Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reader's Diary #1038- John L. Goldwater, Bob Montana et al: The Best of Archie

Last year, despite never having been into Archie comics as a kid, I found myself reading and reviewing Archie Meets Kiss. Mostly it was because my daughter is super into Archie comics, but also because it was Archie and it was Kiss. While it was a fun diversion, it really didn't entice me to read any more Archie comics.

Yet here I am. Picking up a Best Of anthology belonging my daughter, I decided to give it a go. I really enjoyed the essays about each decade of Archie Comics (they started all the way back in the early 40s!) as well as the blurbs about each selection. For the most part the blurbs were by Archie insiders and past cartoonists, but there were a few surprises along the way including testimonials from Stephen King, Stan Lee and even Dawn Wells, the actress that played Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island.

While the comics themselves were okay (mildly amusing at best), I was more interested in exploring the pop culture angle and learning some trivia references. In Archie's first appearance, for instance, Archie hates his name and prefers that his friends call him "Chick," which fortunately didn't stick! It also took quite a few decades until they finally settled on consistent looking characters. The early Archie has horrible teeth, Jughead looks like Leonard Nemoy, and Veronica resembles Betty Paige (though both Nemoy and Paige came later). I also loved hearing the slang change throughout the years (you don't hear shucks or dames much any more).

From a selection point of view, I think they choose an adequate representation. From an admittedly outsider perspective, I'd always found the whole idea of Betty and Veronica squabbling over Archie to be somewhat demeaning. I was wondering if my assumptions would be confirmed or not, but suspected that this would be downplayed. It was and it wasn't. Oddly, while the essays and blurbs kept mentioning how essential the love triangle is to the plot of Archie comics, a lot of selections didn't really focus on that. Likewise, Betty and Veronica seem to be more pals than enemies. However, the collection wasn't without some revealing moments. In the 50s for instance, there's a scene in which Reggie tries to train the girls to play football. Here we see them utter comments about how the ball would make a nice purse and how upsetting it is to have broken a nail. Later that decade we see the girls only succeeding in their history course when they treat historical facts like gossip. It goes on and includes the often very sexualized drawings of the girls. Things don't show any promise of improving until the 70s with a story about how Miss Grundy being a champion of women's rights. It's also not just sexism that dates the comics. Another story in the 50s, for example, has— I kid you not— Archie being beaten with a hairbrush at the hands of his father. In the 90s, the introductory essay talks about how the demographic of Archie comics had become younger and so the story lines and characters began to reflect that, yet one of the few stories they chose to highlight for that decade was about Jughead's mother giving birth in a delivery van.

There were some moments I'd wished they included. I'd have liked to have seen the introductory stories of secondary characters, like Dilton, Midge, and Kevin Keller for instance. I was really hoping to see the infamous Punisher cross-over. And if I was really pushing my luck, I'd have liked to have seen something from the Archie All Canadian Digest*. Alas, when I checked my daughter's Best Of, Volume 2, none of those are included. Oh well, I guess I can skip it and go back to not reading Archie. Then again, the 3rd volume is expected out in September...

(You can read an entire Archie visits Newfoundland story here.)

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