‘Archie #1’ Reboots — and Modernizes — the Iconic Comics Series Without Killing Its Charm

Last week, Archie ended its streak as one of the longest-running comic book series with issue #666 — a cheeky number, considering the overwhelming wholesomeness that Archie Andrews and the gang are known for. It wasn’t an official end to the series, though; Archie swiftly returned just yesterday with Issue #1, a rebooted series by writer Mark Waid and artist Fiona Staples, that feels both new and vintage in all the right ways.

There is a well-known history behind Archie: even if you have never picked up an issue (for me, it was the first comic I ever bought as a child, from a now-defunct Caldor department store), you are probably still aware of the series, and even know something about its main love triangle. I have friends who have never read an issue but still have a preference between Betty and Veronica (for many, they served as a watered-down introduction to the Madonna-Whore complex).  Archie was always, quite simply, a Big Deal that expanded way beyond the comic’s pages.

There have been various adaptations of the series over the years: animated versions including CBS’ The Archie Show, where fictional band The Archies had a real #1 hit with “Sugar, Sugar” (I own the self-titled album on vinyl) and PAX’s Archie’s Weird Mysteries (which I own on video despite not owning a VHS player), among others; there was a 1970s live-action special and a 1990 television movie; Archie‘s spin-offs even produced a handful of TV shows (both animated and live-action) and movies, such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Josie and the Pussycats. Last fall, it was announced that Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash) is developing a Fox drama titled Riverdale.

The more recent Archie resurgence is both confusing and exciting. Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty stories reinvigorated the series with dueling parallel narratives, both culminating in his death. Other stories find Archie out of his normal Chocklit Shoppe comfort zone: he battles zombies in the ongoing Afterlife with Archie (which is part of Archie Horror, along with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), has fought the Predator in the inexplicably entertaining Archie vs. Predator, and will even — sigh — take on Sharknado later this month.

But even with all the supernatural stuff (Dilton Doiley’s arc gets really weird in The Married Life story), Archie has always been Archie. Archie #1, released yesterday with a total of 21 covers (variants were drawn by artists such as Chip Zdarsky, Colleen Coover, and Dean Haspiel), marks the first time that Archie is getting a full reboot. Despite existing in what is basically a timeless universe, the series has been slowly catching up to the times — most notably via Kevin Keller, an openly gay character who gets married and wins a seat on the United States Senate while running on a platform of stricter gun control (yup!). But Archie #1 quickly updates everything from page one. 

Archie Andrews, still redheaded but more, er, attractive (as the Internet was quick to note when images were first released), opens the series by introducing himself directly to the readers. As if in a YouTube confessional vlog, Archie quickly details his relationship problems: he and Betty, best friends since age five, are Riverdale High’s golden couple, and their break-up — due to a vague “lipstick incident” that I’m desperate to know more about — is cause for the entire school to mourn, and to plot their reunion.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 1.42.30 PMThere is no love triangle (at least not yet; the Lodges’ impending move is mentioned, but Veronica is not seen once), nor is there an overemphasis on Archie’s clumsy hijinks or cheesy puns within the dialogue. What’s left is an actual straightforward (and funny) teen drama, and one that’s heightened by Fiona Staples’ careful art. Staples (Saga), along with colorists Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn and letterer Jack Morelli, meticulously and realistically details the pained, conflicted expression on Betty’s face as she contemplates talking to the boy who hurt her. Later, Staples does the same with the hesitation-turned-elation on Archie’s face as he plays his guitar on stage in front of the school, making Archie’s teen triumph feel nearly tangible.

The story isn’t wholly different from what Archie has always been. Archie #1 does set up some silly shenanigans through Jughead, who is plotting a way to reunite his two friends (Jughead, by the way, is especially great in these short pages). It also returns to Archie’s trademark love of music, and even deepens this love by inserting it into the relationship between Archie and his father. The world the characters occupy is has simply been modernized (updated clothes, cooler hairstyles, more characters of color), without losing its original, simplistic charm.

What makes this work so well is that Mark Waid is aware that, stripped down and at its core, Archie has always been a universal tale of adolescence: awkwardness, relationship troubles, detention, homework, and just general confusion and insecurity. This reboot keeps that in mind while heading toward the future.