I turned to the first page of Big Ethel Energy Volume 1 with a tinge of excitement. In this comic from Archie Comics, the first couple of pages, written by Keryl Brown Ahmed and inks by Siobhan Keenan, I knew this would be a page-turner and a reread. The story follows Ethel Muggs from Riverdale as she decides to return to the town she left seven years ago to write a book on the town’s history. Ethel is relatable for any adult who felt unseen or bullied in school. Full of moments of humor, discomfort, and strength, Big Ethel Energy Volume 1 is the kind of story you dread reaching the last page. 

The story has 13 chapters and starts with high school Ethel at a moment that, for some, may seem minor but has a significant impact on her life. After a date with her unrequited crush, Jughead, ends before it even starts, Ethel swears off dating, and seven years later, still no date. Living in New York City, Ethel works as a journalist when she receives a call from Riverdale Mayor Glibb offering her a job to write a book on the town’s history. Though Ethel tries to get out of it by listing demands she believes the mayor will not meet, he agrees. So now Ethel heads back to Riverdale. 

Character Designs In Big Ethel Energy Hooks You

The characters look more realistic and attractive, including the self-absorbed Jughead than in previous comic iterations. Ethel is beautiful and curvy though Veronica keeps making remarks about her weight. Veronica must think anyone above a size four is big. The older comics had a caricature appearance, but here, they look livelier. I would watch if they made a cartoon with these designs and stories. This is one of the most beautiful comics I have ever seen, yet authentic because of the characters’ actions and dialogue. It is as though you are there beside them watching events unfold and yelling at a couple of characters too.

Unresolved Questions and Annoying Characters

Veronica will irritate you, but I am waiting for Ethel to clapback. This is not high school Ethel that will run and hide, so please let her educate Veronica on her shallow character. She was about to when Veronica lamented the mean comments on Instagram. I was so mad when Seth walked in because I wanted to hear Ethel lay into Veronica. I am also side-eyeing Betty because she puts Betty in situations where she has to be around bullies and hope Betty gets a wake-up call.

Big Ethel Energy cover of Ethel Muggs holding a pen to her face, her back against Jughead wearing a crown.
Courtesy of Archie Comics

Jughead only shows up briefly, but when they first see each other again, he snubs her, opting to stay in his room rather than talk with her. I do not know which is worse, his snub or how many people gave her the backhanded compliment that good she looks now. At least Jughead left. Two of the biggest questions many will have is about Jughead’s standoffish attitude toward Ethel and Veronica’s surprise party. She never liked Ethel, and with jealousy in the mix, it will be interesting to see what stunt she pulls and how Ethel will respond. 

Not Team Jughead

Some will root for Ethel and Jughead, but the most I can root for is that he likes her and cannot be with her. Unless mitigating circumstances come in a later issue, he does not deserve her. Period. Plus, some good-looking guys are circling Ethel. Due to Veronica’s snide insults and Jughead’s indifference, Ethel has hurt and resentment she needs to work out. Flashbacks, at crucial moments, emphasize Ethel’s differences and the lack of change in other characters but also show us more of what Ethel went through, which is heartbreaking. 

The comic’s tagline, “not all of us peak in high school,” sums up the characters in Big Ethel Energy. Some, like Ethel and Betty, have found what they love, and life is getting better for them. Others, whether they realize it or not, are at a standstill because they did not grow out of their childish, high school mindset. Not everyone gets that in this comic or the world. With sharp, eye-catching character designs and storytelling that gives more nuance and realism to compliment the images, Big Ethel Energy Volume 1 stands out as one of my favorite reads this year. 

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