Archie brings a new Riverdale for a new generation.
When most people consider the Golden Age of comics and the birth of comicbook legends like Batman and Superman, there's one other American icon who doesn’t usually come to mind, but who is nevertheless unmistakable: Archie Andrews. Created in 1941 by writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana, Archie became over a few decades one of the most recognizable and iconic teenagers in American pop culture. Archie was to comics what characters like Ferris Bueller or Marty McFly have become to cinema. Particularly, the love triangle between him and supporting characters Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge is one of the most famous romantic conflicts in teen fiction, and perhaps the series’ most famous staple.
Since the character’s creation, many attempts have been made at modernizing him from his mid-20th century high school setting while still retaining the essence of the characters and series. In celebration of his 75th anniversary, Archie and his friends have again made the contemporary jump via Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ Archie #1, and while not every aspect of the original series ages perfectly, this new Archie manages to be both charmingly nostalgic and enjoyable in its own right.
The issue begins with Archie introducing himself to the reader and explaining that he’s just recently broken up with Betty Cooper, his sweetheart since kindergarten, after something called “The Lipstick Incident”. Because of this, the two of them have become the talk of the school, with everyone trying to figure out what broke up the Riverdale High power couple. Despite the breakup, Archie and Betty still have respect, and even longing towards one another, with Betty finally snapping when her friends ask if Archie cheated on her. “I wish everybody would stop looking for a villain in this,” she says, a shrewd statement wherever you place it in the history of high school (and adult) gossip.
Archie and Betty’s friends, Kevin, Maria, and Sheila, decide it’s their moral duty to get the two back together, and devise a plan to get them elected for Homecoming King and Queen. This ultimately amounts to sweet-talking and threatening classmates into voting for the two. Jughead finally steps in to cast his usual shade of doubt on their plans, telling them he’s volunteered to help tally up the votes and that he’ll take care of the problem in his own way. When the trio asks Jughead if they’ll need anything from them, he responds “one tube of crazy glue.” When they understandably ask why, he simply says “we all know I’ll just give you a weird answer that will leave you even more confused.” The line is a cleverly meta jab at the classically mischievous Jughead of old.
The night of Homecoming arrives, and Archie and Betty show up on their own, Betty to attend the dance and Archie to help with the band’s sound check. As the band’s about to begin their set, they realize their lead guitarist is missing and not picking up his phone. Jughead slyly suggests that Archie play in his stead. Archie does so, and to his surprise ends up wowing the crowd.
When the Homecoming Queen and King are announced, however, everyone is shocked to hear the results: Betty Cooper and one Trevor Smith. Kevin confronts Jughead about what happened, to which Jughead nonchalantly replies he handled the ballots himself (a cutaway box reveals him throwing the votes for Archie into a fire). Jughead then asks Kevin, Maria and Sheila whether or not they ever considered that forcing Archie and Betty back together wasn’t the proper move. Jughead then reveals the setup of his master plan: to let Archie and Betty remember what they’re missing on their own. Jughead is on point, as Betty is seen looking solemnly over Trevor’s shoulder at Archie up on stage. The scene is a reminder of another classic Jughead-ism: that despite his goofy attire and mannerisms, Jughead has often been the wise, Shakespearean-like jester of the group.
Jughead and Archie leave the dance together, and on the way home Jughead tosses the empty tube of superglue in the trash. Then the final piece of Jughead’s plan is revealed as the lead guitarist of the band is shown stuck in his car with his hands glued to the steering wheel. Oddly enough, of all the oldtimey characteristics of the classic series, this prank seems the most dated. While one could overlook the kids going out to get milkshakes or eating cotton candy on the Ferris Wheel, or even Archie’s Riverdale varsity jacket, the idea of a grown man holding onto a glue-coated steering wheel long enough to get stuck seems pretty implausible. Surely there could have been another way to stall the lead guitarist that didn’t seem quite so tied to the pranks and silliness of the old Archie comics. Not even showing the guitarist screaming into the Siri app on his phone can quite overshadow it. Though perhaps the bigger question to be asked is, when did Jughead learn to break into cars?
Despite this one outstanding anachronism, however, accomplished comic writer Mark Waid does a commendable job translating Archie into the modern era. The faithful treatment of the characters, and their continued likability, shows their timelessness even given their basis in fairly archaic teen tropes, and Waid does a great job of transporting their sensibilities in a way that falls within an appropriate balance between the old and the new. Fiona Staples, whose work on Saga has gained her enormous praise, continues to show her talents here in bringing Archie’s world into a more modern, multidimensional realism while still retaining the cartoonish vibrancy of the old series. Riverdale has never looked so good, or so inviting.
Archie #1 is sure to please old fans of the series while acting as a great starting point for the uninitiated. And with other upcoming series such as the new Jughead, it’s exciting to see this new world of Archie unfold.