I haven’t complained about comics much recently, have I? Maybe it’s because I’m just not buying many titles. I love superhero stuff, and most superhero stuff this day and age ranges from dull to atrocious. Honestly, maybe I’ve outgrown the genre. Although I do really love Atomic Robo and while it’s not technically a superhero comic, it’s about a robot built by Tesla who fights Nazis, otherdimensional horrors, and evil dinosaur scientists, so that’s pretty superheroey.
No, I don’t think I’ve outgrown comics generally or superheroes specifically. But I will admit that the comics I’m most looking forward to are Darkwing Duck, Pet Avengers, and the coming relaunch of Chip N Dale’s Rescue Rangers. Fun action adventure stuff. I do have some darker stuff, too, like Billy the Kid’s Olde Timey Oddities and Beasts of Burden, which are horror adventure, although with a nice fantasy twist.
And I am about to endorse a comic that has nothing to do with any of that.
If you asked me, just a few weeks ago, if I would be interested in reading a comic book based on Archie Andrews and the Riverdale gang, I’d probably not believe you. If you then said that this wouldn’t be a “gag” comic, and that the story would be about a grown up Archie dealing with grown up problems, I’d have called you a witch and probably thrown you in a river to see if you’d float.
Turns out, if you didn’t drown, I’d owe you an apology.
Life with Archie is a magazine comic that stars the Riverdale gang as they struggle with uncertainty, with who they are, and finding their place in the world. It takes one-dimensional joke characters and dares to ask “What next?” And damn it, it’s great.
For those of you who don’t follow Archie, there was a recent imaginary story where we get to see Archie’s life after he marries Veronica and another story where he marries Betty. Yes, it’s a bit of a cop out. Archie should have to choose, but instead, we get to see two worlds, two possibilities.
The Life with Archie magazine is designed to build on these stories. The magazine is split in half and continues Archie’s life in both realities. It’s not pretty. In the Archie & Veronica universe, Archie is working for Mr. Lodge, who is buying up Riverdale and slowly converting its unique identity into just another interchangeable franchise-driven city. In Archie & Betty universe, Archie and Betty have moved to New York, where Archie is trying to launch his singing career without much success.
Meanwhile, in A&V universe, Jughead is trying to buy the Chocklit Shop, Betty is feeling like a loser rejected by her friends, and Reggie is adrift. And in A&B universe, Veronica is depressed by Archie’s rejection, Mr. Lodge is scheming to ruin Archie’s life in retaliation, and Moose is running for mayor.
Yes, it’s all rather ordinary. Nothing weird or strange. No gags about Archie and girls. No jokes about Jughead’s gluttony. Moose’s temper is played, not for laughs, but for the serious character flaw it is. Riverdale seems in genuine jeapardy. There’s a lot going on here though, and it seems surprisingly relevant.
Riverdale (in both universes) is in danger of losing every bit of its personality as huge, faceless corporations push their way in. Many of the people of Riverdale don’t want this to happen, but they seem powerless against the money and power of these huge corporate powers. While I’m not anti-corporate, I don’t think anyone can deny that this is the dark side of our modern world. Cities and towns are all the same, aren’t they? Slowly everything is becoming the same. While it isn’t an epic tragedy, it’s the loss of something special.
Moose runs for mayor with the best of intentions. However, his first press conference is a disaster because he’s just not ready for it. He’s about to throw in the towel, but instead decides to stick with it, to learn the issues that are affecting his city. I can’t help but see the parallel to Sarah Palin. Now, I don’t know if Palin has Moose’s ability to acknowledge his own shortcomings, but she’s lucky if she does.
Betty (in the A&B ‘verse) is the real heart of the story. She’s carrying Archie on her shoulders, doing her best to keep a smile and encourage him. Meanwhile,in A&V ‘verse, Betty is almost soul-crushingly alone at least in her own perception.
Most importantly though, it’s nice to see a comic where adult relationships are treated like adult relationships, where people struggle and talk to each other, where there aren’t easy answer but people are trying their best. Nobody is dark or sinister here. Well, except maybe Mr. Lodge, who seems like an asshole in either reality. This isn’t Breaking Bad. This isn’t Madmen. It’s not edgy. It maintains the Archie house style and there’s no harsh language, no overt sexuality. It’d be perfectly fine for all ages except I can’t imagine many seven year olds being able to relate to the subject matter.
And it’s damn good.
I can’t explain it. I’m not going to try. I know that this comic has a picture of Justin Bieber on the cover because I am not the target demographic (although the tween stuff is a few pages in the middle that I skipped over). All I know is that I liked it, and in this age of comic books where a “mature” title usually means someone gets eaten alive by zombies or chopped in half by an “extreme” superhero, Life with Archie is refreshing, thoughtful, and good. I’m hooked, and you can bet I’ll be picking up the next issue.
Life with Archie might not be a bed of roses, but it’s a promising start. And so it earns a big recommendation from this old school comic book fan, for what that’s worth.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,