archie (3)

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

Archie’s Kevin Keller is a first in a lot of ways. He’s the first openly gay teenager in Riverdale. He’s the first Archie character to spin off into his own eponymous miniseries. Heck, that four-issue miniseries is itself a first for Archie Comics; they’ve never done one before.


12134125853?profile=originalActually, Archie is hedging a bit on that last part: Kevin Keller #1, which arrived June 15, is also Veronica #207. But that’s a technicality, and probably has more to do with in-house scheduling than any doubts about Kevin, whose name is emblazoned proudly across the top of the cover.


And Archie Comics has a lot to be proud of with Kevin Keller #1. Not only is Kevin gay, he is – thankfully – no-big-deal gay. It’s just an aspect of his character, not the whole of it. He’s a character, not a cause.


That’s the reality most teens deal with it on a daily basis, gay or straight or anything in between. In fact, you could read most of Kevin Keller and drop another new character in his place.


The series is meant to provide his background; the mechanism is two friends from one of Kevin’s previous schools, who drop by and give the Riverdale gang an opportunity to quiz them about Kevin’s past. As it turns out, it’s a background a lot of kids can identify with: Kevin’s an Army brat, who has moved around a lot; he and his two pals were unpopular geeks; the three of them were pudgy, gawky, or otherwise unattractive until they grew out of it; they dealt with bullies.


Where “teh gay” comes into play is the story of Kevin coming out, and it’s a scenario that would be the envy of many gay teens. His parents are understanding, and don’t freak out. His Army officer father even affirms: “I’ll always love you, no matter what. … You’re the best son a father could have.” The only hint of difficulty is a veiled warning from Col. Keller to Kevin about the latter’s plans for joining the military. Could it be a reference to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? We don’t know yet.


Anyway, that’s probably not the coming-out experience most gay teens have, so it could be criticized as unrealistic. I choose to see it as an affirmation of what Riverdale has always been: The fantasy of an average American town where everyone feels safe, comfortable and wanted.


Surprisingly, Kevin fits snugly into the Riverdale gang more than other late additions over the years, like Chuck Clayton and Cheryl Blossom. He and Veronica share a lot of interests, so he provides her the BFF that rival Betty could never be. The snappy patter between her, Kevin and Jughead is comfortable, and Kevin’s niche seems natural and unforced.


Credit goes to Dan Parent, who created Kevin Keller and is the writer/artist on the miniseries. Parent draws in what used to be the company’s house style, so his work is comfortable, professional and un-flashy. 


Which pretty much sums up Kevin Keller. It’s as good as any Archie comic out there, and that’s saying a lot.




12134126070?profile=original* I held off buying the new hardback series collecting Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, because I already have complete reprint collections of that ground-breaking comic strip. But I finally broke down and bought Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-38 (Fantagraphics, $29.99), and I’m glad I did. The reproduction is crisp, and the strips are presented the size they originally ran, that of a newspaper broadsheet. This is how Foster’s gorgeous artwork was meant to be seen, and I have to be careful not to drool on the pages.


12134126892?profile=original* When Fawcett Comics stopped creating new Captain Marvel stories in 1953, the company that reprinted them in the UK tasked writer/artist Mick Anglo to create a similar, substitute superhero called Marvelman. After that eventually ended, the character remained in limbo until Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman famously reworked Marvelman in the 1980s  into an apocalyptic, deconstructionist meditation on power and morality (reprinted in America as Miracleman to avoid conflict with Marvel Comics).


The rights to Miracleman are famously tied up in court, but Marvel Comics has begun reprinting Anglo’s version of the character in its original black and white.  I finally picked up Marvelman Classic Volume 1 ($34.99), and just as I’d heard, these stories from 1953-54 are aimed at kids and are extremely derivative and simplistic. Marvelman Classic might be of value for comics historians, but not for casual readers.


Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at

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By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


The bid by Archie Comics to become a bigger player in pop culture keeps expanding, buttressed this month by the first comprehensive history of Archie and the company that bears his name.


12134118895?profile=originalCraig Yoe’s Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenager (IDW, $49.99) isn’t going to surprise anyone. But it is a handsome book that fills in the basics.


