Roundtable: The New Archie
Archie Comics’ flagship title, Archie, made it all the way up to issue #666 before the publisher pulled the plug on the classic house style and rebooted the comic with a new look and a slightly more realistic tone. We all checked out Archie #1, written by Mark Waid (Daredevil) and illustrated by Fiona Staples (Saga), and we thought it would be great fodder for a roundtable. So dive in, and let us know what you think in the comments section. (You can see a preview of this issue here.)
Let’s start with first impressions: Did you like it?
Esther Keller: I did like it. For me it was unexpected. This was a much more serious and even edgy version of the classic comic story. I grew up reading Archie, sneaking them behind my textbooks and reading them in class. So Classic Archie was very much part of my comic childhood.
Robin Brenner: I did! I honestly only read a few Archies in my childhood—if I recall they only made it into my house growing up because my sister’s pen pal from Iowa sent them, though we were happy to have them. This reboot feels balanced really well, with the new art style and tone managing to still feel like a more fundamental, optimistic teenage slice of life story.
Mike Pawuk: I was surprised how much I liked it. I liked it a lot. It does feel like this reboot has a more serious tone but it’s not burdened by teen angst. Optimism is good, and I would have been disappointed if Archie Comics went with a much serious tone.
Eva Volin: As a reader, I liked it, too. The art is very appealing and the story feels like it’s actually going somewhere. Unlike most reboots of iconic characters, this one really worked. I was very pleasantly surprised.
Michael May: No dissent from me. I read a lot of Archie as a kid, mostly for the gags. As I got into my teen years, I still loved those characters, but I lost patience for that kind of humor and—especially—the never-changing relationships. The Betty-Veronica-Archie triangle became frustrating and wearisome. The new volume is addressing that, while—as everyone’s already said—keeping the upbeat tone of the classic version. It seems to be exactly the kind of Archie comic I craved as a teenager.
Brigid Alverson: I liked it too, although with some reservations. I hated the way Betty hardly got to talk at all. On the other hand, I loved Jughead even more than I did before, which I wouldn’t have thought possible.
Lori Henderson: It took a while for it to warm up to me, but by the end I was interested in seeing more. I don’t care very much for the first-person/break-the-fourth-wall, and it’s about the only way I can see Betty hardly talking be justified, especially if the roles get reversed in the next issue.
What stood out for you?
Esther: It really all stood out. In a way that fanfiction stands out for me. I love seeing how authors & artists will remix a classic story and make it their own, and I felt that Mark Waid and Fiona Staples did just that. All the elements of the story as you remember it were there, but it’s a remix of it.
Robin: I like Esther’s nod to fanfiction there—that’s essentially what this is, just officially approved. I do feel that both Mark Waid and Fiona Staples are interpreting the world as fans of the original, but knowing that it needs to be distinct and individual too. I am an art-centric person, so the new character designs and more realistic style really stood out to me as a high point.
Mike: Definitely Fiona’s art at first. It has to convince longtime fans of Archie that everything is different—and that’s okay. She also has to welcome in new readers who maybe never heard of Archie before, and it succeeds at what it was meant to do. I’ve been a fan of Mark Waid for decades, and I thought he did a fantastic job.
Eva: As I said above, the artwork definitely bumps the title up a bit in terms of appealing to an older tween. The classic Archie style was very appealing to my 10-12 year olds, and I’m not sure this will appeal as much. I do, as Michael mentioned above, think it will appeal to older tweens and early teens. The writing is also pitched to older tweens, for whom the word “hell” isn’t really a swear word anymore. Since I’m always looking for magazine-style comics that my younger kids will enjoy, this change stood out.
Michael: The art of course, but I also love the mystery element around why Betty and Archie have broken up and how they’re able to remain good friends afterward. And then there’s the foreshadowing of the Lodges’ moving to town. Both of those are things that are pulling me forward anxiously to the next issue.
