Before we begin, it’s worth clarifying a few things regarding my history with the character of Archie Andrews. Suffice to say, as shocking as it may be to say, I have no real history with Archie, the Riverdale gang or the myriad of comics they have starred in over the years. The only comics baring the Archie label that I have ever read have been their Sonic, Mega-Man and TMNT series. My exposure to the character is limited to the occasional episode of Archie’s Weird Mysteries (which could form the basis of an article itself) and the song, “Sugar, Sugar” as performed by the fictional tie-in band; the Archies. What must be understood is that Archie’s popularity was mostly confined to America. This should come as no surprise given that the main appeal of the characters, from my understanding, is mainly nostalgia driven much like Happy Days. Archie was a call-back to a certain time within the American consciousness to which those of us outside of the states have little reference. That is not to say that I do not have respect for the character or his legacy, quite the contrary. For what amounts to a romantic-comedy to remain in circulation for over 70 years, is to tap into an element of the pop cultural psyche which few properties can access. If the point of this new Archie reboot is to revitalise the franchise and engage new readers then I think it’s fair to say that I am its key demographic. As such, I have not attempted to read up or watch any Archie properties to familiarise myself with the characters or their personalities. If the comic can’t convince me that these characters have merit independent of their cultural significance then it will have failed in its goals.
Released in the celebration of 75 years of publication, Archie #1 is penned by legendary writer; Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Daredevil) and illustrated by the fantastic Fiona Staples (Saga, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents). More so than anything else, it was this all-star creative team which convinced me that Archie was going to be a book worth investing my time in. When Mark Waid comes knocking at your door, you at least invite him in for a tea because even if he’s trying to sell you cable the conversation is bound to be interesting.
This is unapologetically an origin issue, introducing us to our cast and setting the stage for the issues to come. Archie Andrews is popular young man, whose talent for music and loyalty make him the high school buddy you wish you had. Having recently split-up with his childhood sweetheart;Betty, over the mysterious lipstick incident, Archie attempts to get his grove back as the entire school speculates about the nature of the their break up. Along the way, we are introduced to a number of supporting characters including the meddlesome gossip; Kevin, the local Fonzie impersonator; Reggie and the somewhat misanthropic best friend; Jughead. Jughead is interesting given that most of the characters see him as nothing more than a dumb glutton who can be bribed with food and indeed, from what little I knew of Jughead this was my impression also. Instead, he turns out to be the most sensible of Archie’s friends group and the most understanding with regards to his friend’s situation. He is an almost cynical character, who knows how best to achieve his desired aims. If this is the version of Jughead that Chip Zdarsky is working on then sign me up, though why he wears a paper hat is still beyond me. While the glamorous Veronica remains absent, her presence is hinted at throughout the piece. It’s you standard high school comedy-drama, but its’ the genre at its finest. There isn’t much story in this premiere outing, but the characters are funny and charming enough to carry the issue regardless.
From time to time, Archie breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience via soliloquy. It is in these moments that the humour is put to one-side, as Archie’s happy-go-lucky personality is stripped back to discuss his relationship with his father and his history with Betty. While there is a whiff of “Boy Meets World” and “Saved by the Bell” off these interludes, that is not necessarily a bad thing for this inaugural issue and they assist us in empathizing with Archie.
It’s worth addressing some of the controversy leading up to this issue. Naturally, there was some fan backlash to the radical redesigns of all the core characters. Gone is the cartoonish Filmation artwork of the past, replaced with a modern-style akin to the works of Chip Zdarsky. I find the artwork endearing and relatable in a way that the prior style could only aspire to. When these characters emote, it comes from the faces of humans, not cartoons. Through subtle body language Staples expertly conveys unspoken emotional moments. Any scene which highlights Betty and Archie would not have impacted the reader as much in the old house style. It is understandable that fans would be upset given that the classic Archie style has endured the test of time, but I’m not sure it belongs in the modern comic landscape where character is king. I’m not sure the story would have as much impact in the former style, I won’t begrudge anyone their taste in artwork, but I don’t think I could have taken the book seriously nor would it have been as effective. For those of you waiting anxiously to pounce at me in the comment section, all I have to say is this…come at me.
The more interesting controversy was the Kickstarter campaign. The publisher attempted to use the crowd-funding platform to push ahead the production schedule on the other books being released as part of the wider Archie universe reboot. The hope was to raise $350,000 to support the new “Jughead”, “Life with Kevin” and “Betty and Veronica” titles. It’s understandable why a smaller publisher like Archie would want some indication of fan-support for such titles, but it is questionable whether a company which has being publishing comics for nearly 75 years is an appropriate candidate for Kickstarter. It’s clear they were chancing their arm, particularly evident given the ludicrous reward goals that were in place, and failed to appreciate the nature of the platform they engaged in. On the basis of this issue, I am still looking forward to the titles involved in the Kickstarter, but the incident is systematic of a growing abuse of the crowd-funding model (Shenmue 3, I’m looking at you).
Archie #1 is how a reboot should be done. It updates and gives modern relevance to a character who many will have written off. The energy, humour and character at the heart of this series demonstrates why the Riverdale crew have stayed with us for three-quarters of a century. If you are looking for something funny, with a lot of heart, excellent art and an interesting cast of characters, then you would be well-advised to pick this one up. Archie #1 is your favourite sitcom, it’s funny on the surface, but also has layered characters throughout. I, for one, am sold, welcome to Riverdale.
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