It's 2014 -- do you know what Riverdale's teenagers are up to?

There was a time when Archie Comics was famous for being rigidly conservative. Now it’s gaining a reputation for being the most experimental comics publisher in America.

Most of the company’s progressive efforts aren’t obvious to the casual observer. It has aggressively entered the digital comics market, for example, with its own app and other innovations. It’s quietly pursuing projects for its library of characters in television and movies, which won’t be obvious until they come to fruition.

Other efforts have already made a splash. For example, Archie Comics made national headlines in 2009 exploring what would happen if Riverdale’s favorite redhead married (alternatively, in back-to-back stories) either Veronica and Betty (Archie #600-607). Written by movie producer Michael Uslan, the stories were so popular that both are being continued in Life with Archie, a magazine-format series created just for that purpose. Those stories are written and drawn by veterans of serious superhero books, so that Life with Archie is a good read for adults as well as Archie’s traditional market.

Another headline-buster was the advent in 2010 of Kevin Keller, Riverdale’s first openly gay character. Despite threats by some venues to stop selling Archie Comics, the publisher forged ahead. Eventually the furor died down and Keller is now one of the most popular members of the Archie gang – and the star of his own solo book.

And just this month Archie has released a trade paperback collecting a courageous story that somehow went under the radar in 2010. Archie & Friends All Stars Vol. 8 ($9.95) reprints an interracial romance between Archie and Valerie, the African-American guitarist in Josie & The Pussycats.

At the time the Archie-Valerie romance was presented as part of Archie’s ongoing story, with the romance unable to continue because the high schoolers lived in different towns. But a 2012 sequel – which I hope to see collected soon -- explored the idea of Archie and Valerie getting married, like the abovementioned Life with Archie stories. That, obviously, was a “what if,” so whether Archie and Valerie are still an on-and-off-again couple in “real” Riverdale is questionable.

Come to think of it, perhaps the lack of attention the Archie-Valerie romance stirred up is a good sign. In the early days of comics, publishers were urged by Southern distributors to keep African-Americans off the covers. Even as late as 1966, when Marvel Comics introduced the Black Panther, creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided to give the character a full face mask so his ethnicity wasn’t immediately obvious.

Contrast that to today, when America’s most famous white teenager can smooch it up with a black girl on the cover of Archie. To tell you the truth, the interracial aspect of it didn’t even occur to me at the time – instead, I was wondering just what this Archie kid has got going that Betty, Veronica AND Valerie all find him irresistible. Lucky, lucky kid, that Archie.

I should warn that The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats – what the trade paperback is titled on the cover – is written and drawn in traditional Archie style, meaning some adults may find it too simplistic. Still, it’s by Archie veterans Dan Parent and Bill Galvan, which means it’s pretty entertaining.

So what else could Archie Comics do with their characters that would shock us? Well, how about kill them?

Not all at once of course. Instead, we’re watching the gang struggle to survive in that suddenly popular genre, the zombie apocalypse!

Afterlife with Archie – you have to give points for the pun – launched several months ago with the most shocking Archie storyline I’ve ever read (or imagined). In the first issue, Jughead’s canine buddy Hot Dog was run over by a car. Desperate to bring his pal back to life, Juggie turns to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who does her best to restore Hot Dog – with horrible results.

That’s right, Hot Dog returns as a zombie. And promptly bites Jughead. And all zombie fans know what comes next …

By issue #4, Jughead had half-eaten another major character and infected half the town – including some long-running characters. Archie and the remaining regulars took refuge in Lodge Mansion, with its many high-tech defenses. But the infection had already found its way inside …

Creeped out yet? Good! Because this is a horror title, and you’re supposed to be creeped out. And being creeped out can be fun, even if – maybe especially if – the people being threatened in the horror story are characters you’ve been invested in since middle school (which, in my case, is a considerable amount of time). And, once again, Archie Comics has turned to superhero veterans to craft a story attractive to adult readers – in this case, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Fantastic Four) and Eisner-winning artist Francesco Francavilla (Batman).

And just to sweeten the pot, reprinted in the back of some issues of Afterlife with Archie are short stories from the company’s last stab at horror books, Chilling Adventures in Sorcery (1972-75). That means the welcome return of suspense masterpieces by the likes of Gray Morrow and Dick Giordano.

