Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Best of Archie Comics

I was never a huge fan of Archie comics when I was growing up, but they were so popular – they were everywhere! – that it was inevitable I would read some of them. They were good, lightweight entertainment and a nice change of pace from all the superhero, Western, and war comics that made up most of my "funny book" reading.

So when I came across this really thick digest-sized collection reprinting stories from the Forties up to almost the current day, I didn't hesitate to pick it up. Reading it gave me a chance to see Archie as he originally appeared (the very first Archie story is one of those reprinted) and as he's presented today, as well as revisiting the era with which I'm most familiar, the late Fifties through the mid-Sixties.

First of all, those early Archie stories from the Forties are considerably different from what I expected. I had no idea they were as racy as they are, especially after Veronica is introduced as a sort of slutty socialite from New York. The stories are okay and the art is good. By the Fifties, though, everything is pretty much as wholesome and clean-cut as I remembered it, although Betty and Veronica are, let's face it, still hot. Other than experiments such as bringing in the musical group The Archies, to reflect the TV show, things don't change much through the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties. A little more social consciousness, a little more political correctness, but not enough to stifle the humor.

Backing up a little, when I was a kid I always liked the Little Archie comics better than the regular ones, although now I realize they violated previously established continuity by having Veronica in Riverdale from an early age. But when you're seven years old, who cares about such things? I also realize now that Bob Bolling's artwork on these stories is really good. The book reprints a regular Archie story with excellent art by Bolling, too, which leads me to think that he's the Archie equivalent of Carl Barks.

Moving on to the stories from recent years reprinted in this volume, you can see a real change. There's a long story from LIFE WITH ARCHIE, an alternate history version set five years in the future that finds Archie and Veronica married and working for Mr. Lodge's company, Betty having left town because she's heartbroken over losing Archie, Pop Tate retiring and selling the Choklit Shop to Jughead, Midge and Moose breaking up over Moose's "anger issues", Moose falling for his blind yoga teacher, Midge and Jughead getting together . . . I read all this sort of incredulously, asking myself "What the hell were they thinking?", but then the story ends on a cliffhanger, and wouldn't you know it, I, uh, kind of wanted to know what happened. I'd never prefer this new stuff to classic Archie, but I did find it interesting.

Chances are that if you ever read any Archie comics, you'd find something in this volume to interest you, too. I enjoyed my visit to Riverdale, although I may not ever go back there again. Or I may, who knows? And as for the eternal question that ranks right up there with "Ginger or Mary Ann?" . . .
Betty, of course. No contest.


Jerry House said...

"Ginger or Mary Ann?"

I notice no one ever picks Mrs. Howell.

And, yes, I preferred Little Archie over Archie but my heart still belongs to Mad Magazine's "Starchie."

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

The archie betty veronica marriage story arc is kind of on what terry pratchett calls the "trousers of time" theory - two different story arcs based on choices archie makes. At the end of the arc the timeline resets and he's back to where he was.

James Reasoner said...

Mrs. Howell never really appealed to me in any sense other than comedic. However, when I watched some HAPPY DAYS reruns a few years ago I noticed that Mrs. C (Marion Ross) was considerably hotter back then than I ever realized at the time.

James Reasoner said...

Starchie was great. Most of the stuff from those early issues of MAD was really good. I loved the Signet paperbacks from the early Sixties that reprinted stories from the first dozen or so issues of MAD.

Cap'n Bob said...

I read Archie once in a while and always liked it. I think the modernizations introduced later on wouldn't have appealed to me, but the old ones were okay. I always thought it was similar to Dobie Gillis, except Dobie lusted for the beauty while being persued by the homely girl, whereas Archie had two pretty girls competing for him.

James Reasoner said...

Yeah, definite similarities between Archie and Dobie. I was a big Dobie Gillis fan. Ought to watch some of them again.