by KC Carlson
No, this isn’t a column about bad diabetes management. It’s about what’s been recently going on at our favorite Teen Humor publisher, the older-than-your-grandpa Archie Comics. Sure, Archie has had a reputation for being a stodgy, pretty-much-the-same-thing-every-month kind of publisher in the past, but in recent years they have been slowly evolving into telling stories about this decade, and just recently they published their first title for people usually outside their target demographic, which, up to now was primarily young girls and women.
Welcome to the twisted world of the tongue-in-cheek titled Afterlife With Archie.
SO PUT SOME MUSTARD ON MY ROLL
‘CAUSE YOU’RE BLOCKING UP MY SOUL
(lyrics from The Archies’ song “Hot Dog”)
This is Archie’s first comic book to require a mature readers label (Which reads “Rated Teen+: Violence and Mature Content), and the comic is currently only being offered through Direct Market distribution, and the Archie online app. Physical copies of the four different versions of the cover reportedly sold out in one day, and a Second Printing (with another new cover) is being prepared for release. Our local Westfield retail store reports that most people bought all four covers, when available.
And yes, the book is an actual zombie comic book, with mature themes and an extremely moody presentation (by artist Francesco Francavilla (Black Beetle, Batman in Detective Comics), and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Archie Meets GLEE, and the GLEE TV show itself). It’s mostly played straight, and somewhat actually shocking, rather than the typical Archie humor and slapstick. (Although, there’s plenty of unintentional, subliminal humor by simply having these iconic teenagers placed in this horrifying situation.) That feeling doesn’t last long, however, as very bad bad things start happening almost immediately).
THE PLOT SICKENS
(If you don’t want to know anything about the first issue, skip ahead to Elsewhere In The Archie U. – ed.)
Starting with a late-night visit to teen-age witch, Sabrina’s creepy house, a distraught Jughead cradles a mortally wounded Hot Dog in his arms, pleading for Sabrina to help him. Sabrina’s equally creepy aunts determine that Hot Dog is actually too far gone for a magical resurrection, and warns Sabrina against acting. But Jughead pleads for his dog’s life, and Sabrina disobeys her aunts, casts a spell, and tells Jughead to go home and wait. The aunts discover Sabrina’s actions and have her banished to a mystic realm for a year (conveniently getting her magical powers out of the way for a bit.)
The next day, after some business with a very bitchy Betty & Veronica, we discover that Hot Dog had died because Reggie had inadvertently hit him with his car — and then fled the scene, determined not to tell anybody about what happened. Meanwhile, Jughead waits all day for Hot Dog’s return… but nothing happens. Later that night, there’s a scratching at the door, but what greets Jughead at the door isn’t good ‘ol Hot Dog. Not really…
The next day, Jughead isn’t at school and Archie swings by the house to see him, only to discover that his friend is really sick. And, according to Archie, so is Hot Dog, who Archie hears under the front porch, but doesn’t come out to greet him. But Archie can’t stay, as he’s late for the big Halloween dance at the gym. And after a bit of geekery, Reggie’s about to confess his crimes just as someone announces that Jughead has actually made it to the dance — and he’s wearing a awesome zombie costume!
Dun Dun DUN-N-N!
Okay, I hate zombie stories, but I’ll be back for issue #2 of this. Easily the strangest thing I’ve read all year!
Perhaps the most striking thing about this book is the subtle color effects, primarily errie oranges and purples — a far cry from the day-glo primary colors of the familiar Archie universe. This book is mucho creepy!
ELSEWHERE IN THE ARCHIE U.
Currently, Archie is down to just three regular format comic books that feature new material, although the company is currently experimenting with new and varied formats for their reprint material, beyond their usual line of digests. Which indicates to me that this experimentation with format means that there may be even more changes to Archie’s lineup in the future. Long-running title Betty and Veronica is still hanging in there, currently featuring bi-monthly parodies of classic fairy-tales (ala the popular Once Upon A Time TV show). Recent issues have featured updated treatments of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and The Little Mermaid. Apparently, there is big news ahead about Betty & Veronica from Archie Comics.
Kevin Keller, the title featuring the very popular adventures of Riverdale’s first openly gay character, was recently awarded “Outstanding Comic Book” status by GLAAD for promoting the image of LGBT people in the media. Recent issues have focused on family trips and smoothing out some rough edges in Kevin’s current relationship with Devon. The thing that makes the book work so well is the interesting friendship that Kevin has with Veronica Lodge, who seems to not understand – or care (which is the point) – that Kevin is gay.