Archie is even trying its hand at superheroes again, despite numerous failed efforts in the past. But The Fox, by superstar writer Mark Waid (Daredevil, Indestructible Hulk) and unorthodox artist Dean Haspiel, is really quite a treat.

All this from a company that for many years almost single-handedly kept alive the much-loathed Comics Code of America, which for decades reduced all American comics to an almost pre-school level. In those days, Archie Comics was synonymous with static lack of change.

But today? When you invoke the old cartoon theme song Everything’s Archie, it will bring a smile or two. From romance to superhero to horror, everything really is Archie – and it’s darn good.

Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com.

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All this from a company that for many years almost single-handedly kept alive the much-loathed Comics Code of America, which for decades reduced all American comics to an almost pre-school level.

The following quote from Mark Twain was just called to my attention by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:

“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”

I have mixed feelings really. I like Afterlife with Archie, partly because it's so far away from the Archie comics I once knew. Frankly I expected a repeat of the Archie/KISS team up. I like that they are experimenting a bit.
On the other hand as they move Archie further and further away from the Norman Rockwell fantasy world that I always read growing up, as they slip more and more of our world into that used to be permanently innocent world, it's a bit like seeing Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys tangle with a drug and prostitution racket.

The nice thing about Archie's approach is the ones that don't appeal to us as being Archie-like can just be ignored. They're all in their own universes. I enjoy The Married Life as they try to figure out who they are outside of their rigid high school roles. But I must've missed their college years, although they certainly are doing jobs that usually require a college education.

I really wanted to like the Fox, but it took a bad turn in fantasy really fast, which is not the Fox's wheelhouse. I was hoping for something more down to earth and witty, especially with Waid scripting. Maybe it'll get there, but there are only two issues left.

-- MSA

  That's probably why I like the Archie Afterlife series.  The names are there and the identities but this as a far away from the DeCarlo Betty and Veronica as you can get.  Archie to me was always like the movies on the Wonderful World of Disney that I used to watch after Wild Kingdom.  A very clean, very thrilling yet very safe set of adventures.  Afterlife Archie is Dawn of the Living Dead with some familiar names and characters or a Mad parody of Archie.

Exactly. "Life with Archie" and "Afterlife with Archie" are there for those who want to be a little more experimental, but if you don't want to be, the safe Dan DeCarlo Archie world is still there, in multiple titles a month.

I suspect that if books like LwA and ALwA were around when I was in middle school, I wouldn't have dropped Archies in 1973. I would have just moved on to the "older" books (and sneaked in one of the "younger" ones now and then). What they're doing is offering books for a wider demographic, and that's not only smart publishing but also giving us older fans some pretty snappy comics.

Afterlife With Archie was an act of brilliance. Especially in the way that it's been pulled off. You can't get much darker.

Okay, maybe if David Lapham was the writer, you could get darker. But short of that, you really can't.

Mr. Silver Age said:

The nice thing about Archie's approach is the ones that don't appeal to us as being Archie-like can just be ignored. They're all in their own universes. I enjoy The Married Life as they try to figure out who they are outside of their rigid high school roles. But I must've missed their college years, although they certainly are doing jobs that usually require a college education.

It's fine by me that Life With Archie skipped over their college years. I mean, really -- would those stories be a whole lot different than their high school years?

I won't go into details, but MY college years were significantly different than my high school years. But I didn't have the Lodge millions at my command or a harem of pretty girls chasing me around in high school.  No, it's true.

I would've liked some acknowledgement of those years, which can change a person a lot and certainly scatter people far and wide. They seemed to mostly transition right from being at RHS to where they were as we picked them up, and it'd be good to at least acknowledge some of them had degrees and what those might be in, even if they all attended Riverdale University.

-- MSA



Mark S. Ogilvie said:

I have mixed feelings really. I like Afterlife with Archie, partly because it's so far away from the Archie comics I once knew. Frankly I expected a repeat of the Archie/KISS team up. I like that they are experimenting a bit.
On the other hand as they move Archie further and further away from the Norman Rockwell fantasy world that I always read growing up, as they slip more and more of our world into that used to be permanently innocent world, it's a bit like seeing Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys tangle with a drug and prostitution racket.

 

I'd read Nancy Drew: After Dark!

For all of the times that Nancy Drew was kidnapped, chloroformed or tied up I never really worried about her in those books.  Same with the Archie crew.  In that way AA is groundbreaking in that it allows the element of real danger into the stories that regular Archie stuff can't.

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