Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Archie 1, originally released July 9th, 2015.
Drew: Ah, the reboot. Comics have a long history of restarting characters from the beginning (or something resembling it), but new artists reimagining familiar characters can be seen everywhere, from Peter Pan to Macbeth. The recent popularity of rebooting movie franchises, however, has often smacked of a dearth of ideas. Reboots have all of the familiarity of sequels, but without any of the risk of putting characters in new situations. Or, at least, that’s the cynical attitude I tend to bring to reboots. Archie 1 proves to be surprisingly daring, even as it riffs on characters and situations that have been around for decades.
That should come as no surprise — writer Mark Waid knows his way around a franchise reboot. His Superman: Birthright series redefined Superman for the 21st century, standing as DC canon until another reboot wiped it from the continuity map. Archie 1 represents a similar updating of a decades-old character, but manages to do so without adopting the dated affectations that make other “teen” books often feel a little pandering. Cell phones and elided couple nicknames are mentioned, sure, but this issue feels entirely relatable to me, who was in high school when neither of those things were common. Archie’s friends all have phones, but almost all of the interactions here are face-to-face — Archie even rushes home to surprise his dad about a curfew issue that could easily be resolved with the use of a phone. The effect is a series that feels just as timeless as we know Archie to be, but offers a fresh starting point for new readers.
I can’t claim to be an Archie expert — aside from knowing that he can’t chose between Betty and Veronica, I’m mostly lost — but Waid makes the smart choice of only hinting at that conflict here. More importantly, he creates some mystery around a different conflict. It’s still about Archie’s love-life, but centers around what is only referred to as “the lipstick incident.” All we know about the incident is that it had the power to utterly destroy Betty and Archie’s relationship without altering their opinions of one another.
That both characters are so unequivocal about this only makes the mystery more intriguing, even as it helps establish them as decent human beings.
Or, are we supposed to read Betty’s insistence that Archie would never cheat with an air of dramatic irony, knowing that he’s probably destined for making time with Veronica? Opening with Betty and Archie mysteriously broken up throws us off-balance from the start, leaving us unsure where we might be going next. Waid makes it even harder to read the dramatic irony by playing with it so gleefully earlier in the issue:
That’s a clever inversion of the “character addressing the camera” narration, giving us more information than Archie, even as he’s narrating the story. It’s also heartbreaking. Artist Fiona Staples knocks the acting out of the park throughout the issue, but Betty’s quick reconsideration of talking to Archie takes the prize. Cap it off with the two characters dejectedly looking away from one another, and you have the perfect encapsulation of a high school breakup.
Not to overstate Staples’ contribution to this issue, but the real story of this reboot lies in the dissolution of the Archie house style. At a time where we’re increasingly valuing artists as equal contributors in the medium, it makes sense to embrace the unique voices and styles that make them so distinctive. The back of the issue showcases the diversity that new direction opens the series up for, but for this issue, Staples’ unique style is more than enough to break the Archie mold. That she uses a decidedly modern all-digital work flow only enhances that effect.
Man, Spencer, I’m not always the most sympathetic to teenage drama, but this issue worked like gangbusters for me. I suppose part of why I like it so much is that neither Betty nor Archie are playing into the drama — everyone at school seems to make a bigger deal about it than they are. These are just two level-headed kids trying to live their lives in peace. I’m also super fond of this issue’s aversion to online culture. Tumblr jokes work for Young Avengers, but I think a more old-fashioned approach works better for Archie. Were you of fond of that choice as I was, or does it feel out-of-date?
Spencer: Nothing about this issue feels out-of-date to me, Drew. There is a bit of a throwback feel to Archie 1, but I think that’s mostly just Waid and Staples aiming for timelessness (which they absolutely nail). There’s actually a finely-tuned balance when it comes to technology and social media here — they’re present throughout pretty much the entire issue (it even closes with Archie asking the reader to send him dating advice on Twitter; him reading and trying to apply this advice sounds like an excellent future story, by the way), but they’re not a driving force behind the plot at all. I think this scene from early in the issue sums up Archie‘s relationship with technology well.
