Today marks the release of Archie’s Archie #1. Those out of the loop might be thinking “wait, didn’t they just release an Archie #1 back in the winter of 1942?”
And those people would be right! But as is the fashion in the comics biz as of late, Archie has decided that 73 years and 666 issues (no kidding) was long enough for a single run before deciding to go ahead and reboot the whole shebang. Archie is dead — no, not literally, though I suppose we’ve seen that, too. Long live Archie.
At least, one might assume that’s the prevailing sentiment from on high over at the publishing offices of Archie Comics. Let’s face it: no matter how hard they try, if there is one word that has long been synonymous with Archie and his friends in the the eyes of the mainstream public, it’s “dated.” Lovable as the gang is, they’ve been going to Pop Tate’s Chok’lit Shoppe for so long that the place has practically circled around from vintage to being a retro establishment in a similar vein to Sonic’s drive-ins and Johnny Rocket’s.
Ask a random guy on the street to tell you about Archie, and if they don’t respond with “they still publish that?”, then they’ll probably have in mind the characters’ fashions of the times or Archie’s old jalopy. Never mind that they’ve been continuously produced new stories with updated clothes and even a more modern car, or even an openly homosexual character with his own title; even more recent oddities such as the zombified horror story of Afterlife with Archie or the Dark Horse crossover Archie vs. Predator, which is drawn in the classic style as numerous characters are killed in brutal fashion, seem to have part of their appeal rooted in how classic, wholesome, and from another time the characters seem to be.
Even without Man of Steel-ing the character up, Superman — who first debuted in Action Comics #1 a whole three years before the Andrews boy — doesn’t tend to have quite the same image issue.
As Archie Comics seeks to reinvent itself — and its cast of characters — for the new millennium, it’s understandable that they might want to consider starting fresh as so many of their four-color contemporaries have either done before (DC Comics) or are doing as we speak (Marvel Comics) and try to reintroduce the character to a new generation. This generation, and they’ve brought on high-profile names such as Mark Waid (writer, Captain America, Kingdom Come) and Fiona Staples (artist, DV8: Gods and Monsters, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents) to get the job done.
Will the gamble pay off? We’ll find out as I’m about to take a look into an advance preview copy of Archie #1, as provided by the publisher.
The first thing I want to talk about is the cover… by not talking about the cover. Not all of them, anyway.
Archie Comics has released an obscene number of variants for this issue. I understand it’s a reboot and rebranding of their top character, the one their entire company was renamed to honor, but… twenty-four different covers? Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog fans have been witness to an ever-increasing number of variants of those books over the years, and I think the high mark so far has been a dozen covers for The Death of Archie — a worthwhile event, to be sure.
But twenty-four?! 2-4? That’s a crazy number.
To get 22 of them, according to the bundle on Archie’s online store, would be $87.78 (though as of this writing, it’s on sale for $79.99). The other two, meanwhile, are San Diego Comic-Con exclusives priced at a further $20 apiece, never mind the cost of attending the con to begin with or the mark-up and shipping by going through a reseller online.
So you’re looking at a minimum of $140 USD for all the collector’s covers. I have no idea who they’re trying to target with that many variants — if they’re indeed trying to relaunch/regrow the fan base, I’m not sure the audience is there for that kind of move yet. I’m not even sure how many Archie fans in general would be interested in that many variants. If such people exist that are interested, more power to them. But even at the height of my Archie fandom, I don’t think I’d have ever sought out that many.
Anyway, I’m just looking at one cover, the regular retail one seen at right. I kind of like it. It gives us the best example of any of the covers of what to expect between its pages (some of the others get a bit far off the mark, stylistically-speaking), and pulls away from the vintage look that has defined the series for so long, for better or for worse. It stands apart from the rest of their output with a new layout and a new logo, and really feels like the beginnings of a true reimagining of the title character.
One thing that’s always gotten me about Archie is how it seems every girl goes for him, even though he’s generally not all that attractive. He improved from his early days (seen in a back-up feature within this very issue) with the Dan DeCarlo style that became synonymous with the character, but the way he looks in this new style? Yeah, I can see how he might get the girls.
Beyond that, the art itself is a bit more realistic than DeCarlo’s more cartoon-like renditions. Not uncanny valley or anything, but closer to what I might expect a high school and teenagers to look like in something published by Marvel or DC. In a curious move, though, Reggie is sporting his classic greaser hair and jacket combo — does anyone actually dress that way any more? Teenagers, I mean? It just seems off.
Without getting into spoilers about the story, this issue is fairly exposition heavy, introducing — or for some of us, reintroducing — the character to us. It goes a little weird, as Archie himself addresses the reader while doing so, continuing on as the scenery changes around him. Generally speaking, it works, save for one page where it almost looks as though his words are affecting someone else in the panel. The whole book doesn’t read this way, but only certain parts; in fact, you forget about it towards the end until he suddenly starts doing it again, and you don’t even realize he’s doing it as he solicits feedback via e-mail address and hashtag.
An interesting touch is that newer characters to the Archie canon are still here, more firmly planted at ground zero — and before some of the “classics” are even introduced, no less. Without naming any names, one individual in particular seems as though he may be due for an inevitable change.
Overall… I have to say I liked it. I enjoyed the art style, and the story seems pretty solid. The characterization seems as familiar as ever, from Archie’s eccentricities to Betty’s literal “girl next door” persona to Jughead’s… being Jughead. Everything feels right, save for one thing.
Among other things Archie is known for, perhaps none stands out more than the humor. Archie and the gang have effectively been the champions of putting the “funny” into the “funny books” for decades now. And this book?
It just wasn’t funny.
Archie used to have the tagline “The Mirth of a Nation,” and I even saw the phrase tagged on one retro variation of the new cover (which led to my using it for the tagline of this review), but I’ll be frank: There is little to laugh at here. I did grin and chuckle a bit at Jughead doing his thing — and if you know Jughead, it’s easy to have that come out with the expectation of his antics and way of doing things — but beyond that? It seems deliberately dry.
Now, as a fan of Life with Archie, I’m actually okay with this to a certain degree. However, I’m not sure how others are going to react. Sure, Archie has done drama before, but… I don’t know. I guess that some of the older stuff had a little bit of a softer edge that I think this one lacks. I was expecting something more Saved by the Bell, but found this teetering just ever-so slightly closer to Beverly Hills 90210 (though not as “mature” as all that was).
An Archie without the humor? Now that is a gamble. More than any number of covers, more than any new art style, big-name creatives, or the idea of rebooting what already had a very, very loose idea of canon… that might just be the biggest risk of all for Archie Comics to take with this.
We’ll soon see if it pays off.