I’m not usually a fan of reboots, but oh my god, Mark Waid and Fiona Staples are absolute geniuses for what they did with the Archie comics series! I bought a copy of Archie # 1 mostly out of curiosity — having grown up a fan of Archie comics in the 80s/90s, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the company completely overhauling the characters that I’ve always loved. Archie comics have long been, for me, a space of comfort — Riverdale was home, and Archie and the gang my friends since elementary school.
Waid and Staples’ genius lies in breathing new life into these beloved characters without completely overhauling them. The look has changed, the storyline has become less episodic, and the humour has become more subtle. Yet, at its very heart is the same Archie Andrews, Jughead Jones and Betty Cooper we’ve all grown up with. (Similar to Archie Comics’ initial launch in the 1940s, Veronica has yet to make an appearance in Riverdale.)
The story is fairly straightforward — a power couple since kindergarten, Archie and Betty have broken up because of a mysterious “Lipstick Incident,” and while Reggie is interested in taking advantage, the other students desperately want to bring them back together. “What did they want?” Archie asks in one panel. “Stability,” Jughead replies. And indeed, the scheming that follows takes on add resonance — the other students’ interest in Archie and Betty’s relationship isn’t about meddling in gossip, nor alas is it about genuine concern over their welfare, but rather, it is about making things make sense again. As Kevin notes in one panel, if Archie and Betty can’t make it, what chance do the rest of them have?
Throughout the story are mentions of the Lodge family moving into town, and for those of us who’ve grown up with the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle, we know that Riverdale High’s world is about to become even less stable than they realize. Waid and Staples have crafted a beautiful, heartfelt story, one that manages to speak to a whole new generation, while equally hearkening back to the nostalgia of the rest of us who’ve grown up with these characters.
What I love most, however, is that their most radical update to the Archie universe isn’t the addition of new technology or pop culture references, but rather a deliberate, fantastic, much needed depiction of diversity in Riverdale High. In the Archie I remember, there were probably fewer than ten characters of colour in Riverdale High, and the only Asian I remember ever seeing is a Japanese student whose story was basically about her adjusting to American life and talking to readers about life in Japan.
In Waid and Staples’ Archie, the very first page introduces two new characters of colour, Trevor and Raj, who are chatting with Dilton and are presumably going to be main characters. And best of all, there’s another new main character who looks Asian! What I especially love is that, like Trevor and Raj, her skin colour wasn’t a big deal at all — she was simply one of a group of three students actively scheming to restore the Archie and Betty coupledom. I’m not sure if her name is Maria or Sheila (she and another girl were referred to by name only once in passing), but just seeing her on the page made me squee.
About time, Archie Comics! Thank you! A note as well if you’re interested – there is a whole line up of variant covers for this issue, and they all look pretty amazing. I don’t know enough about comic book artists to really appreciate how big these names are, but I do know that I stood in front of the shelf at Silver Snail Toronto for probably a full fifteen minutes trying to decide which cover to get. (I ended up with two, just because.)