How I Learned To Love Archie Andrews

by James Ferguson

 

Growing up, I never cared much for Archie Comics. I always gravitated towards the super hero fare of Marvel and DC. I just didn’t get or appreciate the adventures of Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the gang. This feeling would carry on into my adult life and even when I was expanding my palette into more mature titles, my tastes never carried me to Riverdale.

The first time I read an Archie Comic was Afterlife with Archie #1. The horror comic with a zombie Jughead terrorizing the town grabbed me from page one. Maybe I could make an exception for this book. It had brutal horror, dynamite artwork, and a compelling narrative. I’m sure it would have resonated even more had I been a fan of Archie earlier in life as I’m seeing these characters put through the ringer.

Fast forward to 2015 when Archie relaunched the entire line of books with brand new number ones. I had my doubts, but the creative team of Mark Waid and Fiona Staples was enough to pull me in. I’d give it a chance. I am so glad I did.

Now I understand it. Now I see why Archie has stood the test of time. The characters feel like home, as if they were old friends or even family that I’ve known all my life. I want to see lovable, clumsy Archie succeed. I want to cheer Jughead on as he fights against authority for the love of hamburgers. I can see how someone would have a hard time choosing between Betty and Veronica.

While the situations can be wacky, the characters never stopped feeling real. They have always come through as natural and that’s what I love about them. That is what has pushed Archie to the top of the pile every time it comes out. It’s like I’m in high school with this group, going through similar issues in life, however big or small.

This might sound lame, but I think it’s important. Archie presents an inclusive picture of friends that anyone can be a part of. In a world where people are excluded or discriminated against because of race, religion, gender, or even for going out to get milkshakes, this is a welcome sight.

Riverdale is a place where anyone can join in the fun as long as they’re not a jerk. Hell, sometimes you can even still be a jerk. I mean, they still hang out with Reggie, right? Regardless of what you may have going on in your life, you’ll always have Archie Andrews to give you a smile and include you in his shenanigans.

This inclusive storytelling has made the latest arc, Over the Edge, all the more powerful. The publisher hyped that a major character would be affected by the events of this storyline and they weren’t kidding. Now, was I expecting them to kill off Betty Cooper or Veronica Lodge? No way. This is still a serialized monthly comic, after all. It’s all second act. Plus, it’s not a superhero book, so it’s not like they can bring someone back from the dead.

[*Warning! Spoilers for Archie #22 below!]

That being said, Archie #22 shook me to the core and for a few minutes, I thought they were going to go through with it after all. The issue starts with Betty flatlining in the hospital. Her friends and family are nearby and they’re terrified. I was too. Artist Pete Woods flashes back to memories of Betty from different characters. We see Betty as a screaming infant with her parents, as a helpful hand for Veronica, as a stand-up person for Principal Weatherbee, and a rock and so much more for Archie.

These are the kind of thoughts that would go through anyone’s mind if a loved one was on the brink of death. You’ll think of all the memories you shared, all the things you’ve done together, and all the things you haven’t said. How could that end? How could a life so pure be snuffed out in an instant? Waid gives the artwork room to breathe, allowing it to stand on its own instead of filling it with dialogue or narration, especially Archie’s portion. This is what a life is made of. Woods knocked it out of the park.

If you read Archie #22 and you’re not moved, you’re probably part monster. This book is filled with heart. It’s a strong comic about people and their relationships. There are no aliens or super heroes or mutants. This is a gripping story that will pull you in like you’re one of the gang.

So, after 70+ years, I finally get all the hub-bub about Archie. I can see why the character has endured for all these years. He’s earned it. If the current Archie run is any indication, I expect him to be around for decades to come. Let the perpetual teenager stay a teenager if he can keep telling amazing stories like this.