The joke in that first panel is surprisingly current, but throughout the entire image, rating movies and playing video games is just an every day part of these kids’ lives, not something that takes over their lives completely. This keeps the story feeling modern without making it all about any one specific time period. Like I said: timeless.
Anyway Drew, if you haven’t noticed by now, I loved this issue too. It’s almost hard for me to objectively say why — Archie 1 is just warm and inviting, good natured and charming. I mean, the issue even opens with Archie literally introducing himself to the reader and welcoming them to Riverdale — it doesn’t get more inviting than that. I’m a sucker for protagonists who talk directly to the audience, especially in comics, and Archie’s moments of breaking the fourth wall here are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Archie’s honesty and nonchalant attitude about his importance and life, combined with Staples’ gorgeous art, just make me want to never stop visiting Riverdale.
I only have limited experience with traditional Archie comics, but the overwhelming decency seen in Archie and Betty pleasantly surprised me. I’ve always found the cast of the old Archie books to be a bit grating and self-centered, and so perhaps Waid’s smartest move in this entire relaunch is cutting that trait out of the characters entirely. Before, it was easy to get the impression that Archie liked being the center of the universe, or maybe that he was purposely stringing Betty and Veronica along, but there’s no way that’s what’s going on with this Archie.
Still, Waid and Staples are really only making minor tweaks to these characters. He may be more humble and self-aware than before, but Archie is still Archie — he’s just a new, less exaggerated version. Waid even manages to hold onto his trademark clumsiness!
Again, Waid is holding true to ideas that have always defined Archie, just tweaking and toning them down a bit to better fit with modern times. Archie is still clumsy, but I can’t imagine we’ll be seeing any slapstick adventures revolving around Archie’s clumsiness like we saw in, say, Archie 700 or the original Archie story reprinted in the back of this issue. This conflicts in this issue spring forth naturally from the characters and their personality, and that’s the kind of stories Archie needs to be telling to remain relevant in 2015.
As both Drew and I have touched upon, though, perhaps the most essential component of this issue’s success may be Fiona Staples. She, along with Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn on colors, create a lush, gorgeous version of Riverdale full of attractive, diverse citizens. It would be impressive even if it wasn’t coming on the heels of 70 years of Archie house style. Of course, there’s more to appreciate about Staples’ work besides it just being aesthetically pleasing. Let’s take a look at two of my favorite images from this issue.
Oh man, I barely know where to start with this one. First of all, I love the parallel Staples and Waid create between Archie and Betty here, showing that both of them are dealing poorly with their break-up in similar ways. These two sets of panels also do an excellent job of showing the differences between these characters, though — Archie is distraught, while Betty is just angry and aggressive. Even if they’re going through the same thing and dealing with the same hurt feelings, they deal with it in different ways, and that’s some concise, incisive character work.
Perhaps more impressive, though, is Staples’ ability to tell small stories just in the background of these panels. The top row features the background gag of a kid dropping her ice cone practically into a dog’s mouth (a dog on a Ferris Wheel; only in Riverdale), but the bottom row especially manages to tell a story just through Betty’s posture and the milkshake she’s spilled on the table. It implies motion without ever showing it — Betty had to yank that milkshake hard to leave that trail — and again, that’s some inspired storytelling.
My other favorite image comes right at the end. Even most casual Archie readers probably know that Mr. Lodge despises Archie, so I got a big kick out of how even Lodge’s sign is glaring at Archie disapprovingly. Maybe it’s just a sight gag, but man, it’s a good one.
Archie 1 is a massive success in pretty much every aspect. Waid and Staples have updated the entire concept of Archie without losing what made it special to begin with, and I can’t wait to see how they apply their special touch to updating the Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle. If anything could trip this title up it’s that, but hey, Waid and Staples have given me no reason to think that they’ll do anything less than nail it.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?