By E.A. Henson
I am a fan of Archie Comics.
Now, I had never actually purchased an Archie comic up until 2015… but I’m still a fan.
For the majority of my life and comic-collecting career Archie always served as the punchline of any kind of comic-related joke. Archie wasn’t cool. Your parents probably read Archie. If they didn’t, then your grandparents definitely did. Archie comics were something you got at Easter from your terminally out-of-touch great-aunt who stopped remembering your name when the first Bush was in office.
But I always had a soft spot for the comic.
Archie first appeared in 1941 (along with Betty, Veronica, Jughead, etc.) and had been going for decades before I showed up. You know how I mentioned having never bought any Archie books up until just over a year ago? Well, I always wanted to.
I had an ongoing secret obsession with the digest-sized Archie books that seemed to be at every supermarket checkout I had ever seen. For the uninitiated, these were reprinted collected editions that were just a little smaller than a copy of Reader’s Digest. They were about 100 pages and maybe cost about a dollar or two.
Now, comics are great, but TINY COMICS? Something you could put in the back pocket of your Wranglers or the small pocket on your Jansport? Where do I sign up?
But still… It was Archie. Exceedingly un-cool and dated, it was no surprise I would opt for a Spider-Man book that I would devour before the car ride home was half over. So I never bought one and I continued to secretly obsess over them.
In Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith’s characters had a lengthy chat about the imaginary sexual escapades of the Archie gang. Marvel’s The Punisher crossed over into Riverdale once. History had decided that Archie was a relic of a time when sauerkraut was referred to a “Liberty Cabbage.” However, in some deep corner or my mind a golden light still shone upon a supermarket checkout where the last comic that was good and pure still existed.
Then in 2010 Life with Archie happened. In something I consider to be high concept for an Archie book, the series takes look at two alternate timelines. In one Archie marries Betty, in the other he marries Veronica. If you’re a person who like to toss around terms like “shipping” and “headcanon” this may be the book for you. On a personal note, I would have much rather read about Archie marrying neither Betty nor Veronica. Perhaps he fails to live up to his potential, winds up selling insurance, and falling for someone with whom he attended community college. But I digress…
Life with Archie begat Afterlife with Archie, a zombie book. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I would write. This piece is full of them.
With the addition of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in the Archie books, Archie Comics was quickly becoming a publisher to watch. They had gone from being out of touch to suddenly relevant and compelling books.
I was starting to take notice of the increased profile of the books and in 2015 I finally broke down and bought my first Archie book.
Archie relaunched with a new #1 issue by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples and I was hooked. Waid had written (and continues to write) some of the best superhero books out there (The Flash, Kingdom Come) and Staples is easily one of the best artists working right now (everyone has gone nuts for her work on Saga and for good reason). Some small part of me recognized this as a sign that it was time to get on the Archie bandwagon.
Billed as a “modern” take on the characters, the book reintroduces Archie as a Dobie Gillis (I’ve gone too far back with the references), as a Ferris Bueller-type character who regularly breaks the fourth wall to address the reader. Jughead and Betty are still his best friends, Veronica is still rich and that’s pretty much all you need to know going into the book.
The new Archie is a grand, serialized story that surpasses the musty “WHO WILL ARCHIE CHOOSE?” trope in favor of fleshing out the characters and letting situations arise organically. It’s entertaining to read and most definitely worthy of your attention. As an added bonus, Waid will include an essay at the end of each issue about the history of the Archie books along with a classic Archie cartoon.
When I read that The CW was going to do an Archie show I was all for it. Waid & Staples’ take on the book seemed to be destined to be adapted for TV. The style of humor used in the book seemed like it could be adapted into something along the lines of the network’s fantastic Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Nope. Guess again.
Riverdale is a sexy murder mystery. All the students of Riverdale High are sexy teens now and Archie is a conflicted sexy sophomore who spent the summer having sexy-sex with HIS TEACHER MISS GRUNDY. Also, Jughead is a brooding writer, Betty may have an Adderall problem, Archie’s dad is Luke Perry, Betty’s mom is Mädchen Amick.
That’s a lot to unpack. The CW really CW’d the crap out of Archie.
Once you get past the ick-factor of Miss Grundy being a sexual predator, the show is actually kind of fun. It’s so ridiculously overwrought; I don’t believe for a second that high school in 2017 is anything like this.
My only qualm with the show is that Archie himself is kind of blank slate. He has abs (as all the characters are constantly reminding you) and his range goes from “smirking” to “mild constipation.” As a tortured musician, I kept waiting for him to pick up his guitar and say, “Betty and/or Veronica, I wrote a new song for you… Ah sugar… Ah honey, honey…”
A lesser show would have teased that in-joke for an entire season. But not Riverdale. Oh no. You want “Sugar, Sugar,” Ethel Muggs? Well, you’re getting it in episode TWO. But not in the way you expected.
The two episodes of Riverdale that I’ve seen have been a lot of fun to watch, not to mention a welcome distraction from reality which is pretty much essential these days. The same can be said of the new Archie comic. It’s just good, ridiculous fun. You like to have fun, don’t you?
Oh, and, Barb (Shannon Purser) from Stranger Things is going to be in future episodes as if you need another reason to watch.