Every so often there’s a comic book that comes out that makes headlines in mainstream news. The Death of Superman is probably the best known of these comics. A more recent one was Captain America #25. The most recent was Archie #600 – where Archie marries Veronica.
Now, I am not an Archie collector. I have gone so far as to jokingly call an adult Archie collector a pervert. That being said, when I was nine or so years old, I was all about Archie comics. I had lots and lots of Archies that I had managed to find any and everywhere – it seemed like people just didn’t want them and I didn’t understand why. I was an obsessive collector as a child (and I suppose I still am to some degree or another). Just as I had sold my Dino Riders or Ninja Turtles to get Archie comics, I sold my Archies when I got into Marvel. Today, in my near fifty boxes of comics, I may have as many as ten Archie comics. Not ten boxes, just ten comics. I got these in large purchases from other collectors or from on eBay. I don’t shun them, but by the same token, I don’t seek them out. For two years, though, any recreational reading I did centered around the Riverdale gang. Jughead was my hero and Reggie was history’s greatest monster.
As I grew up and became something loathsome and odious – a teenager – my interest in comics waned considerably but never died completely. I still made it to the comic book store, the same one I still go to today, about three or four times a year and would pick up a handful of Marvel comics but I had firmly consigned Archie to the dustbin of my own history. Early in my twenties, the visits to the comic book store became a little more frequent and eventually a weekly affair. My comics horizons expanded greatly beyond Marvel. I started picking up backissues of DC and Dark Horse characters that I liked and then I discovered Valiant, Malibu and the dead universes. Still, I shunned Archie comics. I take that back – I didn’t even think about Archie. The thought simply never entered my head. Late last year, I started working in a strip mall, some four doors down from Hastings, a regional chain of book and movie stores that carries comics. I started dropping by Hastings on my lunch break and reading comics and within the first few days had read all the comics that interested me (slim pickings). And then I picked up a current issue of Betty. Still didn’t buy it. I felt like I was lowering my standards to stave off boredom. I didn’t get sucked in to Riverdale like I did 20 years ago, but I was inundated with nostalgia. I remembered all the characters like it was yesterday which I am sad to say is more than I could say for my 10 year high school reunion. I would read a couple of Archie comics a week this way. I fished Archie 500 out of a quarter bin at a convention, excusing myself to my bemused wife that I was thinking about putting together a set of all the #500 issues. About 2 months later, I saw in an issue of Comic Shop News that Archie was marrying Veronica.
I don’t remember the last time I had read anything about Archie comics outside of an article about comic books. The Internet – at least the corners of the Internet that I visit – was talking about Archie comics. I was shamed by my refreshed and recent knowledge of Archie on an [adult swim] board. That month’s Previews magazine came out and Archie was on the back cover. Previews Day is a happy day in my house. The wife and I pour over Previews separately, together and then yet again to make our order. Both embarrassed, we admitted that we both wanted to order Archie 600 and for the first time for either of us, we pre-ordered an Archie comic. Furthermore, we decided to order all 6 parts of the story, across 6 months. I hadn’t given any more thought to Archie after that until the next Previews came out and not only did we order Archie 601, we decided to order a Betty and Veronica Double Digest where Betty and Veronica visit the Cadillac Ranch while traveling Route 66 – a landmark just outside of Amarillo. For those of you that don’t know, the Cadillac Ranch is a collection of 11 Cadillacs from the ’50s and ’60s half-buried snout first into a field. This artistic display is several hundred feet off of I-40 about 3 miles west of town. It is one of two tourist landmarks that Amarillo is known for – the other being the Big Texan Steak Ranch, home of the 72 oz. Steak “if you eat it in an hour, it’s free!” (I did it in 57 minutes at the age of 15). The most amazing thing about the Cadillac Ranch is that there are always people there – any time of day or night, any day of the week in any weather. Usually it’s just one or two cars, but they are always there. I worked about 2 miles away from the Cadillac ranch and often had to give out-of-towners directions there, one time in French, so help me.
