Archie is one of those iconic comics that pretty much everyone ran into at sometime in their life; for me it was always a badly dog eared, coffee stained digest hiding in the recesses of my grandmother’s coffee table in the mid-90s.
So most people think they know Riverdale’s favourite ginger pretty well by now – a sweet, fallible, but ultimately loveable loser.
Turns out, that's not so true anymore.
The CW has taken all those syrupy sweet, malt shop kids you know and twisted them into a dark Twin Peaks-eaque meta commentary on Riverdale and how times have changed.
It’s intrinsically self aware as these symbols of ‘The All American Boy and Girl’ delve into classic teenage debauchery and a murder mystery. And part of the reason it works so well is because it knows exactly how ridiculous that is.
And it’s no wonder this show capitalizes so well on taking those long held Archie conventions and flipping our expectations right out of the park – veteran writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is at the helm of Riverdale. His work on Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has been artfully breaking the rules for a while now.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Life With Archie
If I’m going to talk about the deliciously twisted things going on in the Archie-verse right now, we have to begin where things started to take a more serious turn.
The big question has always been ‘Who will he choose?’ Down-to-earth tomboy Betty or rich gal Veronica?
Well according to Life with Archie anyway. In 2010 Life With Archie looks at two diverging timelines – in the first timeline he marries Veronica, in the second he goes with Betty. The book received outstanding critical acclaim, even being nominated for an Eisner (one of the biggest awards for comics) as writer Paul Kupperberg twisted an amazing journey into Archie’s adulthood that ultimately ends the exact same way, no matter which team you were pulling for.
-- Beware – there are spoilers below --
At the end of the run in 2014 the stories converge and Archie takes a bullet to save newly elected US Senator Kevin Keller (the first openly gay character in the Archie Comic Universe). His heroic sacrifice is remembered by the folks of Riverdale as the books time skip one year later where we see Riverdale High is now known as Archie Andrews High School.
These books were sold incredibly well and it set the stage for more adult themes in Archie comics. The kids who had grown up reading those digests were now cynical adults looking for something a little more mature and maybe, just maybe, a little more gruesome as well.
Afterlife with Archie
The last thing most people expected to see shambling around Riverdale was the undead. Understandably so. But during the Life with Archie run artist Francesco Francavilla was tasked with creating a zombie themed variant cover* for the smash hit.
This cover was a resounding success and disappeared from shelves as fast as it could be stocked.
Clearly there was an audience for a darker take on Archie.
And so Francavilla teamed up with writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa for an entire zombie themed book called Afterlife with Archie. It kicks off with the death of Jughead’s dog Hot Dog. Distraught, Jughead begs Sabrina for help. When the teenage witch gives in and uses the Necronomicon to resurrect the pooch, things start to go terribly wrong: Sabrina faces the wrath of her aunts and Hot Dog becomes patient zero for a zombie plague.
The first eight issues completely sold out and Archie Horror was born. There’s even overtures of Afterlife in Riverdale.
If you like Afterlife, check out Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. These books are far more than just a marketing gimmick – they’ve become required reading for many comic and horror lovers.
*Variant covers are alternative art covers used on books. They hold no sway on the actual content of the book, but many serve as collectors items
So what do you think?
Are you a fan of flipping the script on Archie, or do you just want some good clean malt shop fun? If you've been watching Riverdale, are you liking it?
Cover image courtesy: Warner Bro. Television