criminal. I noted in that review that for the first time they’d circled back to a main character; I didn’t say, but felt, that it sort of seemed like they were out of ideas in this vein and that was why they were going over old ground. But the latest volume, The Last of the Innocent, shows they had at least one more big idea: a noir reimagining of Archie.
Archie is grown now, and married to Veronica. That’s her on the cover, modeled after Sherilyn Fenn, according to Phillips. She’s cheating on him with Reggie. Jughead’s eating jags in high school were the product of his near-constant pot smoking, and now that he’s grown up he’s in a tenuous recovery. Moose is a well-meaning, slow-witted cop. Betty is still the girl next door, still the one Archie knows he should be with.
Of course, all these characters are copyrighted, so Brubaker has changed all their names, and Phillips only clues us in through flashback scenes drawn in that trademark Archie Comics style. It may please fans of the original to know Archie ends up with Betty in the end. Unfortunately for those fans, Brubaker quite deliberately sullies every scrap of Archie innocence to get there.
It’s a one-joke book, in other words. It just happens to be a really, really good joke, and Brubaker and Phillips fully commit to it. Good clean fun—with intrigue, addiction, loansharking, and murder, of course.
Small preview at Phillips’ site.