Anyway, the day that Archie 600 came out was like many other Wednesdays. I went to the comic book store and stood around for 2 hours or more, chatting with the guy that runs the register and other customers that came in. I was there for about half an hour when an old woman came in and asked for Archie. An hour later, another old woman came in and bought the last three copies they had. She explained “for when they are worth something some day”. First of all, I doubt highly that Archie 600 will ever be worth more than $5 and really doubt it will go over the $2.50 cover price. The print run on this comic must be huge, especially for something outside of the Big 4. Neither of these women had been to a comic book store probably ever and they were buying comics. These were not the kinds of women that would have bought Death of Superman or Death of Captain America. At least one of them was buying comics for the wrong reason, but they were buying comics. There was even a thread about the comic on a message board I frequent dedicated to firearms!
***SPOILER ALERT – If you are still reading, that is.***
So… Archie 600. Interesting premise. Archie was wandering around Riverdale the night he graduates from high school and comes across Memory Lane, an actual street. Down Memory Lane, there are comic book stores and candy and ice cream shoppes and other places that he remarks are from his childhood but he decides to go up Memory Lane, a dirt road that goes into a wooded area and forks. As he wanders “up Memory Lane”, he sees what happens after he graduates college, tracking Veronica down and proposing to her. Betty and Jughead are standing outside the jewelery store and Betty sees the proposal and is crushed. Issues 601 and 602 have been published at the time of this writing. Most of issue 601 deals with wedding preparation and Veronica asking Betty to be her Maid of Honor. Issue 602 shows the wedding itself and how Archie and Veronica are doing shortly thereafter.
Very few people admit to having read Archie comics but most people at least know about Archie, Veronica and Betty. Archie has been around since 1941. He’s got a publication history that rivals any superhero currently running – Batman, Superman, the Spectre or even the Green Lama. Archie Comics currently holds less than 5% of the market share of comics, but they have survived for 70 years and will probably survive 70 more putting out many titles – enough to sustain separate Betty, Veronica, and Betty and Veronica comics (which have become to varying degrees particularly preachy about environmentalism) alongside digests and double digests. Strangely, the titles focusing on a male lead other than Archie don’t last very long – way back when there was a Jughead title where he assembled a team of environmentally conscious teens who… fought illiteracy? I don’t remember exactly what happened in that particular title I read some 20 years ago. Jughead, Reggie and Dilton have all had short lived titles but they don’t last very long. The Archie Comics company has at various times branched out into other genres – westerns and at least twice has established superhero stables. The first superhero comic I ever bought was the Mighty Mutanimals, a spin off of their licensed Ninja Turtles books. Even today, Archie puts out a long-lived Sonic the Hedgehog licensed title that recently spun off a second title, the name of which currently escapes me.
Several of the Archie characters are nothing short of iconic – not only Archie, Betty and Veronica but Jughead and to a lesser extent, Reggie. I would not be surprised to learn that Betty and Veronica were the forerunners to Ginger and Maryanne. Betty and Veronica represent two very different types of all-American girls (without being sex objects) and Archie could never choose between them – a quandary that resonates with young men around the country who would love to have problems like that. I would go so far as to argue that Archie has adapted better to the changing eras better than Superman. If nothing else, Archie has always remained topical and current. The only way I can solidly make the same claim for Superman is that he no longer changes in now anachronistic phone booths.
Archie’s influence in the market is often overlooked and unfairly played down. I know I don’t think of Archie when I am thinking about Golden Age or pre-WWII characters that are still in publication. Another interesting tidbit – of all the big publishers, Archie and DC are the only two left that support and submit their comics to the Comics Code Authority, a board that at one time was very influential in the comic book industry, acting as a de facto censor. I have heard excellent arguments that the CCA is an artifact of another time, but certainly the guidelines set up (and several times amended to reflect the times) by the CCA would be excellent guidelines for a revived attempt to get younger children – 6 to 10 year olds – reading age-appropriate comics again, certainly an excellent step to preserve the comic book industry. Archie could potentially be a lynchpin in that attempt, and without such efforts on behalf of the publishers, they may doom their industry in the coming decades.