Saturday, February 4, 2017

Over ‘dale

Back in my childhood days when the amazingly restrictive CMA code of 1954 was in force, comic books were for kids. Adults sometimes read them, but they were ashamed of it and for good reason: they were for kids. By the time I had grown up, comics had too. Nowadays comics – and Young Adult novels for that matter – are sold overwhelmingly to adults and are written for them. Far from being ashamed or embarrassed, those adults flock to comic book conventions, often in full costume. Many of the old characters from the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s remain, but have been reinvented for a new age and an older readership. One of the oddest reinventions has been of the perennial teenager Archie Andrews, who started attending Riverdale High School in 1939.

The latest incarnation of Archie was timed to inform the new and strangely dark CW network television series Riverdale. The show is aimed at teens but might win older viewers, too. I will not be among them. I’m not averse to high school dramas in general despite my dotage, but the first (and for me likely the last) episode of this one didn’t appeal despite the unexpected storyline of Archie’s affair with a teacher and their possible witness to a murder. Nonetheless, I was curious to peek at the source material to see how the redhead and his friends had transformed in the decades since I last read of their adventures. Road to Riverdale (2017) looked like the best option: it contains the first issues of the rebooted titles Archie, Jughead, Betty & Veronica, Josie and the Pussycats, and Reggie and Me.

The classic Archie with whom I grew up already was an anachronism: his small town of Riverdale harkened to Andy Hardy’s Carvel Idaho of two decades earlier, which itself was social and demographic make-believe. Yet, to this 10-year-old reader the comic offered an idyllic vision of upcoming teen years when an unremarkable humdrum fellow such as Archie somehow could have two stunningly gorgeous young women vying for his affection while he faced no greater threat than an occasional prank by Reggie. Even as a kid, I “got” that the competition itself was the motivating factor for Betty and Veronica. Winning had to be more important than the prize itself: the uninspiring Archie. Nonetheless, this competition worked out for him. I was team Veronica, btw, even though I intuited that if Archie ended the competition by choosing he might lose both. This presumption wasn’t precocious worldly wisdom; it was just that obvious even to a 10-year-old.

In 2017 the characters are very much more layered, but there is continuity at the core. Archie is full of teen angst but he still isn’t interesting enough to deserve either Betty or Veronica. Jughead is far brighter and more insightful than in the past but is still lazy on principle unless motivated by comfort food: burgers, lasagna, milkshakes, etc. Betty is still a good girl though now she displays it through social activism, a temper, and an effective right hook. Veronica is still the classy self-centered rich girl whose unabashed “me first” instincts more often come off as refreshing than annoying. Reggie is still the troublemaker, though “psychopathic” is now an appropriate adjective. The Riverdale prom still counts as a big gig for Josie and the Pussycats though Val is now lead singer. For all of the characters, their troubles are far more troubling than in earlier incarnations – enough so that I don’t think modern-day 10-year-olds will aspire to have teen years like theirs. In fact, I doubt many will read the titles at all, though apparently sales are good to “young adults” and older.

The artwork in Road to Riverdale is suitable for a new century and new readership. The storytelling is likably weird with abundant violations of the “fourth wall.” Archie narrates his own story to the reader. Jughead and Reggie have their stories narrated by their respective pet dogs. All in all, it’s not a bad reboot – though really not for me anymore. I won’t be buying rebooted Archie #2. And yes, I’m still team Veronica.

Upshot: Not currently my genre, but Thumbs Up for what it is.

Trailer: Riverdale


  1. Yeah, not much changes in the Archie universe. I think at one time or other if you read comics you've read an Archie comic. I never kept up with it with any type of steady readership as there was always something else on the spinner rack I wanted more.

    The last Archie that I was interested in was Arterlife with Archie, which is probably what they should have done with the CW TV show.
    The best part of Afterlife being the artwork. I really like Francavilla's artwork. (He is currently doing a Spirit book.)

    Either that or do some kind of retro Happy Days type Archie. I would have at least given either of those a chance, but the new CW program didn't appeal to me and totally missed the tone of what it should have been. No less just being on the CW is a strike against in my book.

    1. Movies, books, and comics (and nearly all music) aimed at teens are written and produced by adults. They are a mix of what the producers think teens want to see and hear and the producers’ fantasy of what they wish their own (probably prosaic) teen years were like. I’m not sure what it says about the evolution of our culture that those fantasies have transformed from splitting a milkshake to shagging a teacher and covering up evidence – and not in some tough neighborhood but in a pseudo-wholesome small town.

  2. Maybe this:

    Kinda kidding ;)

    1. Ha Ha. Yes, I’ve heard this. Domesticated animals are always duller than their wild counterparts, and when people became domesticated (by living in larger groups well before the shift to farming) skeletal evidence shows their brains started to shrink. Would Paleolithic Archie’s girlfriends have smartly dumped him for someone better?