The War has hit Riverdale hard. The town’s favorite son, Archie Andrews has been deployed to North Africa, ready to see action for the first time. Meanwhile tensions rise at home between his father and the Lodges. Although the conflict is halfway around the world, World War II is having a deep impact on the lives of those at home.
I’ve never been a fan of war comics. They just haven’t been something I could get into. Archie 1941 breaks past that, putting a real human face on warfare and bringing out some incredible character moments. Granted, writers Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid have the advantage of working with Archie, Jughead, and the other residents of Riverdale that we’ve known and loved for decades, so that’s certainly a leg up, however, it’s what they do with them and the situations they put the characters in that elevates this title.
Look at Archie for example. A brash decision led to him joining the war effort and now he’s shipping out to what could be his first and last mission. While he’s usually pretty carefree and easy going, you can feel the fear and anxiousness permeating off him as the ship gets closer and closer to shore. This resonates with the other soldiers as well since they’re all about the same age, experiencing this for the first time.
Adding to Archie’s concern is how he left things with Betty back home. There were so many things unsaid and he can’t get a letter out to her right now. This leads to an amazing scene where he pours his heart out to a French woman who bears a striking resemblance to his lady love. He elegantly lays out exactly how he feels and says everything he wanted to tell Betty. It’s a pretty touching scene with a tinge of heartbreak as he’s not able to do this with the real thing just yet.
As tense as things are in North Africa, they’re almost just as heated back in Riverdale. Fred Andrews is feuding with Hiram Lodge, who has jacked up his gas prices due to shortages. That’s supply and demand after all. Artist Peter Krause perfectly captures the anger on both sides as these two men go at it. The worry, guilt, and anger at his son potentially losing his life overseas fuels Fred’s actions as he stares down the richest man in town.
Although this is wartime, Riverdale still looks as welcoming as ever. It contrasts well with the harsh grittiness of North Africa. Colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick sets the tone for each scene of Archie 1941. While Riverdale has a warm quality to it, it’s a bit more reserved than usual. People aren’t dancing in the street or anything like that. It’s more somber with the knowledge that some of their own are out there fighting the good fight.
Everyone in town is affected by the war, even smaller characters like Pop Tate. There’s a great small scene where he reveals his feelings about it to Jughead. Letterer Jack Morelli weaves a fair amount of exposition through just a couple pages and never makes it feel overwhelming or text heavy. When Pop delivers the last line, it’s a devastating blow that hits you like a punch to the gut.
Archie 1941 succeeds in telling a compelling story using characters we’ve known for generations. It works on the same level as some of the publisher’s horror titles, putting the Riverdale gang into dire situations and amplifying the terror and tension based on how much we’ve invested in these characters. This book shows how WWII could affect a small town in the United States, shaking it to its core.