The Age of Archie

By Sarah Cooperman

What’s that my uncle always says?  That if you wait long enough, everything comes into style? So what could be more fun than the strange revival of the silly, blast-from the-past comic books featuring American’s oldest teenager, Archie Andrews?

As a pre-teen I read the Archie books for fashion tips, carefully perusing the pages for accessorizing advice as provided by Betty and Veronica and dreaming of high school glory as depicted in the primary-colored world of Riverdale High.

I wasn’t exactly “gone” on red-haired Archie, who’s been a teenager since 1941, but couldn’t resist fantasizing that I was a bona-fide adolescent with a stunning wardrobe and a life whose biggest problems were prom dates and romantic triangles (Oh! To be part of a romantic triangle!).

Having been born in the Eighties, though, I didn’t realize just how subversive those kids and their antics really were. If you are, say, a baby boomer, you might think  that Archie and friends lived in an impossibly white-bread world of white middle-class WASP perfection.

After all, what was cutting-edge or even current about Moose and Midge and Dilton and Mister Weatherbee and such?  The only thing that really kept up with the times was the clothing, right?

Well, er, no. Archie and his pals have moved into the leading edge of contemporary culture by now featuring a broadly multi-racial cast including blacks, Hispanics and even South Asians such as a character from India.

This effort to keep up with a changing society isn’t limited to the racial composition of the cast; the story lines sometimes embrace politics and social issues. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the comics tried to bring together as friends Barack and Sarah; last year the “Occupy” movement came to Riverdale.

Archie’s profile as a progressive – or at least not reactionary – force came to public eye most prominently in 2011 when Kevin Keller, an openly gay (and incredibly gor-juss) character was introduced.

Of course, the story line has to revolve around teenage romance. Veronica crushes on the handsome new boy in town and can’t quite figure out why he doesn’t reciprocate the heart-thumping.

Well, the cause eventually becomes obvious. The Keller storyline became so popular that it now has it’s own title, and a boyfriend (and future husband) has been unveiled.

One of the reasons that some people associate Archie with arch-conservative (sorry ‘bout the pun!) values is the series of Spire Christian Comics.  Fleming Revell, who was working at the company, got permission to use the Archie characters in a line of religious comics published from 1972 to 1988.

While they did feature Jughead and Archie et al, they weren’t published by Archie Comics and are not considered canon.

So everything changes. Archie considers marriage (Betty or Veronica, of course), Riverdale goes rainbow and feminism stands side-by-side with wicked cool new clothing. Sales both on paper and digitally are said to be jumping up.

Now, if we can only get Archie to change that dorky hair-style ….

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