Teenage Daydreams

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images in this post courtesy of, Archie Comic Publications.

Frost came early to Riverdale this year.

The poet
Robert Frost, that is. I'll explain.

You may have seen the news reports a few months back that
Archie, the World's Oldest Teenager (sorry, Dick Clark), was — after nearly 70 years of flirting, dating, and relatively chaste comedic girl-chasing in general, among other misadventures — going to choose between rivals and best friends Betty and Veronica. In a six-part storyline that began in Archie #600, he and Veronica would marry.

Cover to Archie #600 © 2009 Archie Comic Publications.

This was to be no shotgun wedding, of course, and in fact would take place after the characters graduated college — which should've been the first hint that it probably wasn't going to redefine the entire Archie "Universe"; the gang has never made it out of high school save for the occasional non-continuity story or special events like 1990's
Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again TV-movie.

Archie Comics, the publisher, has been taking some new approaches to the stories it tells with Archie Andrews, the character, as I wrote back in March. It's also been "exploiting" its library of properties, to use a coldly commercial term, reviving long-dormant characters in new stories and teaming with other publishers for archival reprint projects. But throughout decades of expanding the Archie franchise through creative iterations both long-lived and short-, from the beloved Little Archie to the faddish Man from RIVERDALE to the underrated Jughead's Time Police — not to mention spinoffs like Josie and Sabrina — the status quo of the core Archie comics has remained inviolable, save for updates in clothes, language, and the multiculturalism of the supporting cast.

When I heard about the project earlier this year, it was clear that there would be
weddings, plural. Young Mr. Andrews would marry both Veronica and Betty in separate chapters of an imaginary tale marking the milestone 600th issue of Archie (the flagship title, not to be confused with Archie & Friends, Archie Double Digest, and the dozen other series featuring Archie's pals 'n' gals). Whether intentional or not, however, Archie Comics' early press releases led to the media at large picking up only on the proposal to Veronica in the storyline's first chapter, leading to talk-show segments and newspaper articles echoing the cries of everyone in fictional Riverdale, USA: What about Betty?

Cover and first story page of Archie #601 © 2009 Archie Comic Publications.
For a larger view and five-page story preview, click here.

Michael Uslan, longtime comics fan/historian and film producer, began the storyline in poetic fashion, having Archie find two roads diverged in a yellow wood — just like the narrator of Robert Frost's popular 1915 poem "The Road Not Taken". The first few pages of Part 1
have Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and Jughead playing their last concert together as The Archies before graduation from Riverdale High, so (pardon the geekism) we're already in extracanonical waters. Later that evening, with the next stage of his life weighing on him, Archie takes a stroll and reaches Memory Lane; having walked down it plenty of times before, he goes the other way and, after choosing a path at the road's fateful divergence, emerges wearing a State U jacket and mulling over what the future holds now that he's graduating from college. "Stop the presses!" reads a caption. "By walking up Memory Lane, has Archie walked into his own future?"

First four story pages of Archie #600 © 2009 Archie Comic Publications.
Click on each page for a larger view.

Like Batton Lash, who wrote 2008's five-part "Freshman Year" storyline (now available in collected form), Uslan peppers "Archie Marries Veronica" with in-jokes obvious and otherwise. When Archie reaches Memory Lane, the sign for the cross-street is just visible enough for folks like me to infer that it says Red Circle, a publishing imprint once used by Archie Comics for adventure titles; storefronts at the intersection likewise reference Archie history. Lyrics from the theme of the gang's Saturday-morning cartoon are used as dialogue, "Sugar Sugar" is the couple's wedding theme, and Veronica wants Katy Keene to train her bridesmaids in etiquette. I think we even see a grown-up Little Ambrose.

There are also the needlessly goofy stand-ins for actual trademarks typical of Archie stories (the engagement ring comes from Spiffany's, Jughead likes the burgers at McDaniel's), but overall Uslan does an admirable job of balancing the traditional Archie tone with touching moments of genuine emotion and a feeling of change. Given that polls official and otherwise generally favor Betty over Veronica by a wide margin, Archie's pre-wedding talk with Betty in #601's Part 2 is especially sweet. It's also nice to see the gang take real jobs in the real New York City and beyond after all attending the same generic State University; as a bonus for the continuity wonks out there, plot details strongly suggest that Riverdale is located near NYC (perhaps even in the Bronx, site of one of many real-world Riverdales, not far from the Mamaroneck offices of Archie Comics). The overriding ingredient that's kept the Archie line successful for so long, though, is the light comedy that prompts teenagers-to-be (mostly girls, but plenty of boys with sisters too) to fantasize in relative innocence about what lies ahead at their own Riverdale High.

Archie Comics stalwart Stan Goldberg has penciled the storyline, with veterans Bob Smith, Jack Morelli, and Glenn Whitmore rounding out the creative team as inker, letterer, and colorist, under the guidance of editor Victor Gorelick. Goldberg is a gentleman and living legend whom I've had the privilege of interviewing, and it's astounding that anyone can pack so much information into so many panels per page with such an invitingly casual texture, let alone keep the artwork fresh for himself and the readers after so much time. Looking at some of the intermittently iffy faces in the issues published to date, however, one has to wonder if the inevitabilities of age haven't led to some loss of precision in Goldberg's work, with Smith unwilling or unable to bring the characters back on-model.

Cover and first story page of Archie #603 © 2009 Archie Comic Publications.
For a larger view and five-page story preview, click here.

Having chosen one of the roads diverged in Archie #600, proposed to Veronica, and had one wedding in #601, Archie leaves his growing family at the end of #602 for a walk in the snow and finds himself back on Memory Lane. Archie #603 arrives in comics shops today, November 25th, and on newsstands the week of December 7th, as Frost returns to Riverdale; the calendar rewinds from a Christmas Eve yet to come back to Graduation Day once more, and "Archie Marries Veronica" gives way to "Archie Marries Betty". The adventures conclude in #605 early next year, with an epilogue just announced for #606.

Cover to Archie #606 © 2009 Archie Comic Publications.

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