No more love triangle. No more cartoony art style with the giant eyes. No more sharing milkshakes. The main Archie comic was rebooted today, and the first issue is damn good.
For decades, Archie Andrews has been America’s Favorite Teenager, a likable redhead who lived in a town still tethered to the warm, fuzzy nostalgia of mid-century Americana. Sure, cell phones and other signs of time’s passage appeared in Riverdale, but the comics set there mostly revolved around light, easily resolvable dramas. Despite some surprising experimentation of late, this comics brand has been understood as safe and relatively harmless.
Even with the trademark Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle, heartache was never a real threat. But that’s all changed, thanks to two of the hottest talents in comics.
Mark Waid and Fiona Staples—the writer of a phenomenal stretch of Daredevil and the artist for the hit series Saga—are the core of the creative team for Archie #1, rounded out by colorists Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn, and letterer Jack Morelli. The comic’s story begins right after an off-panel break-up between Archie and Betty Cooper, who’ve been “a couple since kindergarten,” in his words. An undisclosed “Lipstick Incident” split them apart, and the issue’s plot finds both of them trying to weather the scrutiny while their high-school friends scheme to get them back together. I never thought reading an Archie comic would make me reflect on what it’s like to be lonely in a room of full of people. But this one did.
Archie feels realer than in his previous iteration. There is heart here that wasn’t in the old comics. Staples’ expressive artwork adds to this heaviness. She captures the elevated energy of teenage emotions without making things feel cartoonish. Just look at those poor kids’ faces on the second page of the spread below.
Waid sets up two clever elements in this reboot debut. By shrouding an air of mystery around the Lipstick Incident, he give readers a reason to show up next month. And he invokes readers’ collective familiarity with the Archie mythos to pique curiosity. Archie/Betty/Veronica isn’t a thing in this particular comic but it has been before. Yet, Veronica’s not even in this issue; she’s only mentioned as a rich girl moving to town. It’s not a given that same triangle will form here. Part of the hook is in seeing what will change. This is the kind of comics storytelling trick that super-hero publishers have used for decades. People would know that, say, Clark pined for Lois while she pined for Superman, but reboot after reboot would juggle those dynamics.
The characterization of Jughead is another of the issue’s high points, too. Archie’s best friend isn’t just a goofy glutton. He’s more thoughtful and layered than the amiable, walking punchline from older Archie tales.
I wonder how jarring this new first issue might be for diehard Archie lovers. Compared to DC and Marvel, Archie has been a slumbering but sizable player. If this were a Superman or Batman comic, then hardcore fans might get upset over the changes being made to such a long-running character. The character of Archie doesn’t feel like the center of the universe anymore. He’s just another young adult in a comic that tilts towards naturalistic drama than wacky comedy. There are still laughs but they’re expertly balanced against gasps of shock and sighs of regret. Archie #1 feels like a great start to a new vision, a comic for today that doesn’t gloss over the fact that being a teenager can be both fun and exhausting.
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