Betty's Here; Veronica, Too

You might recognize the title of this post from
the theme song to the 1970s Saturday-morning Archie cartoon — run under various names, including one taken from the song: Everything's Archie.

Cover to The Archie Show's DVD package © 2007 Archie Comic Publications.

I used to watch the show with my sister, whose Archie comics I'd borrow when I needed a funnybook fix and had nothing new or begging to be reread of my own. The standard Archies didn't interest me as much as her Harveys, though (
Casper, Wendy, Hot Stuff, Richie Rich, Little Dot), maybe because in traditional boy/girl dichotomy I tended to prefer outright fantasy, with action if possible, while even at an early age she was into the dating and high-school hijinks.

were Archie adventure stories. In our day, the best were reprints whose features would pop up in digests and other anthology titles: Little Archie, which brought us the whole gang as young kids but, surprisingly, in more "serious" exploits than the teenage versions, often tinged with mystery or science fiction; The Man from RIVERDALE, camp action spoofing the likes of James Bond and, obviously, The Man from UNCLE; and Purehart the Powerful, which cast Archie, Betty, and Jughead as superheroes (with Reggie as their sometime nemesis, Evilheart). When Archie, the publisher, went through one of its periodic trial expansions of Archie, the character, it would introduce new series often only lasting a handful of issues: Archie's Weird Mysteries or the memorable Jughead's Time Police or series featuring the group as race-car drivers, teens in the future, or (no joke) cavemen.

Archie's latest creative and corporate experimentation has led down some interesting avenues, including working with other publishers. The company is partnering with Random House to distribute graphic novels worldwide, licensing classic material for IDW and Dark Horse to release in prestige collections, and giving DC another crack at its line of superheroes — not the
Pureheart bunch, but characters from its "MLJ" days like The Shield, The Fly, and The Black Hood that in some cases predate Mr. Andrews' pals 'n' gals yet were never as successful. It's also been reviving such concepts as Man from RIVERDALE and long-abandoned characters from Wilbur Wilkin to Cosmo the Merry Martian (if only, cynics might surmise, for trademark purposes), and has played with the more familiar Archie mythology in recent story arcs Freshman Year and The Wedding, a.k.a. Archie Marries Veronica / Archie Marries Betty, which I've reviewed at those links.

Covers to the upcoming Archie Firsts hardcover from Dark Horse Comics and
recently released Pureheart the Powerful Vol. 1 trade paperback from IDW
Publishing © 2010 Archie Comic Publications. Pencils: Bob Montana; Bill Vigoda.
Inks: Bob Montana; Mario Acquaviva. Colors, Letters, Design: Unknown.

The possible-future proposal and wedding tales, now available in trade-paperback form, were popular enough that Archie announced a pair of spinoff series — which before release it decided to combine into one monthly publication, Life with Archie, taking its name from one of the character's myriad past titles. In this incarnation Life with Archie is not a standard comic but a glossy, 72-page magazine priced at $3.99 (US & Can.), aimed — based on the cover's inset photos of the likes of Justin Bieber — squarely at the "tween" demographic; its first issue hit newsstands and other general outlets last week, after debuting in specialty shops last month. Obviously, I am not in that target demographic, and if Archie Comic Publications hadn't sent a promotional copy for review I'd likely not have given it more than flip-through, despite my curiosity and the fact that I still pick up the occasional Archie for my sister (reading it first, naturally).

Covers to the collection The Archie Wedding and the original Life with Archie #1 ©
2010, 1958 Archie Comic Publications. Pencils: Stan Goldberg; Harry Lucey. Inks: Bob
Smith; Terry Szenics. Colors: Rosario "Tito" Peña; Unknown. Letters: Unknown.

I figure that anyone interested in Life with Archie #1 yet skittish about details has already read it, but just in case — since there is one big reveal coming — here's a spoiler alert.

Cover to the new Life with Archie #1 ©
2010 Archie Comic Publications.
Pencils, Inks: Norm Breyfogle
. Colors, Design: Rosario "Tito" Peña. Photos: Various.

