Archie: Classic Teenage Tales in a Modern Coat

Back in 1941, a comic book known as Pep Comics introduced a character who would become a long-lasting figure in the world of comics: Archie Andrews. A red-headed teen who is kind-hearted as well as clumsy, he became Pep Comics‘s most popular character and eventually gained his own title known as Archie. Within the pages of this classic comic, readers followed Archie as he contended with all sorts of teenage antics in the town of Riverdale. Most popular among these stories was the love triangle that rested at the comic’s heart, with Archie caught between the sweet “girl next door” Betty Cooper and the alluring but vain Veronica Lodge. With its fun writing and memorable teen characters, the title became a defining work for its publisher Archie Comics. The world of Riverdale would expand and grow, with spin-off titles not only for the principal cast but also introducing new figures like Josie and the Pussycats and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Now, for the first time, such a long-running series has been rebooted, offering a fresh start for new readers to enter the world of Riverdale. Written by Mark Waid, this new series simply called Archie is a fun read that updates the classic comic while preserving its heart.

At Riverdale High School, Archie Andrews and Betty Cooper have been the classic couple. They have been with each other ever since they were kids…at least until recently, with a moment that became known as “The Lipstick Incident” that brought an end to their relationship. Now, the two have broken up to the shock of the student body. Though plenty of people would want to see them back together, the sting of their break-up is still too strong for them to mend wounds so easily. However, a new factor enters their lives that changes things up: the arrival of the millionaire Lodge family. What that means for Archie and Betty is the arrival of Veronica Lodge, an alluring  but vain girl who has lived in the lap of luxury and manages to learn a secret about Archie. While he does fall for Veronica at the sight of her, this little secret becomes Veronica’s leash for keeping him close. Betty wants to break them up, but she recognizes that Veronica does appreciate Archie in her own way despite her stuck-up attitude. Even as these factors twist things up, there is also the threat of Reggie Mantle, a sleazy classmate who will do anything to ruin Archie’s life.

As a revamped version of a classic comic book, this is a well-done take. Though it has had a shifting life of artists, they have all done a good job in illustrating this title. They capture a sense of life and fun to go along with the slice of life comedy. Serving as the anchor to go along with the strong art, though, is Mark Waid and his skillful writing. His update to Archie includes modern elements, whether visually with Archie’s ruined car now being a busted ’80s Hatchback or writing-wise such as having Archie break the fourth wall to explain some things to the reader. More important, however, is that his update maintains the core spirit of these characters while offering a deeper and richer nuance to them. For instance, the love triangle I mentioned earlier has always been a classic part of Archie’s comics over the years. Mark Waid’s approach to such a classic part, which infuses each of its key players with understandable reasons behinds their actions, shows an understanding that offers more substance without sacrificing the spirit of the comic. In fact, that is one of the major elements of this update: it does not lose sight of what makes this comic work.

When it comes to working on an update of something, change is a natural thing to occur. There might be pieces of a work which could be strengthened, or perhaps its setting has grown outdated and could use some polish. Change would be an understandable thing, then, for treating this. However, when it is done excessively and for no real reason, then it is a problem. Likewise, keeping everything set in stone ultimately offers no real progress or anything fresh for an audience. Instead of settling for one or the other, however, there is a middle ground: faithful but not slavish. That is the path of recognizing what makes a story great, what makes its characters so memorable, and preserving that while making these new adjustments. After all, there is a reason that Archie Andrews and the town of Riverdale have been such an enduring little corner in the world of comics. Its tales of slapstick, teenage love, and memorable characters have hooked readers for years and made the comic a steady presence for nearly 75 years. Mark Waid has taken not only the core of the original comic, but also the central keys to its characters, and preserved them while updating it with a richer sense of narrative and characterization. The result is an example of an update that understands its source material not only well enough to see what works and keep that, but also see what can be changed and thus make it a stronger piece of work.

It is almost incredible to think of how old the Archie Comics are and how long they have still been running in stores. Some may see those original comics as a relic from another time. Under Mark Waid’s clever writing, Archie has recaptured just what has made them be so appealing for so long.

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