Yoe, a comics and pop culture historian, does yeoman work here in clean, concise prose. He covers the company’s 1939 founding as superhero publisher MLJ Magazines (the name derived from the first initials of founders Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater), and its later transformation into Archie Comics, when that character, who first appeared in 1941, became the star. He provides summaries of the main Riverdale residents, and biographies of each of the major editors, writers and artists. He devotes a couple of pages each to big Archie spin-offs, like Little Archie and The Archies cartoons, band and records. He mentions some of the lesser lights, like Josie and the Pussycats, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and various fads.


12134120076?profile=originalIt’s a handsome book, with a die-cut cover of the famous three-on-a-soda scene that the United States Postal Service recreated as its representative Archie stamp. The reproduction, even of 70-year-old stories, is top-notch.


But don’t expect any surprises; Yoe toes the company line. For example, the acrimonious debate over who created Archie isn’t even mentioned, with all credit going to editor Goldwater and none to writer/artist Bob Montana or presumed early writer Vic Bloom. The company’s aggressive role in the formation and perpetuation of the Comics Code, long a thorn in the side of comics fans, is only given a few perfunctory nods.


And so forth. But, really, I didn’t expect much more than that. This is just a starting point for examining Archie Comics, and it is very welcome.  Archie: A Celebration is a fine – and fun – addition to any bookshelf, for fans and casual readers alike.




12134120657?profile=original* Frank Frazetta, known to most people for his 1960s and ‘70s Conan the Barbarian paperback covers, also drew a lot of comics. Vanguard Publishing seems determined to reprint them all.


The latest volume in Vanguard’s Frazetta library is White Indian ($49.95), a strip that appeared in various Western comics published by Magazine Enterprises from 1949 to 1953. It featured Dan Brand, a Philadelphia socialite during Revolutionary War times who ends up being trained by Native Americans, gains a sidekick named Tipi and runs around the frontier in a breechclout. Brand, who is heroically proportioned and amazingly competent at everything, mostly arranges peace between Indians and settlers, while fighting frontier bad guys like “bad” Indians, bootleggers, gun-runners and Tories.


This is pretty clichéd stuff, of course, not to mention historically inaccurate, incredibly implausible and more than a little insulting to Native Americans. But we’re not here for the stories – we’re here for Frazetta’s art, which does not disappoint.


By the time of the famous Conan paintings, Frazetta had become unique in style and technique. But in these earlier works, you can see his influences, which include Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), Hal Foster (Tarzan) and possibly Joe Kubert (1940s Hawkman). Frazetta’s muscular male figures in action are consistently breath-taking, and emphasized to the point of homoeroticism. Frazetta’s backgrounds and animals are equally lush and impressive, so the entire package is page after page of stunning eye candy.


12134120871?profile=originalThe back of White Indian is fleshed out with stories from other publishers of the era from a variety of genres (including Western, war and Viking) and a series that called “Heroic True Life Stories” from 1952-53 Heroic Comics. Presumably these stories are included because they weren’t numerous enough to carry a volume of their own and/or White Indian didn’t fill the necessary pages.


* Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Strange Tales Vol. 4 ($59.99) is the first volume to reprint Strange Tales from after the imposition of the draconian Comics Code of 1954, and they are almost painful to read. As comics historian Michael Vassallo says in the foreword: “What’s noticeable is how tame these post-Code stores immediately are. There is no serious conflict, no death, no destruction and no violence. Just Code-scrubbed blandness.”


Especially objectionable is when a sad or serious story has a clumsily pasted-on final panel that puts the “bad” ending on another planet or dimension or something. This is fascinating from a historical perspective, but pretty tough slogging for a casual reader.


Art from top:

Archie: A Celebration of America's Favorite Teenager is a basic overview of the character and the company that bears his name. Courtesy IDW Publishing

In 2010, the USPS released this Archie stamp

White Indian collects the strip by legendary artist Frank Frazetta that ran in the early 1950s. Courtesy Vanguard Productions

Marvel Masterworks: Strange Tales Vol. 4 straddles the era when the Comics Code of 1954 was introduced, and contains stories on either side of that division for comparison. Courtesy Marvel Entertainment


Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at



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By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


Dark Horse has begun the Brobdingnagian task of reprinting all Archie comics. That’s a welcome project for comics fans and historians, but one off to a rocky start.