Life with Archie's dual features are called Archie Loves Betty and Archie Loves Veronica, each following one of the roads that diverged in a yellow wood on Riverdale's Memory Lane. The Wedding had skipped ahead from love to marriage to the baby carriage, but the strips in Life with Archie — whose covers carry the subtitle The Married Life — rewind the alternate futures to when the couples are newlyweds. Married to Veronica, Archie is working for Lodge Industries, where Ronnie's father has just promoted her to an executive position; in that reality, Betty has lost her job in New York City and returns to Riverdale for a small reunion at Pop Tate's at which it's discovered that Mr. Lodge is making a land grab for half the town. Married to Betty, Archie is a struggling singer/songwriter emotionally and financially supported by the former Ms. Cooper; the bad economy and Hiram Lodge are the villains in this reality, too, as Veronica's dad offers to make Archie a star if he'll leave Betty for Ronnie. While most of the other supporting cast members' lives are, appropriately, similar in both timelines five or so years after graduation from Riverdale High, it's strange that Lodge doesn't seem to be squeezing Pop Tate's (which Jughead is planning to buy in a peaceful transition) out of business in the ALB existence.

Michael Uslan, who conceived and wrote the
Wedding saga for Archie #600-605, scripted the initial installments of its spinoff strips for Life with Archie #1; as of #2, the stories will be handled by comics veteran Paul Kupperberg. Uslan continues his slightly more sophisticated take on traditional Archie punnery, as when Midge and Moose stroll past Emerson Lake (if only the panel had been inked, like the infamous Archie Meets The Punisher, by Tom Palmer), yet there are still some stretches and head-scratchers. For a company that steadfastly refuses to name actual celebrities or television shows and can't quite have Betty working at Saks Fifth Avenue in ALB, it's odd that in ALV she gives a litany of actual fictional teen goofballs and heartthrobs as her past would-be romances. You almost have to give Uslan props, though, for naming Lodge's business partner Fred Mirth so that he can pair him off with Jughead's former flame Ethel to make "Fred and Ethel" jokes (as when Reggie pretends to confuse Fred Mirth with Fred Mertz with Ricky Ricardo) and name his investment-banking firm "Mirth of a Nation" (not just a play on D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation but one that used to be a tagline for the Archie titles). The dialogue also has moments of genuinely touching sentiment and even one of, in the context of an Archie publication at least, ribaldry.

Longtime Archie artist Stan Goldberg, who penciled the
Archie Marries... issues with Bob Smith inking, has given way on Archie Loves... to Norm Breyfogle, mostly known for his superhero work and Batman in particular. Breyfogle has drawn for Archie's so-called New Look stories, but thankfully he hews to the traditional Archie style here, using more dynamic perspectives and page layouts while keeping the characters familiar; those efforts, interpreted by inkers Joe Rubenstein on the Veronica story and Andrew Pepoy on Betty, are all that's required or desired to communicate the relative "realism" of the tales. Unfortunately, while Glenn Whitmore's color choices are fine, the clean line art is too frequently done a disservice by fussy modeling. Jack Morelli and Janice Chiang round out the magazine's creative team as letterers.

Panel excerpts from Life with Archie #1 showing, clockwise from top left, Betty's pop-
culture boyfriends; a buried lead on parallel realities; Emerson Lake; the rear end of a teddy
bear slumped over Archie's head; and the most scandalous line of dialogue ever intentionally
spoken by Betty or anyone else in an Archie comic. Script: Michael Uslan. Pencils: Norm Breyfogle.
Inks: Joe Rubenstein; Andrew Pepoy. Colors: Glenn Whitmore. Letters: Jack Morelli; Janice
Chiang. Composition: Brian Saner Lamken. Panels © 2010 Archie Comics Publications.

It's a tricky thing to inject darkness into the Archie realm, but Uslan and the artists have handled the job admirably. The fresh targeting of newsstands and other mass-market outlets (Toys R Us, CVS, Wal-Mart) with the magazine format also deserves praise, but I'm having a hard time with the disconnect between the medium and its messages. As I said earlier, the cover of
Life with Archie #1 has photos of and text referencing such young stars as Selena Gomez, Zac Efron, and Dakota Fanning. Leaving aside the fact that it's rather disingenuous to imply there's more on them inside, when in fact they only appear in stock images on pages asking readers to cast a live-action Archie movie (and, by the way, editors, Miley Cyrus may already have a blond wig, but she's a total Veronica), I just don't see the audience that watches Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place — the one that enjoys Archie's dating dilemmas and to whom the magazine's trade dress, complete with questionably accurate "Betty vs. Veronica" logo on every cover mockup released to date, is directed — getting into The Married Life. Moose has anger-management issues, Pop Tate's business is under siege, and another familiar character has a life-threatening illness, none of which is a plot device to be resolved in the space of a single issue.