Eva: I loved the story, too! Speaking for myself now, and not as a collection developer, I really enjoyed the story a lot. Robin and Esther mentioned fanfic and to that I say yep, yep, yep. This is the kind of story that any good reboot deserves: a nod to the old story and fans with a twist for the new readers that propels the story into previously unexplored areas.
Brigid: I really felt like Fiona’s art was outstanding. It’s just such a pleasure to look at. I also like the way the story twisted in the middle, with Jughead sort of double-crossing his friends.
Lori: The whole thing stood out for me really. I wasn’t an Archie Comics fan growing up, but I did like the spin Waid and Staples put on the story and art. I think Jughead really benefited the most as he appeared more than just an eating machine.
Esther: So, I don’t remember the “New Look,” all that well. But while I think this is a good effort, and I think that it’ll be read, people still want Classic Archie. Life With Archie had a good run, but it did end after 40 issues or so.
Robin: I do not remember that particular run (I just googled, so I see what you’re talking about.) I think the difference here is that it’s one, these particular creators—I mean Fiona Staples! How exciting is that!—and that they are bringing their own point of view to it. The “New Look” style, just from looking at the covers, looks like it didn’t go far enough—you need to have a reason for a reboot more than just rebranding, and you need a creative team that really wants to do that reboot.
Mike: I had no idea Archie had a “new look” either. The horror! The horror! This reboot really works. Will it last for as long as the original run? Probably not, but it’s a nice breath of fresh air.
Michael: Going back and looking at the New Look issues, it’s a lot harder to quantify the difference than I expected it to be. The goal of each attempt appears to be the same. I imagine that the existence of New Look and Life with Archie has warmed readers up to the idea of a realistic style, and the current version benefits from that. But a huge difference is that New Look Archie was actually a whole new house style that was executed by various artists. Staples’ version is very much her working in her own style with Waid’s undoubtedly keeping her in mind as he writes. The choices feel artistically driven instead of corporately mandated.
Eva: Ugh. I do remember the “New Look,” and it was awful. I understand what they were trying to do. Back then manga and manga-influenced artwork was everywhere. Archie Comics is terrific at spotting trends and jumping on them, but that jump was ill-advised. This jump seems different. There appears to be a real plan this time, with great authors and illustrators being involved, storylines that continue from issue to issue rather than skipping from joke to joke, and a vision for spinoffs into the rest of the Archie Universe.
Esther: The original Archie style had a certain whimsy that went with the story. I don’t think the storyline would match up as well. This story matches up with the art style. I think that’s part of what makes it good.
Robin: No. This one has a good sense of humor, but it’s got far fewer gags, and a lot less goofiness. I prefer that, honestly—this already looks like it could become an endearing teen drama, a la the best teen-centric novels and TV, and a traditional high school tale is relatively absent from comics today. We’ve got tons of kids-to-middle-grade realism, and adult, but fewer teen titles, so this will fill a hole.
Mike: Probably not. I did appreciate that it had humor but wasn’t overly goofy. To that end though, I don’t want Archie to be a teen drama series. I like a nice balance and so far it’s a good sign of things to come.
Eva: Nope. This is an entirely new direction for Archie, in that it is being written as an endearing teen drama. Teens, at least in my library, are not the ones who read the classic Archie comics. I disagree with Robin in that there really aren’t many kids or tween appropriate floppies. As much as I’m loving the story as a reader, I’m hoping we don’t lose all of the young-tween appropriateness of the original Archie-style books.
Lori: I can imagine it. The breaking of the fourth wall and other gags is very much something I could see in the old art style.
Michael: I was going to say no, but Lori changed my mind. As much dramatic potential as it has, it’s still a comedy. The fourth-wall stuff reminded me of a less manic Ferris Bueller and the whole tone reminds me of the lighter John Hughes movies or something like Ten Things I Hate About You. So while I wouldn’t necessarily prefer it to Staples’ stuff, I can imagine the story drawn by someone like Dan DeCarlo.
What do we think of the art? Does Fiona Staples do a good job of keeping the iconic aspects of the characters with this new style?