The main Archie title is currently Archie Comics’ only regular monthly publication and it appears to bounce around from celebrity and media tie-ins (the recent 4-isssue Archie Meets GLEE), or really interesting one-shot gender-bending stories and the bizarre SF tale that sort of served as a twisted maybe “origin” of the Archie Universe (#646), both of which felt both modern and retro, thanks to the art by new occasional Archie artist Giselle, who draws the characters seemingly younger and with a slight manga influence. Longtime Archie artist Dan Parent still draws many issues of Archie (including the GLEE crossover and the fun “Mirrordale” issue in #647, as well as every issue of Kevin Keller.) And it was great to see artist Fernando Ruiz step up to draw the excellent Thor parody (“Clod of Thunder”) – written by former (Marvel) Thor writer Tom DeFalco in #648. Ruiz is one of the primary artists of the new material in the (mostly) reprint digests, so it’s good to see him working in the larger format. He’s also currently the regular penciller of “Archie Marries Veronica” in Life With Archie, and Archie has promised an announcement about that magazine in the near future.
Archie has also really embraced the movement for variant covers (although not necessarily as high-priced retailer incentives, Archie Comics variants are cover price), and have begun making them really special by inviting artists normally outside the Archie Universe to participate. So recently we’ve seen a Walter Simonson Thor variant cover for the “Clod of Thunder” Archie #648, Fiona Staples and Jill Thompson on Betty & Veronica variants, and Dean Haspiel, Stephanie Buscema, and an awesome everybody-in-Archie-Comics variant for recent issues of Life With Archie. And more are in the works.
ARCHIE’S PAST – COVERED!
Archie fans that are more interested in older Archie Comics will be delighted with The Art of Archie: The Covers, an oversize 160-page full-color art book of the best of Archie’s 70-plus years of covers. Edited by Victor Gorelick, who’s been with the company for over 50 years, and Archie uber-fan Craig Yoe, this basically is the short-form history of Archie through pictures — hundreds of covers, many reproduced from the original art. They’re all subdivided into various (and obvious) groupings (outrageous slapstick comedy, pretty girls in bikinis, fads and flops of pop culture, pretty girls in cheerleader outfits, celebrities, fashion, pretty girls kissing Archie, first appearances of major characters, and pretty girls dancing). One of the things that surprised me most was Archie Comics actually admitting (and displaying) that they used to frequently recycle their cover gags over multiple covers!
One of the best things about the book, is that there are mini-biographies of the most prolific cover artists (Dan DeCarlo, Harry Lucey, Dan Parent, Bob Montana), classic artists (Bill Vigoda, Al Fagaly, Harry Sahle) and fan favorites (Samm Schwartz, Bob White, Bob Bolling, Fernando Ruiz), which also includes photographs of the artists — some for the first time! It nice to finally see Archie slowly embracing their fabulous history, and credit the amazing talents that have worked for the company over its long history.
But, frustratingly, one-longtime Archie artist is woefully under-represented here. Stan Goldberg was one of the most prolific and identifiable of all Archie artists for the last few decades. He was the artist on Archie’s most popular recent project “Archie Marries Veronica” and “Archie Marries Betty” from Archie #600-605, endlessly reprinted and eventually spun-into the current incarnation of Life With Archie which continue the storylines. (Goldberg also contributed to issue #1 of that title, and is also one of the artists of the cult-popular Archie Meets the Punisher from 1994.)
Stan Goldberg drew hundreds of covers for Archie over the 41 years he freelanced for them. Only five of them are in this book, and he gets no artist bio. This does not seem right.
INTO THE FUTURE!
Archie Comics has been working very hard recently to keep America’s Favorite Teenagers in the forefront of popular culture. They’re getting some great buzz (and headlines) on some current projects like Afterlife With Archie and hopefully will gain some additional valuable information from the recent format experimentation. Hopefully with some strategic rebranding of their classic characters and the eventual resolution of some unfortunate internal problems will keep the focus on the characters and keep Archie and the gang alive for another 70-plus years! They’re America’s teenagers — no matter how old they really are!
KC CARLSON ASKS: Did you know that the irregular series with the characters as cave-people (usually known as “Archie 1”) introduced a prehistoric version of The Archies band before the cave-characters actually invented musical instruments? (Archie not always being very good at that “continuity” thing.) It might have been the best-sounding version of the Archies ever! Except for that alternate universe version of The Archies where Ron Dante was the lead singer — not Archie Andrews. Wait! That’s our world! That would mean that our Earth is in an Alternate Universe to the Archie characters world. AHHH! What have I done!!!
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.