I can’t remember now exactly how the subject came up (I've slept once or twice since then... I think), but a few years back I found myself standing in the parking lot of our local post office reminiscing with one of our community’s more prominent public figures (I won’t embarrass him by identifying him publicly) about the affection we shared as kids for reading comic books.


Turns out while we both enjoyed reading comics, our taste in superheroes skewed in different directions – somewhat like our political beliefs, as it turns out, though I think we would both have a difficult time proving that one somehow has something to do with the other. In fact, there are some who might argue that, based on our political beliefs, our taste in superheroes should have been the opposite of what they actually were. 


I, the former chair of our county’s Democratic Party, always preferred the older, more traditional heroes published by DC Comics – particularly those published prior to the mid-1980s, back when you could still easily tell the difference between the heroes and the villains, when Batman was a Caped Crusader rather than a Black Knight and Superman was still basically an overgrown Boy Scout whose biggest headache always seemed to be trying to deal with a lovesick Lois Lane. 


On the other hand, he, a staunch Republican, seems – based on what I recall of the conversation, anyway – to have preferred the later Marvel Comics heroes who first rose to prominence during the early 1960s and ushered in an era of a supposedly more realistic kind of superhero. Personally I always thought the notion of a “realistic superhero” was a contradiction in terms and somewhat anathema to the whole point in reading comic books in the first place. I didn’t want my superheroes to have real-life problems and neuroses; they were supposed to be better than everybody else. That’s what made them superheroes, for crying out loud.

(And it suddenly occurs to me as I read back over what I’ve just typed just how silly such things must sound to anyone who didn’t read comic books. Holy Arrested Development, Batman!!)

Anyway...


One comic book character we did share a fondness for – in fact, the one such character whose adventures I still buy every now and then, despite my ever-advancing years – was Archie Andrews. When I was a kid, the world of Archie, his pal Jughead and their assorted friends contained as much realism as I cared to see in the comic book universe; as an adult their adventures carry a certain sense of nostalgia, a wistful remembrance of how much simpler life was at that age and wouldn’t it have been great if life could have always been that way?


Eventually the conversation turned – as such conversations always seem to do, I’ve noticed over the years – to the question that has plagued many a male Archie fan for just over 80 years now:


Betty, or Veronica?


For me there was never any question. Veronica Lodge, the brunette debutante from the other side of town whose father seemed to own everything in Riverdale, was always such a narcissistic she-devil that I could never figure out just what Archie saw in her. Sure, she was pretty. She was rich. But she was also mean, nasty, childish, and so incredibly self-centered that she made the characters on "Seinfeld" look like paragons of kindness and humility. It seemed to me that the only reason she ever showed poor Archie the time of day at all was because she didn’t want Betty to have him; as soon as the poor dummy started swooning in her direction again, she dropped him like a brick and hitched a ride in rival Reggie’s sports car.


But Betty Cooper, the cute blonde who lived right up the street, was the dictionary definition of the sweet, genuine “girl next door” type. It was easy to see that her affection for Archie was real, because she was always doing things for the poor jerk – baking cookies, helping with homework, sometimes even loaning him money for another date with Veronica. Betty never asked for anything from Archie, except maybe a little show of appreciation now and then; Veronica expected everything of Archie and rarely gave him anything but heartache in return.


The high school I attended seemed to have more than its share of Veronica types, and - just like Archie - most of the guys I hung out with always seemed to be knocking themselves out to try and get to win their hands, with little success. I can only think of a few instances in which any of my pals actually won their Veronica – and not a single instance in which the relationship proved a lasting one.


Me? I guess I must have learned something from those silly comic books, because the first, last and only girlfriend I ever had in high school was a genuine “girl next door” Betty type; it might not have been her name, but it was certainly her personality. And this past April 5 we celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary. 


I’m no Clark Kent, but as Archies go I guess I turned out okay...

(Copyright © 2024, by John A. Small)