Esther: The art felt edgy, as did this version of Archie. (OK, so it’s not that the story was oh so edgy, but rather that it was way edgier than the classic Archie stories.) And it jelled so well with the story for me. And Fiona Staples kept Archie’s red hair, but made it a little bit more auburn than carrot top. Jughead still has his crown, but he looks so much more mature. Archie’s dad practically looks the same. It kept it familiar for readers who have been with Archie for a while, but different enough to possibly draw in a new crowd of readers.
Robin: I loved it! Everyone is recognizable, but not too stuck to their original mold. I particularly like Jughead—he’s got the crown, but he seems a bit more of a dark horse here (and, ahem, rather hotter, but that’s also Fiona Staples’s style). Never thought I’d say I thought Jughead was an attractive dude, but there you go.
Mike: I liked Fiona’s art a lot, but I have to confess that I haven’t seen anyone wear a whoopee cap like Jughead’s since the Andy Griffith Show. I think it’s time to give it a rest, but I think fans would have had a problem with it missing.
Brigid: Robin, I’m with you on Jughead. And I don’t think his cap is a problem, honestly. He wouldn’t be Jughead without it, and teenagers still wear lots of stupid hats. But there’s also a really clean feeling to Staples’ art that I enjoy a lot. It’s very easy on the eyes. Also, in the old Archie house style all the girls look the same, just with different hair. I really like that Staples brings more variety to her female characters.
Lori: I enjoyed Staples art. It’s very clean and the colors were more subtle than the usual stand out primaries that I usually see in Archie comics.
Michael: Love it as well. I had the same initial reaction as Mike about Jughead’s hat: it’s dated, but what are you gonna do? You can’t just not have it. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s an explanation for it down the line, but Jughead’s enough of a non-conformist that that’s probably all the explanation we need. As for the iconic aspects of the other characters, Staples is communicating the same character traits that the classic look emphasized, but in an updated way. Reggie is a perfect example. In the classic version, his defining physical characteristic is his set of constantly sinister eyebrows. That’s not a realistic expression for someone to wear all the time, so Staples—while giving him nice, thick eyebrows—mostly just makes him look arrogant and jerky through facial expressions and body language. I imagine that that’s how she’ll differentiate between Betty and Veronica as well, by letting their appearances be natural extensions of their personalities.
What about the paneling and pacing—it struck me as less cluttered than the standard Archie comic, but that’s just a first impression.
Michael: I’ll buy that. I don’t think that’s an art thing though, but a dialogue thing. The classic version was so jokes- and gag-focused that each panel was doing a lot of work to set up the pay off at the end. This version is funny, but the humor is organic and there’s a nicer flow to the whole thing. That makes it feel relaxed and less busy to me.
It seems like Betty barely got to talk in this issue, even though it was partly about her. What do you think of that?
Esther: I felt like Betty’s silence worked here. I felt like there was more coming and we’d see it in future issues, which made me want to read future issues.
Robin: I agree with Esther—there’s still a lot more that feels like it’s acknowledging her as a character, so as the series progresses, I have hopes that giving the girls a point of view will continue. I mean, if you’re going to do the classic triangle, you’ve got to care about all three points.
Eva: What Esther and Robin said. This is the set-up issue of Archie, so it makes sense that, at least in this issue, Archie takes the lead.
Brigid: I dunno, this is the big debut issue, the one more people are going to read than any other, and I really don’t like the way her voice is taken away from her.
Lori: As I said earlier, I’m okay with it as long as Betty gets her spotlight in the next issue. While the book is called Archie, I don’t think you can really say it’s about Archie. It’s really more of an ensemble cast in the main book. The side characters got more to say and do than Betty in this issue and that was a bit of problem for me balance wise.
Michael: I’m fine with it for now, because her silence has a purpose. The comic is setting up a mystery and hearing her point of view on it right away would answer more questions than I want at this point. I’m super anxious to hear from her, but that’s another carrot that the series is dangling in front of me to get me back next month. I’d better get that carrot—and soon—but I don’t mind waiting a little.
