Review: Archie #656
Archie Comics scored a good deal of press for this issue—including here at GC4K—as it introduced a new arrival into Riverdale, Veronica’s successful, fashionable cousin Harper. Why the interest? Well, Harper is disabled and must spend most of her time in a wheelchair, making her addition to the all-American teen cast of Archie Comics the sort of move towards diversity that generally scores a certain amount of attention. (Remember Kevin Keller’s introduction?)
Harper is not the first girl in a wheelchair to appear in an Archie comic, of course. That would be the relatively obscure Anita Chavita, who was introduced in the 1990s as a romantic interest for both Jughead and Dilton, but her star faded pretty quickly. Harper’s definitely gotten a push, her intro scoring a cover, on which she seems to be sweeping Archie off his feet (Like that poor boy doesn’t have enough problems choosing a girl!). Like Anita, who was black, Harper also has darker skin than the peach-colored Crayola crayon shading of the primary Archie cast, but unlike the rhymingly named Anita, Harper also has a real-world inspiration that will hopefully keep her grounded in reality—Harper is based on writer and activist Jewel Kats, who gets a “special thanks” in the credits for this issue.
But enough about the the comic as a news story or another welcome step toward diversity, and making comics better reflect the many different people who read them. How is it as a comic?
Well, that will likely depend on how old the reader is.
The younger the better, probably. The plot is pretty straightforward, if that isn’t a redundant thing to say of an Archie comic. Archie arrives at Lodge Manor, dressed in a bright blue suit and a red tie with a webbed pattern, making him look uncannily like he’s wearing what Spider-Man might wear to prom. He’s there to pick up Veronica for a dance, and he finds that she’s putting the finishing touches on her outfit with her cousin Harper, who he’s surprised to see is in a wheelchair.
“You didn’t mention my disability to Archie?” Harper asks her cousin. “I forgot!” Veronica replies. “I never think of you as a girl with a disability!”
The trio go to the dance, and, when Harper asks Archie to push her outside for some air, he pushes her a little too hard and too near a steep slope, and she quite literally runs into Reggie Mantle. After the collision, Harper and Reggie are both seeing stars—as well as floating hearts.
Reggie asks her out, but Veronica tries to intervene, on account of Reggie being a cad and Harper living out of town, but after a few pages of conflict, everything works out. There’s even a gag ending that puts Reggie in a wheelchair—at least temporarily.
Parent takes pains to present Harper as a character defined by more than just her means of locomotion. She’s super into fashion, as evident by her “blinged-out” wheelchair, to the point that she’s also a fashion designer, having designed Veronica’s dance for the dress. She’s also an author and entrepreneur, and has an advice column, “Ask Jewel” (Intimating that Harper is Kats’ kinda-sorta secret identity, or Riverdale avatar). Such pains are taken to prove that she’s not just the same as everyone else, that she’s also somewhat better, that to a more cynical adult eye, she may not seem well-rounded so much as one-dimensional.
If there’s a whiff of after-school special about the comic, it will likely go undetected by the majority of the target audience, who weren’t yet born when there were still such things as after-school specials. The comic does do a pretty fine job of offering a sort of primer on proper etiquette for dealing with the disabled. Archie blanches when Veronica teases her cousin, and the cousins shrug it off, saying they always talk to each other like that. Later, Archie timidly asks what happened to Harper, and if it’s okay to ask, and she replies, “Oh, it’s not rude at all! The glares and stares are rude… When people come right out and ask…that feels normal to me!”
While the issue isn’t just about how Harper is a girl in a wheelchair, it is all about how Harper isn’t just a girl in a wheel chair—the few pages of the romantic misundertanding with Reggie aside. How well Harper works in the Archie universe, and how positive and how realistic a role model or reader reflection she will end up being will ultimately rest on whether or not she is eventually portrayed as a girl who just so happens to be in a wheelchair. Archie Comics managed that well enough with Kevin Keller, so here’s hoping they can do it again with Harper.
Filed under: Reviews
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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