A few years back, the folks at Archie Comics put a new spin on the age-old question of which of his two girlfriends their teenage hero would ultimately wind up with: spoiled rich girl Veronica Lodge, or down-to-earth “girl next door” Betty Cooper.
The resulting six-part mini-series, entitled “The Married Life,” had Archie Andrews imagining what his future life might be like under either scenario (with three issues apiece devoted to each would-be bride). The “what if” premise proved so successful that the publishers eventually decided to keep both story arcs going beyond that original mini-series. A new magazine-format monthly comic entitled Life With Archie was soon launched, and quickly became one of the most-talked about comics in recent memory. Each issue was devoted to the serialized exploits of the married hero, with one story dedicated to life with Veronica and the other to life with Betty.
Time, finances and a shifting of focus to other hobbies led me to give up my monthly comic book habit some years back. But as an unapologetic Archie fan from way, way back (my sizeable collection of old comic books includes one box of nothing but a number of the various Archie titles I’ve picked up since childhood), I’ve made it a point to check out this series from time to time just to see what direction these “possible future” stories were taking my old chum Archie. What I found were stories that were certainly well written, and definitely interesting in their own way, but a bit too “soap operaish” for my taste and far removed indeed from the light-hearted, comical adventures of Archie and the gang that I had so loved as a child.
On Tuesday I ran across a number of articles trumpeting the news that the Life With Archie series will end later this year... with Archie’s death. Apparently both serialized story arcs will conclude with Archie giving his life to save a friend; the final issue will reportedly take place a year later, with the rest of the gang reflecting on what Archie meant to them.
“Archie dies heroically,” series writer Paul Kupperberg says in an interview posted on the Comic Book Resources website. “He dies in a way which you would expect Archie to die – very heroic fashion. It's not something that you see coming throughout the entire issue. It's very sudden, it's very impactful, and frankly, it's shocking. But ultimately, it's satisfying...”
"Satisfying?" Really? The death (presumably violent, given that he dies "heroically" while saving a life) of a beloved cultural icon - fictional though he may be - is satisfying?
In what realm of existence is any death - except that of monsters like Hitler or Bin Laden - ever satisfying?
The company insists it is not doing this "Death of Archie" as a publicity stunt, a gimmick to sell more books. I guess that explains all the advance publicity... and the big "PRE-ORDER NOW!" banner that went up at www.archie.com as soon as the news broke.
Listen, Mr. Kupperberg, I realize I’m just one fan – and not even one who represents your target demographic, given my advanced age and general outlook on life. So it is entirely possible that my feelings on the matter do not amount to a hill of beans to you or the company you are writing for. But I have to tell you, I’ve got a BIG problem with this.
“He dies in a way which you would expect Archie to die...?” See, that right there is the thing; I DON’T expect Archie to die. I expect him to be what he has always been: the eternal teenager, lovesick and accident prone, having the same silly adolescent misadventures he’s been having since his very first appearance in Pep Comics No. 22 (December, 1941).
I realize it’s all the rage these days to inject the real world into comic book adventures. Whether the hero of the story is Superman or Captain America or Archie, writers and artists these days seem determined to inject as much darkness as they can into their fictional tales. They say they want to give their readers “something they can relate to.”
The problem with that is, at least back in my day, kids read comic books to escape the real world. Not to have it thrown in their faces. I wasn’t looking for something to relate to; I was looking for some place to get away and put the real world out of my thoughts out of my mind for awhile. The real world is a dark, dreary place much of the time. Comic books were a place where you could tell the good guys from the bad, where right always won out in the end, where kids still hung out at Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe and you could forget your real-life troubles... at least for that short amount of time it took you to get from the first page to the last.
No, it’s not very realistic. But so what? Why is it so wrong to enjoy a healthy dose of make-believe from time to time, to provide some sense of relief from the day-to-day cares of reality? When did daydreaming and optimism become such bad things?
Those reporting the news of Archie’s impending doom have gone to great pains to explain that it is merely the conclusion of a set of “alternate universe” stories. The familiar teenage version of Archie will continue to appear in his regular titles every month. Nothing has changed.
Except that it has. For this longtime fan, anyway.
It’s going to be extremely difficult now to dig out those cherished old comics of mine from the 1960s and ’70s and re-read them... or to pop one of my DVDs of old Archie Saturday morning cartoons into the player and watch it... or even listen to songs like “Sugar Sugar” or “Jingle Jangle,” without at some point thinking about the story where Archie died and feeling incredibly sad.
It’s a little like Charles M. Schulz doing an “imaginary story” where Snoopy runs out into the street and gets splattered all over the pavement by a speeding pickup truck.
Tell me honestly, Mr. Kupperberg, what in the world is so blasted satisfying about that?
(Copyright © 2014, by John A. Small)
In : Pop Culture