This past week Life with Archie #36 came out, and if you’ve been paying attention to various news outlets, and the comics press for the last few months, you know it’s the death of Archie Andrews. But that’s not the end of it, it’s not even the tip of the iceberg. We’ll get a bit of background, and learn all about life and death with Archie, after the jump.
I’ve never really been an Archie reader, I was always more of a superhero guy. Not that Archie Comics didn’t/doesn’t have some cool superheroes. They even have some notable landmarks like the first patriotic hero – The Shield, and the first hero death – The Comet in Pep Comics #17. Speaking of Pep Comics, it was in issue #22 later that year that a certain smiling young red headed teenager was first seen – Archie Andrews.
Based on creator Bob Montana’s real life high school days in the 1930s, the romantic dilemmas and everyday antics of Archie soon supplanted the superheroes and even resulted in the eventual name change of the publisher from MLJ Publications to Archie Comics. On the decades that followed Archie and his friends soon conquered radio, television, animation, and music.
My Life With Archie
I first discovered Archie as animated by Filmation on Saturday mornings to the tune of “Sugar, Sugar.” Yeah, I’m that old. From there I was hooked on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the Groovie Goolies, Josie and the Pussycats, and all of their animated spin-offs. I even dug an early 1980s live-action prime time Archie pilot that featured a skit with “Elephant Talk” by King Crimson. How’s that for obscure and cool?
While I knew the characters well, I don’t think I ever picked up the comics until the phenomenon of Free Comic Book Day began. Through that promotion I was exposed to Archie at least once a year, and perhaps it was a matter of companies putting their best into the ‘free sample’ but they were always great. To this day, free or not, every Archie comic I have ever read has been vibrant, refreshing, and entertaining – and always better than I expect. I can’t say the same thing about Marvel, DC, Image, or any of the others. Hmmm… maybe I should be reading more Archie Comics.
The Curse of Continuity
Being more or less off the radar when it comes to mainstream superhero comics, Archie has done what DC and Marvel may have found difficult to do with their complex tangled continuities – they just tell good stories, and they tell the stories they want to tell. Archie Andrews has been around as long as Superman, Batman, or Captain America, but he’s never gone through a revamp, suspended animation, a reboot or even a Crisis. Archie just is. He’s a teenager with problems in whatever year it is. They just update it and don’t bother explaining the why or how, it’s always now, and they do it successfully.
Conversely, when they do want to play with stuff like that, they don’t do it deadly serious or stringent rules. They tell the story that needs to be told. Whether it’s the characters as little kids, or as fully grown adults, whether the art is more sophisticated, or the gang are ghostbusters or pop musicians, or getting very comic booky, whether the original Golden Age Archie meets the modern version, or the Punisher comes to visit, the creators get it done, no sweat, no problems.
And even though DC mastered the imaginary story, and Marvel made a mint with What If?, Archie can play that game as well. Remember the very cool movie with Gwyneth Paltrow from a few years back, Sliding Doors? It’s the one where Gwyneth plays the same person in two different timelines, both diverging from a single event, that of simply missing a train. It’s a mainstreamed tale of alternate universes where the character’s lives follow two completely different paths. I love it.
Well, that what Archie Comics has been doing for the last couple years regarding the age old question of Betty or Veronica? The comic Life with Archie has been featuring stories from two different timelines, both the adult Archie, both one where he married Betty, and one where he married Veronica. The series even has the subtitle The Married Life. Two Worlds. Two Loves. Two Destinies. So of course, it’s separate from the regular Archie books in its own little world(s), so as not to confuse anyone. However, if you’ve seen the media coverage, you know that doesn’t always work.
The Death of Archie
In Life with Archie #36, Archie Andrews dies, cut down by an assassin’s bullet meant for Senator Kevin Keller. He dies in both worlds to save Keller, the comics company’s first openly gay character, who depending on which timeline you’re following is running for Senate or already won. The story is by Paul Kupperberg, with art by Pat and Tim Kennedy. There are even five different covers for the issue, by Francesco Francavilla, Adam Hughes, Fiona Staples, Ramon Perez, and Mike Allred.
The story, actually titled “Life with Archie,” is cleverly told as it could be either timeline, and is essentially both as we don’t really see interaction with Betty or Veronica that reveals which is his wife, and the end, along with Archie’s final words will break your heart. In the story we see Archie’s life in flashback, and it kinda reminded me of Cyclops’ history of the X-Men in issue #138 after the Dark Phoenix saga. Life with Archie #36 is a darn good comic book.
Not Dead Yet
Life with Archie will be back from one more issue next month with an epilogue, but that’s not the end. As I said, and as the press for the most part has missed, Archie is not dead. He’s still appearing the regular series, and also in a few other comics as well. One notable title is Afterlife with Archie, where the zombie apocalypse happens in Riverdale. You can just imagine what happens next.
So popular has Archie been dead, at least in this context that the series might have been optioned as a film or TV series. What can I say? Zombies are hot. At least we know that the Life with Archie version probably won’t be coming back from the dead. In the meantime, you might want to pick up what Archie Comics is doing of late, it’s good stuff, dead or alive.