Eva: Always leave the audience wanting more, right?
Robin: I enjoyed seeing the Greek chorus of Archie’s friends outside the major ones, including Kevin (I fear I honestly don’t know if the others are canon or new.) I hope there might be a way in there for more diversity in the group as well—reboot in more than one way, right?
Mike: I loved the chorus, but I also loved Jughead too. The way he went out of his way to not force Betty and Archie together at the end and actually sabotaging the King/Queen results was refreshing.
Eva: Yep, seeing how Staples recreated all the characters in the chorus, from Midge and Moose to Kevin and Reggie, was a lot of fun. Kind of like a Where’s Waldo hunt, I enjoyed seeing how many I could recognize.
Lori: I have to go with Jughead. He was great, really being the best friend that Archie really needed. And the cap really worked as Staples drew it. I was never thrilled with it before, but I felt it really fit here.
Michael: Jughead’s easily my favorite of the issue. I mentioned his non-conformity before and that’s what makes him such an attractive character. Not just in his interests and the way he dresses, but in the way he behaves as well. I’m very curious about Sheila and Maria too, though. Like Kevin, they’ve been introduced to the Riverdale scene since I stopped reading, so I don’t know anything about them. (I’ve never read a Kevin Keller story either, but I feel like I know him better just because of the numerous press releases I’ve seen focused on him.) I’m excited to get to know these new-to-me characters better.
Esther: I’d never gone that far back into the Archie history to see how it originally started. I knew it had been around since the ‘40s, but didn’t know that the story had started with just Betty. First of all, it was nice reading the original comic that they added in the end. It helped me swallow that Veronica wasn’t there from the outset. And I was also intrigued by the idea, because Betty & Veronica were the best Frenemies ever.
Robin: It seems to be a good place to start, if you’re aiming to bring in a new audience. Start the reboot as an alternate origin story, and you’ll get a lot more people willing to give it a shot.
Michael: It’s a brilliant move to establish Betty and Archie’s relationship and get us invested in seeing them back together, and then bring in Veronica, the chaotic force of nature who will complicate things SO MUCH. Did I mention how much I can’t wait for the second issue?
Esther: This was very much a setup for more story. So I’m reluctant to say that something was missing. It’s more about what’s going to happen next. I didn’t love the melodramatic feel of the friends trying to get the story out of Betty & Archie or trying to get them back together. If this was a play or a movie, I’d say it was overacted. But it works. I just didn’t love it.
Robin: I was a tiny bit put off as well by the friends being so pushy about getting Archie and Betty back together, although it felt in keeping as a classic plotline from the original. I also can’t quite tell, so far, how much Kevin is going to fall into the sassy gay best friend category—which could be problematic if he never gets to be more than that—but it’s only the first issue, and so far everyone’s a bit of a stereotype. I just hope they keep up the target of being traditional without maintaining unfortunate stereotypes at the same time.
Michael: Being the first issue, I’m not going to complain about anything missing just yet. Waid and Staples have hinted at where they’re headed, but there are a bunch of different ways that they could get there and I tend to trust both of them. More important to this issue though, there’s a solid, self-contained story here with a great ending, even as it’s setting up more drama for the future. I’m completely pleased.
Esther: I don’t know. This is very different than classic Archie. It might entice readers to go back to the classic, but I don’t think you’re getting a taste of Archie.
Mike: I feel mixed about this as well. I think I would prefer to have readers be a little familiar with their history than diving right into this. Our library has carried the single issue comics of classic Archie for years. I’m curious what readers will think of the reboot.
Robin: I do—to the point that I’m thinking I might well add this to our single issue comics for the library’s teen room.
Eva: As you can tell from my previous responses, I’m cautiously optimistic about the book. The line between romances for tweens and romances for young teens is very fine. For first time young teen readers who would have read Sweet Valley High back in the day, I’d say it’s a great first book. For first time tween readers who read the Candy Apple line of romances, I’d say I’d be more careful about who I hand it to. I bought subscriptions to Archie and Betty & