Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reader's Diary #1057- Paul Kupperberg (writer): Life with Archie #s 36 and 37

A couple of years back was the first time I used this blog to talk about Archie. At the end of a post about Archie Meets Kiss, I wrote that I'd "probably not be visiting Riverdale again any time soon." Any time soon was apparently only about a year later. Then, September of last year I wound up reading an Archie anthology. Now, close to a year later again, I find myself reading more Archie. Yes, it's turned into an annual thing. In my defense, I live in a house with two young converts. I've never been into Archie myself (and I'd still not consider myself a fan), but it's hard to not read an Archie comic when you're constantly having to push them aside just to find a seat. Add to that the way Archie comics have been in the news in recent years- what with Archie getting married, adding a gay character, adding a physically disabled character, and now the death of Archie, and, well, I'm a sucker for a good publicity stunt. Hats off to them for managing to stay relevant for more than 70 years.

Issues 36 and 37 are the final volumes in the Life with Archie series. I was aware of the series, but hadn't read any of them until now. Though Life with Archie ran earlier (1958-1992), when it was reborn in 2010, it was changed into an adult-theme soap opera following the alternate universes of Archie having married either Betty or Veronica.

Not having read either incarnation of Life of Archie, I was glad to see a recap of the last four years, set in two universes post-Archie's wedding, but also a little taken aback by its tackling of such heavy themes as cancer, divorce, anger management, homophobia, and gun control. I'm not sure what I expected of a comic that was supposed to be more adult oriented, but it sounded more like the adults of the kids from Degrassi High than Riverdale. The weirdest moment, however, was a science fiction interlude in which Dilton hires someone to create some sort of time/space manipulator that threatens to unite the two alternate universes, in which Archie has married either Betty or Veronica. It's negated a la something out of Men in Black and the stories apparently returned to their mildly depressing but more realistic plots- unbeknownst to the central characters.

The whole alternate universe thing was handled quite strangely in the final 2 issues. Instead of Archie being killed in two separate story lines, he's killed in one, but we're never exactly sure which one. Was he married to Betty or Veronica when his death took place? I assume we're supposed to believe that fate would have led to that pivotal moment in either world. Sometimes the ruse is handled quite adeptly, as Archie thinks back with comments like, "I married the only woman I've ever loved" and in the context it feels natural, even if frustratingly vague (who?!). At other times it feels gimmicky; a speech balloon blocking his wife's face as he had married Tim's neighbour from Home Improvement.

As for the plot itself, it, I suppose, is satisfactory. It's not as dumb as you'd might think, though his death and the build-up showing Archie at a very reflective point in his life prior to it, might merit some debate as to whether it was contrived or tragically coincidental. In the final issue, it's set a year later and other characters reminisce about Archie and what he meant to the town. It was okay, but probably packed more of an emotional punch for those who have been faithful fans (though the comics of him as a teenager are still ongoing).

There was also some revisionism going on. Archie is presented as a pretty selfless character who spent his entire life just wanting everyone to get along. Of course, no one ever wants to speak ill of the dead (notable exception: Hitler, who's totally fair game), but there's reason to believe that Archie's sainthood might require a closer look. Still, after 70 years, loads of different writers, it's expected that there were some questionable missteps along the way. In a note from publisher John Goldwater at the end, it says, "Sure he stumbles, and makes mistakes-- don't we all?" and it was oddly one of the more honest comments in the book, even if somewhat dismissive.

As for the art, again I was pleasantly surprised. The barely modified, iconic looks are preserved (except in the alternate covers at the end-- an annoying trend I've been noticing in a lot of comics lately) but there seems to have been far more attention to background detail and the colouring was excellent, really capturing and enhancing moods.

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