Get the Tissues Ready. You’re Going To Need Them For Archie #23

by James Ferguson

Betty Cooper, the heart and soul of Riverdale, lies injured and afraid in a hospital bed. She rushed up Serpent Hill to stop Archie and Reggie from drag-racing, only to get into a car accident that sent her careening off a cliff. She can’t feel her legs. Things are grim. Her friends and family are distraught. I’m not crying. You’re crying.

There are people of all shades in Riverdale, but it’s safe to say that no one would wish this on Betty. That is the hardest thing for everyone to accept. She is the last person that deserves to be potentially paralyzed as she brings so much warmth to the community. This is shown by her friends that attempt to pick up her volunteer work. It takes five of them (six if you count Archie, but he’s not very good at it) to do the work that she was doing by herself. That’s just the kind of person she is. It’s heartbreaking to think that she might never be able to do these things again.

Aside from Betty’s parents, no one feels that heartbreak more than Archie. All three of them are running through all the things that Betty loves to do and was planning to do that she won’t be able to accomplish now that she’s confined to a wheelchair. It’s defeating. From the parents’ perspective, it’s especially tough as all the hopes and dreams they’ve had for their little girl have just gone up in smoke.

This tragedy has motivated Archie to do something. He wants to support Betty and help her, but he’s Archie. He’s so very clumsy that any project he takes on is bound to end in disaster. This is where the humor comes in during an otherwise somber comic. It’s perfectly timed comic relief expertly crafted by writer Mark Waid and artist Audrey Mok. Despite his best efforts, Archie Andrews is still a total klutz. He can get into trouble that no one could have seen coming. How’d he get wrapped up in the soccer net? Or lose control of a lawnmower? No one knows but it’s pretty funny.

This humor is balanced wonderfully by the touching moments. We go from tears in the hospital to hilarity in odd jobs to concern and more tears to an absolutely beautiful final page. Throughout every page, the deep connection to these characters is strong. This is why Archie and the gang in Riverdale have stood the test of time. I am so emotionally invested in their lives that this tragedy feels like it happened to a close friend.

Much of this emotion comes through in Mok’s artwork. A simple glance speaks volumes, whether it’s the look of frustration in Archie as he tries and fails to help, the look of sorrow on Betty’s parents as they hear the news from the doctor, or the look of determination on Betty’s face when she’s told her likelihood of walking again.

The most powerful of these moments comes right after Archie gets the call that Betty has awoken from her coma. He’s sitting dejected on the curb with a foot in a paint bucket. He gets the news and leaps into action. His friend needs him. There is a gorgeous panel of Betty’s hospital room. The two are hugging in the bottom of the panel and we see a trail of paint coming in the door. Archie ran from the curb somewhere in town all the way to the hospital and into her room with a paint can on his foot. This is the kind of shot that can bring a tear to your eye.

Although the focus is on Betty and her hopeful recovery, there are a couple small scenes where we see how this is affecting Reggie. It was his car that pushed Betty’s off the cliff so the town is blaming him for it. While he’s a total jerk normally, I’m sure he’s just as saddened by these events as everyone else. This is shown in streamlined sequences where Mok’s artwork again stands out to tell the story on its own, saying much more than what dialogue could provide.

Archie is a testament to great storytelling and shows the depth and breadth of the comic book medium. This comic will make you laugh and cry. It shows how a small town can come together to support someone they love and it’s beautiful.

Archie #23 is currently available at your local comic shop and digitally through ComiXology and Amazon Kindle.