When I was a kid, I read a lot of Archie comics. They were parent-friendly, cheap and most of all, easily available on the shelves of CNAs, supermarkets and Greek-owned corner shops everywhere.
Like most people, I stopped reading when I got little older and got tired of same storylines and one-dimensional characters. A new generation should have sprung up to replace me, except it didn’t. Supermarkets changed and corner shops started disappearing. Even the CNA no longer had piles of digests to choose from.
Suddenly, Archie’s biggest problem wasn’t that he couldn’t choose between the two hot girls chasing after him – it’s that the world had moved on without him. Once, Archie used to sell hundreds of thousands of books. Nowadays, not so much.
What do you do as a publisher when people stop caring about your most iconic character? The obvious answer is to modernise, but this is Archie we’re talking about. Barring the odd visit from the Punisher or turning Jughead into a time cop, it’s never been one to tinker with a decades-old formula.
Except that’s exactly what it started to do. It started small, with a few unusual crossovers where the gang met KISS and Archie started dating Val from Josie and the Pussycats. Nothing too outrageous, but they sure did make for pretty alternate covers.
And then Kevin Keller arrived in Riverdale and got his own book. Now his was genuinely surprising: a gay character in Riverdale, the very picture of wholesome family values straight out of the ‘50s? Weirder still, he wasn’t just some token one-shot character there to deliver a preachy message about prejudice and score cheap progressiveness points before disappearing forever. The world of Archie was starting to shift in a tangible way.
Then there was Life with Archie, the miniseries that dispersed with the eternal tug of war between Betty and Veronica and showed us what would happen if he married either of them. The eternal teenagers of Riverdale finally got to grow up and face adulthood, disappointment and even death.
The weirdest twist in the Archie tale was still to come. Who could’ve predicted that there would one day be an Archie horror comic for mature readers illustrated by Franco Francavilla? Take a second and marvel at the fact that we live in a world where an Archie comic features the gory deaths of main characters, overt incest and marriages to elder gods.
The existence of books like Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, hammer home the extent to which the publishers are willing to experiment with their beloved characters. These books work, and sell, so well not despite the setting but because of it. Seeing the hokey characters you’ve grown up with get given actual depth is incredibly satisfying.
Archie’s never exactly been your typical comic book, where publishers turn to events, reboots and deaths of major characters. This has made the latest announcement, where the main Archie line will be relaunched, all the more shocking.
Until now, most of Archie’s development has taken place in alternate timelines. The relaunch will change all of that, rewriting a 75-year old status quo. This is like tweaking the formula of Coke itself.
The most exciting part is the talent involved: Mark Waid. Fiona Staples. Adam Hughes. Chip Zdarsky. Are you kidding me? These creative teams are a statement from the Archie Books that these are no longer the cheesy, old-fashioned comics you used to buy in the corner shop.
A new era of Archie is dawning. Will you be there for the Riverdale revolution?