Today, Taylor and Ryan M. are discussing Archie 4, originally released November 25th, 2015.
Taylor: One of the hardest things about growing up is deciding who you want to be. While ultimately none of us can control what type of person we turn out to be (for really that’s in the eye of the beholder, no?), we try on many different guises as we grow into adulthood. Nowhere is the changing of who you are as easy, or as frequent, as high school. In high school you have the freedom to make your own decisions about what you’re going to do and what you’re going to wear that ultimately will make you into the person you wish to become. Keeping this in mind, it comes as no surprise that Archie would explore this topic given it setting and characters. But can this old comic perform new tricks when exploring this topic? Archie 4 dares to try and answer this question.
Archie is down in the dumps. He and Betty have broken up and that’s just no good. What precipitated this split is a GooBar. Or to be more precise, the events that followed the splitting of said GooBar. This inconspicuous candy bar sets off a series of episodes wherein Betty becomes less of a tomboy and more of a “girly-girl.” Archie is put off by this change in his life long lady friend and an argument ensues wherein lipstick becomes a weapon and Riverdale’s most well known couple splits. In the wake of this disaster, Archie turns towards the rich and beautiful Veronica for support.
Change indeed is at the heart of this issue. Or, since Archie himself never really changes, the change of Betty is at the center of this issue. When she goes to wash ants off of her arm after sharing a GooBar, Betty meets some girls who decide to make her their project. They essentially take her from being a tomboy to being a stereotypical teenage girl. Instead of liking things that normally are considered guy things, she’s suddenly interested in traditionally more feminine stuff. This makes Archie sad and pine for the glorious days of yore.
The montage above is set while he and Betty watch a movie that is a not too subtle analogy of their relationship. It’s changing! It would appear that what has bound Archie and Betty together all their years is their common bond over the things they love. That’s a pretty solid foundation for a relationship and when it’s taken away naturally things begin to crumble. While it might be kind of shocking to see Betty and Archie fall apart, it’s not all that surprising. We’ve all seen this same scenario play out before; maybe it’s even happened to us. But one person in a relationship begins to change in a way the other person is not. This is inevitably followed by the break up. It’s almost a right of passage of in life and it’s only logical that Mark Waid would explore that issue here.
What’s frustrating about this issue, however, is that it’s never clear to me whether Betty is the agent of her change or not. More importantly, it’s never made clear if she’s even happy with her changes. When she runs out on her date with Archie he confronts her and claims her lipstick isn’t the “Betty [he] knows.” Her response?
This is a powerful sequence here but the power of it is lost in the confusion of Betty’s actions. On the one hand, she seems to despise the lipstick, dress, and high heels she’s wearing. One the other, she claims she’s still the same person she has always been despite what her appearance may be. In doing so she calls out Archie for seemingly assuming she’s different internally just because she looks different externally. I feel like there is some logic to her actions but they’re just such a mystery to me at the moment. I would love to see this same issue from Betty’s point of view. She’s such an integral part of the issue it seems a shame that her thoughts and feelings don’t factor more into the narrative.
Ryan, what do you think? Are Betty’s actions confusing to you or am I just being obtuse? And in all of this, do you think Archie is guilt free or is he the master of his own demise, so to speak?
Ryan: Taylor, I have a couple of theories about Betty’s behavior. In reading this issue, I felt a bit like Archie, searching each moment for a clues as to what went wrong and why. I think the fact that he is telling the story does limit our insight into Betty’s mind, but there were a few moments that struck me.
First, we have the page where Betty walks home post-makeover. We don’t see her outfit, her hair, or even her full face. Instead we get two horizontal panels featuring her lacquered lips. In the first, she is unsmiling. She looks as put-out as she was at the mall. In the second, she has a bit of a smile on her face, a hint of pleasure. The interceding panels featuring male reactions to her. They start with shock (similar to Archie’s later behavior), then distraction and ultimately appreciation. Considering that she has been with her boyfriend since grade school and he calls her “pal” as an unironic term of endearment, this may be the first time that Betty has gotten this kind of attention. There is a thrill to be found in being seen in a new light. For Betty, the archetypal girl-next-door, having a moment of being seen as a hottie quite the novelty.
The other moment in the issue that alluded to potential motives for Betty happens during her argument with Archie. She accuses him of “looking at girls dressed up like this.” Based on his reactions to Veronica, this is probably true. Betty and Archie are both rapidly moving away from their childhoods. Part of that means embracing adult versions of themselves. It feels weird to type this word in regards to Archie, but there is a sexual element to all of this. Betty found herself enjoying being wanted. Archie is unconsciously drawn to other girls. The words Betty chose are also significant. She didn’t talk about a different “type of girl” or name anyone specifically. She talked about her more glamorous look as a way to be “dressed up.” Betty instinctual knows that style is just a performance. She hasn’t really changed, but Archie’s immediate rejection of her attempt to try something new reveals a deeper rift between them.
I go back to the beginning of Archie’s story. He recounts Betty requesting that they always stay this way and that he will stay the same. From Archie’s perspective, this is showing us that Betty’s makeover shows a baffling about-face. I wonder if he mistook her request to be unchanging. In that moment, they are cuddled in the grass, content and completely comfortable with each other. There is an intimacy from being totally accepted. Though he obviously interprets “stay the same” as a literal directive to remain unchanging in his life, she is asking for them to hold on to that connection. She knows that they can’t always be satisfied rolling in the mud and eating Gooey Bars, but maybe, if they’re lucky they could be satisfied with each other.
I think, despite Betty’s unclear motivations, there are no bad guys in the “Lipstick Incident.” Except Sheila. Please, can Betty get a new best friend? Maybe one who can teach her about all trappings of femininity while Betty shows her how to be kind? And they hang out at Lodge manor? And her name is Veronica?
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