Sunday, September 25, 2011

I always did prefer Veronica to Betty

Veronica presents Kevin Keller #1.  Why is this?  Come on, Betty, get with the 21st century.  Actually, Archie Comic Publications has managed to become relevant again.  I mean, assuming their books ever were in the first place.  Archie has always changed with the times-- going from clean-cut teen in a bow-tie and a v-necked sweater vest in the 1950s to a clean-cut teen in a wide collar and bell-bottoms in the 1970s.  Then they did those "Archie gets married" stunts and the "Archie New Look" stories, but despite the character's history spanning the years of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, free love, Watergate, energy crises, disco, punk, New Wave, Reaganomics, hip-hop, grunge, nu-metal, the Internet, the War on Terror and the current recession, his creators and fans haven't exactly been on the forefront of social change before now.

On the other hand, there's always been something comforting knowing that as superheroes went all ironic and self-loathing on us, visiting characters with rape and other forms of ultra-violence complete with lovingly-rendered gore while constantly tearing down their universes only to restart them again in a weird cycle of diminished returns, Archie remained slung chastely between Betty and Veronica, that classic Riverdale dichotomy-- sweet girl next door, somewhat scheming and vain yet generally nice rich girl.  Reggie's still preening, Jughead's still eating and eating and eating.  Midge and Moose are still madly in love.  Mr. Weatherbee continues to sport his pince-nez.  And Kevin Keller is a welcome part of the gang.

I was quite the Archie aficionado when I was a kid.  Those Archie digest books-- especially Archie's Double Digest-- you could buy in the check-out lane at the grocery store packed a lot of reading fun for their cover price.  When I had my tonsils out, the youth minister at my church brought me some of those Spire Christian Comics starring Archie which confused me on one hand but made me feel validated in my comic book reading as well as my spirituality on the other.  As I grew up, I grew out of Archie and into things like... well, real literature.  And the occasional Watchmen type book.  The affection remained, though.

This is a big leap for them, and yet they're doing it in the same ol' gentle Archie way, lightly, humorously and with respect for the characters and readers.  That's what continues to comfort about the Archie books.  They're taking some hits because of the perception they're staid and representative of an America past.  Fluffly kid stuff.  And they are that.  Which is why I like this so much.

So I want to take a moment to give the Archie folk a little praise.  Because while other companies have seemingly gone out of their way to disappoint me in the last few years, during that same time frame Archie Comic Publications hired Misako Rocks-- I'm a big fan-- to write some stories for them, and now this.  It makes me feel once again I didn't waste precious play time reading about Riverdale when I was a kid.


Richard Bensam said...

"Archie gets married" was a bit more than a stunt -- the Life with Archie ongoing series is the only Archie title I now read, and it's not what you'd expect. It's done a really good job of conveying the notion that these really are those same characters grown up, but the story is going in some totally unexpected directions. Might be worth a look.

Spire Christian Archie comics, however, freak me the hell out.

Joel Bryan said...

That sounds great. Why do they get what two bigger publishers seem not to? Maybe they just care about their characters and readers and the relationship between their characters and readers bit more, as opposed to "brands" and elements of multi-media marketing campaigns.

Joel Bryan said...

Spire Christian Comics, on the other hand? When I saw Reggie selling his soul to Satan, it chilled me in a way I don't think they intended!