12134101875?profile=originalArchie Archives Volume One ($49.99) has arrived, and it is a remastered, chronological hardback reproduction of all the Archie stories from the character’s introduction in Pep Comics #22 in late 1941 through Archie Comics #2 in the spring of 1943. It is a delight to learn so much about how “Mirth of a Nation” began, like how quickly some parts of the status quo fell into place, and how some had to be worked in later.


For example, Archie Andrews arrives almost fully fleshed – his clumsiness, skirt-chasing, predilection for getting in trouble, but essential good-heartedness are there from the beginning. So is Betty Cooper’s crush on him (she thinks he’s “grand” in the very first story) as is Jughead Jones’ unstinting loyalty.


But Veronica Lodge doesn’t arrive until the sixth story. Archie’s rival Reggie Mantle seems to evolve from a throwaway character named Scotty in the seventh story, and doesn’t get his familiar name and full introduction until three months (and five stories) later.  When Riverdale High’s principal is introduced, it’s Miss Grundy, but soon the familiar Waldo Weatherbee takes the big chair – only “the Bee’s” familiar look (portly, needle-nosed, pince-nez glasses, small toupee) comes into being through trial and error.


This is a lot of fun, but Dark Horse has made the puzzling choice to eschew a contents/credits page, a standard practice in virtually all other reprint projects, including those by Dark Horse. Since there’s no index or footnotes either, there’s no way of knowing where these stories came from, or who wrote and drew them, which is an important reason most people buy a book like this. Fortunately I was able to Google the pertinent information (which is available below). For the record, these stories first appeared in Pep #22-38, Jackpot Comics #4-8 and Archie Comics #1-2, and were mostly by writer/artist (and Archie co-creator) Bob Montana.


Dark Horse also omitted the Archie text piece from Archie #1 (but included the text piece from Archie #2), the Pep and Jackpot covers with Archie on them and other features from the original books (like contents pages and a biography of Montana). One can only hope that these disappointing omissions are corrected in future volumes, and later editions of Volume One.


Even with those flaws, I still recommend the book. Comprehensive Archie reprints are something I’ve wanted since I bought my first Archie in the 1960s, saw that big issue number, and realized I had missed something on the order of 20 years’ worth of stories. Intolerable! Now that Dark Horse is bringing back Archie’s Golden Age in an affordable format, I’ll take what I can get, warts and all.


Other Dark Horse reprints:


12134102256?profile=original* DH’s Creepy Archives has turned a corner into the better stories of the 1970s, but the companion Eerie Archives has yet to do so. The latest of the latter, Eerie Archives Volume Seven ($49.99) reprints Eerie #32-36 from 1971, and while the content shows signs of the story experimentation found in the rest of the decade and an influx of new artists, it is still pretty mediocre. History shows us the quality will improve as these reprints march into the later 1970s and 1980s, but the “Archives” just ain’t there yet.


12134102652?profile=originalSpeaking of dips in quality, Flash Gordon Comic Book Archives Volume 3 ($49.99) was something of a chore to wade through. The second volume in this series brought us the 11 issues published by King Features, which had outstanding artwork (the only reason to read these old comics, since the stories are usually just rehashes of what Alex Raymond had already done in the “Gordon” comic strip). But when Charlton Comics picked up Flash Gordon (and continued the King numbering) in 1969 they didn’t keep the artists, and the bulk of their run (Flash Gordon #12-18, reprinted here) is by Pat Boyette. I find Boyette’s static, over-rendered and somewhat ugly style interesting as a change of pace, but too much of it is like swallowing sand – which is the case here.


Fortunately, like with the Eerie reprints, this is due to improve in future volumes, which will reprint Flash Gordon when it was published under the Gold Key/Western banner (1970-82). If you’re not a purist, you can skip Volume 3.


Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at


Archie Archives Volume 1


Pep Comics #22, December, 1941

[“Introducing Archie”],* script by Vic Bloom, art Bob Montana … 6


Pep Comics #23, January 1942

[“Danger: Thin Ice”], script by Vic Bloom (?), art by Bob Montana … 12


Jackpot Comics #4, Winter 1941

Cover by Bob Montana NOT INCLUDED

[“The Play Goes to the Dogs”], script and art by Bob Montana … 18


Pep Comics #24, February 1942

[“The Basketball Blunder”], script by Vic Bloom (?), art by Bob Montana … 26


Pep Comics #25, March 1942

[“Archie’s Taxi Service”], script and art by Bob Montana … 32


Pep Comics #26, April 1942

[“Veronica Makes the Scene”], script and art by Bob Montana … 38


Jackpot Comics #5, Spring 1942

 [“Trip to Bear Mountain”], script and art by Bob Montana … 44


Pep Comics #27, May 1942

[“Archie for Class President!”], script and art by Bob Montana … 52


Pep Comics #28, June 1942

[“Band of the Bland”], script and art by Bob Montana … 60


Pep Comics #29, July 1942

“Archie on Vacation,” script and art by Bob Montana … 66


Pep Comics #30, August 1942

[“The Escort Agency”], script and art by Bob Montana … 73


Jackpot Comics #6, Summer 1942

[“The Jalopy Race”], script and art by Bob Montana … 79


Pep Comics #31, September 1942

[“Archie Goes to Congress”], script and art by Bob Montana … 86


Pep Comics #32, October 1942

[“The Voyage of the Betty C”], script and art by Bob Montana … 92


Pep Comics #33, November 1942

[“Jughead’s Cousin”], script and art by Bob Montana … 98


Jackpot Comics #7, Fall 1942

“Archie Andrews’ Christmas Story,” script and art by Bob Montana … 104


Pep Comics #34, December 1942

[“The Limerick Contest”], script and art by Bob Montana … 112


Pep Comics #35, January 1943

[“The School Reporter”], script and art by Bob Montana … 119


Archie Comics #1, Winter 1942

Cover by Bob Montana … 135

[“Contents Page”] art by Bob Montana NOT INCLUDED

“Who’s Who in Riverdale,” art by Bob Montana … 136

“Prom Pranks,” script by Bob Montana (?), art by Bob Montana … 137

“Train Trouble,” script by Bob Montana (?), art by Bob Montana … 135

“That $$#@!! Telegram,” text by Scott Feldman NOT INCLUDED

“Pancakes in a Blackout,” script by Bob Montana (?), art  by Bob Montana … 142

“Archie’s Puzzles” … 144

“The Case of the Missing Mistletoe,” script by Bob Montana (?), art by Bob Montana … 145

“Meet Bob Montana,” text by Cord Elliott NOT INCLUDED

[“Jughead’s Day”], script by Bob Montana (?), art by Bob Montana … 150


Jackpot Comics #8, Winter 1942

[“How to Be a Detective”], script and art by Montana … 156


Pep Comics #36, February 1943

Cover by Bob Montana NOT INCLUDED

“The 3-11 Club,” script and art by Bob Montana … 162


Pep Comics #37, March 1943

[“Introducing Oscar”], script and art by Bob Montana … 168


Pep Comics #38, April 1943

[“On the Farm”], script and art by Bob Montana … 173


Archie Comics #2, Spring 1943

Cover by Bob Montana … 179

[“Contents Page”], art by Bob Montana NOT INCLUDED

 “A Prevue of ‘Archie’s Troubles’,” art by Bob Montana … 180

“Archie the Athlete,” art by Bob Montana … 181

“Sir Archibald of the Round Table,” art by Bob Montana … 190

“Archie’s Secret Weapon,” text by Kobold Keep … 200

“A Hunting We Will Go,” art by Bob Montana … 202

“Veronica Goes to Town,” art by Bob Montana … 203

“Meet the Editor” text by Scott Feldman NOT INCLUDED

“Poor Fish,” art by Bob Montana … 207


* Brackets indicate titles assigned by Grand Comic Book Database to untitled stories.


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