Of course older girls
and older boys, as well as adults with a nostalgic fondness for Archie or just an appreciation for interesting comics, can enjoy the creative content of this bold new Life; I was more engaged by it than I expected to be based on The Wedding, as enjoyable a lark as that was. But I think that Archie Loves Veronica and Archie Loves Betty actually skew older than the Archie issues that launched them. Fans with a taste for "continuity" and more mature storylines would be better served by reading the post-Wedding chronicles in a series of graphic novels or a monthly anthology comic that doesn't require them to look at Nick Jonas — and more to the point, ALV / ALB would be better served by going such a route, letting the magazine focus on Archie's more-or-less permanent adolescence and eternal love triangle (or your polygon of choice, once you include Cheryl Blossom, the recent romance with Josie and The Pussycats' Valerie, et al.), backed by the sort of teenybopper text matter that the cover promises.

The mind-blowing multiversal montage from Life with Archie #1 © 2010 Archie Comic
Publications. Script: Michael Uslan. Pencils: Norm Breyfogle; various. Inks: Andrew Pepoy;
various. Colors: Glenn Whitmore; various. Letters: Janice Chiang; various.

Life with Archie's ambition has yet another dimension beyond its format and its portrayal of the Riverdale High gang after Riverdale High — many more dimensions, in fact. Archie's walk up branching paths of Memory Lane suggested that reality was fluid, but at the time that was just a framing device for glimpses into present-day Archie's possible futures with Betty and Veronica. Life with Archie #1 shows us a newspaper headline referencing the disappearance of Dilton Doiley following his claim that parallel universes exist; the next page — in the big reveal warned of earlier — blows your mind with a total non sequitur splash of Dilton surrounded by panels of teenage Archie in the 1940s and the 2000s, Little Archie, Archie in his Man from RIVERDALE persona, Archie marrying Betty, Archie marrying Veronica, and more. It's nothing short of the Archie multiverse, on display in a manner akin to the revelation of Hypertime in DC's The Kingdom, and based on the last page of Archie Loves Betty's first chapter it's going to be an actual story element. Everything's Archie, indeed.

First six pages of Archie Loves Veronica Part 1 © 2010 and courtesy Archie Comics Publications.
Script: Michael Uslan. Pencils: Norm Breyfogle. Inks: Norm Breyfogle (cover page); Joe Rubenstein.
Colors: Rosario "Tito" Peña (cover page); Glenn Whitmore. Letters: Jack Morelli.

The Archie Wedding, collecting Archie #600-605, retails for $14.95 and is available direct from the publisher for $9.99 (cheaper than Amazon). Life with Archie is $3.99 per issue, with 12-issue subscriptions available for $24.00, half off the cover price. You can click on the thumbnail images above and below for previews of the first chapters of Archie Loves Veronica and Archie Love Betty, or check out the pages sequentially at the Archie website, where you can also vote for your choices in a live-action Archie casting call.

First six pages of Archie Loves Betty Part 1 © 2010 and courtesy Archie Comics Publications.
Script: Michael Uslan. Pencils: Norm Breyfogle. Inks: Norm Breyfogle (cover page); Andrew Pepoy.
Colors: Rosario "Tito" Peña (cover page); Glenn Whitmore. Letters: Janice Chiang.


Stefan Blitz said...

I got the PUREHEART THE POWERFUL volume and it's pretty rad!

I'm just hoping for more LITTLE ARCHIE reprints.

And by the way, did you see that they are updating L'IL JINX?


Blam said...

No, I hadn't seen that. I'm not sure how I feel about so massive a change, although with J. Torres writing and Rick Burchett drawing at least it has a strong chance of being quality stuff. And I appreciate the desire to reintroduce the character in modern fashion.

The Little Archie digest(ish)-sized TPBs they've released were lots of fun according to both me and my nieces — except they requested more Little Betty, as the first volume especially was rather bereft of girls. Bob Bolling even did a new story in Volume Two, so anyone who has fond memories of his stuff should check that out. I haven't got the Pureheart book yet, but I probably will before I see the kids again — Archie and superheroes together might be as awesome to them as Wonder Woman; she's extra cool because she's a superhero and a princess.

Hey, I just realized that Brian Michael Bendis might have something to say about the "new" Jinx. 8^)

Australian Tea Party said...

I really think Archie continuity now makes the best sense. Somehow they've outlasted Marvel which is now blasting itself into oblivion.