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Comics

Meet the New Archie (and Still Love the Old Archie)

Andrew A. Smith
Tribune News Service (TNS)

On July 8, Archie Comics launched a new Archie #1, replacing the previous Archie title that had run continually since 1943.

There’s a new Archie in town, but in all the ways that matter he’s still the guy you’ve always known.

On July 8, Archie Comics launched a new Archie #1, replacing the previous Archie title that had run continually since 1943. (The previous title ended on issue #666, which is worth a chuckle.) That’s a pretty big deal, and Archie celebrated it with more than 20 variant covers drawn by some of the industry’s biggest names.

But the new Archie is more than just a numbering change. To update their flagship character for the 21st century, Archie Comics turned to two popular veterans: writer Mark Waid, who has penned just about every superhero at one time or another, and artist Fiona Staples, currently winning one award after another for the hit sci-fi series Saga.

And they knocked it out of the park.

Page one of Archie #1 gives us our new, modern-looking star. That first look tells us all we need to know: This freckle-faced kid dresses in typical teenage fashion (Sloppy Casual), carries a guitar and has a cowlick that won’t quit. Really, it’s hard not to like him right away.

Archie’s first words welcome the readers to Riverdale. Sure, we’ve all felt comfortable there sometime in our lives, but this is the first time any of the characters have broken the fourth wall to put out the welcome mat! And that in itself is a time-honored story technique, from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Saved by the Bell to House of Cards. Not only are we welcomed, but we gain instant, painless insight into thoughts and feelings of the main character.

And, as the first page indicates, this red-headed kid is immensely likeable. He’s self-effacing, awkward and clumsy. But he’s loyal, and even brave, despite being so young. The latter is the kid we all wanted to be, but the former is probably what we were.

But, OK, here’s the part you’re waiting for: the part where you jump up and down and scream "That’s not MY Archie!" Because in this first story, there is no Veronica Lodge. Archie and Betty (and Jughead) have grown up together, and Archie and Betty have always been a couple (Bettchie). That’s right, no famous love triangle.

However, there’s trouble in paradise. As the story opens, Archie and Betty have broken up over the "lipstick incident" -- no explanation for that as yet -- and Riverdale High is all a-twitter over the news (and you can contribute on Twitter at #lipstickincident). Further, there are rumblings of a storm on the horizon -- rumors of a billionaire (and his lovely daughter) moving to town, plus a billboard advertising the advent of Lodge Industries. Yes, that famous love triangle looks like it’s on its way.

But huh and why and howcum we don’t start with Veronica, you say? Because not only does Mark Waid know how to tell a story, but he’s also a comics historian -- and this story, believe it or not, mirrors the very first Archie story in Pep Comics #22 in 1941. You don’t have to believe me at all, actually, as Archie Comics (Vol. 2) #1 reprints that story for you. Here’s what Waid says in an insightful afterword about that first story, simply titled Archie.

"First, when you strip away all the artifacts of nostalgia like hand-carved slingshots and ‘taffy stands’ and the idea that any kid would willingly nickname himself ‘Chick,’ that Andrews kid is actually pretty likeable. Certainly sympathetic; his relationship with the opposite sex starts the same way everyone’s does, 1941 or 2015 -- by doing something stupid trying to make an impression. He’s trying to connect with his dad. He’s awkward and clumsy. He’s brave to a fault when he’s in the spotlight. Y’know, like he’s always been. It’s kind of fascinating to see how Archie himself came out of the creative womb almost fully realized.

"Second, notice that everything important about the series and the approximately eight trillion Archie stories told since is baked right into these first six pages: the town, the best friend, the willingness to risk life and limb to flirt with a girl. As in the reimagining you’ve just read, a certain brunette is even hinted at; Archie writers soon unpacked the then-well-to-do Betty Cooper and her eternally irritated father into the separate characters of Veronica and her dad, Mr. Lodge. See for yourself."

So, yes, this is your Archie after all. Waid has taken care to update the character without losing any of the essentials. And with the terrific art by Staples, it’s also a modern comic that is extremely attractive.

Of course, one might wonder why Archie Comics is doing this at all. They haven’t said, but is there any doubt the answer is money? The regular Archie titles -- Archie, Betty & Veronica, etc. -- generally sell fewer copies than Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog, two videogame properties Archie Comics picked up a few years back.

And it’s easy to see why the Archie line isn’t overly popular with today’s audiences. The Archie books have been using a house style based on the work of artist Dan DeCarlo for more than 50 years. It’s very pretty -- but so is the music of Frank Sinatra, and try to sell that to Millennials!

And, at least at first, the strategy appears to be working. Not only are tongues (and word processors) wagging about Archie Comics, but the first issue of the new series sold out at the distributor level before the issue went on sale. That doesn’t mean it will be especially hard to find -- that depends on your local shop, and how many they ordered -- but it does mean that the initial print run sold out and the book will go back to press. A second print run, with a new cover by Staples, will arrive Aug. 12.

In the press release about the sell-out, Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics Publisher/Co-CEO, said "This is only the beginning!"

That’s more than hyperbole. A new Jughead #1 will arrive in October, by Chip Zdarsy (Sex Criminals) and Erica Henderson (The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl). And in a coup for Archie Comics, legendary Wonder Woman cover artist Adam Hughes will write and draw a new Betty & Veronica title, coming in summer 2016.

Meanwhile, a live-action series named Riverdale is coming from The CW network, with Archie Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa writing the pilot and Greg Berlanti (Flash, Arrow) producing. Described as a "dark, twisty one-hour drama" in the press release, Riverdale will star not only the Archie gang but also Josie and the Pussycats.

That’s in addition to the publisher’s horror line starring the same gang. Current titles Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures in Sorcery are selling very well, despite long gaps between issues. They will be joined by a third, probably Vamperonica, a vampire clone of Hiram Lodge’s little girl that has appeared before.

So, just as in 1968, "Everything’s Archie" again. And it’s the same guy you always loved. Just with a better haircut.

* * *

(Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com. For more comics news, reviews and commentary, visit his website: comicsroundtable.com.)

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