I come to bury Archie, not to praise him.
Back in April, Archie Comics shocked the world (or at least moderately surprised the comics community, practically the same thing) by unveiling the upcoming Death of Archie Andrews in their critically-acclaimed yet criminally-underrated Life With Archie title. You know, the one that shows the characters all grown up, living out their decent-to-miserable lives in two separate futures, set apart by which omnipresent love interest, Betty or Veronica, Archie took to the altar? Right, that one. Reactions were mixed, as they have been for many of Archie’s envelope-pushing announcements over the last few years. Most of them tended to focus, however, on the story itself, the death of an American icon, which I feel is burying the lede: that this event will mark the end of one of the most consistent, fun, engaging, and even sometimes horribly depressing comics of recent years.
And that sucks!
Following as it did from the headline-bait “Archie Marries Veronica” and “Archie Marries Betty” storylines, Life With Archie was arguably (they’ve been experimenting with format for decades to varying degrees of success) the beginning of the publisher’s current renaissance of innovation and sheer not-giving-a-%&@#. From its early days as some wonderful Dallas-meets-Fringe hybrid to the political, legal, corporate, and criminal drama that’s been the focus of late, Life With Archie has always been like nothing else on the stands, and the news of its demise comes, to me, as a far bigger blow than that of its red-headed protagonist. That, after all, is just the kind of stunning, ridiculous drama that I’ve come to expect from the book, par for the soapy course.
I’ll confess to a personal bias in mourning the loss of Life With Archie. Growing up, I was never a fan of the exploits of the gang over in Riverdale. I had friends who collected the digests and I’d idly flip through them when I visited, but I’m very much a recent convert to the Byzantine joys of the 70-year-old franchise, and just as its gorier little brother Afterlife With Archie has been bringing new people into the fold left and right, Life With Archie was my gateway. Even then, I wasn’t on board until issue 16, the infamous One Million Moms-angering “Gay Marriage Issue.” Curiosity over the uproar led to checking it out, expecting something trite, fun, and easily digested, since gay weddings or no, these comics are pretty firmly for kids, aren’t they? When I instead found a slice of dense drama masquerading as those strips I remembered from my youth, I was hooked. Gimmicky, maybe, but these were just good comics, simple as that.
Time went on, and the parallel universe trials and tribulations of this bunch of jaded, burned-out twenty-somethings not only spoke to me as one of their kind, but it also triggered a spiral of interest in all the myriad corners of the Archie universe. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how deep the rabbit hole goes, and the end of the book that started it all for me, a mere twenty issues after I began this journey, is huge.
Still, all good things must come to an end, right? And I certainly don’t expect everyone to have such a weirdly personal connection to such a niche title.
Does this really have to be the end, though? Even in darkness, hope remains:
- CEO Jon Goldwater has often talked up the good points of having a magazine format book on the shelves, and this cancellation leaves an immediate gap in that market.
- The death of Archie was alluded to as long ago as last year’s San Diego Comic Con, when the publisher teased something huge coming down the wire for Life With Archie in 2014. If they were simply planning on ending the title, it seems strange that they would do it so far in advance.
- Much has been made of the way that Life With Archie’s final issues will unite the title’s disparate twin universes, somehow condensing them into one. This streamlining would be the perfect setup for a relaunch in this new, Archie-less world. Where this would leave the characters with differing relationships across the timelines is anyone’s guess, though (or at least writer Paul Kupperberg’s).
Maybe I’m reading too much into things, clutching at straws. This is… entirely possible. Or maybe, just maybe, like the headline-grabbing death of Spider-Man not so long ago, this Crisis on Infinite Riverdales is just the start of a new era in great stories (we’re talking Miles Morales here, not Spider-Ock). How’s that for mixed metaphors?
Archie is dead, long live Archie.
But then, I was always more of a Reggie fan, anyway.
Life With Archie #36, written by Paul Kupperberg and with pencils by Fernando Ruiz, Pat Kennedy, and Tim Kennedy, drops tomorrow, July 16th, shipping with six different covers. It will be followed by a concluding #37, to be released one week later on the 23rd, also shipping with six different covers.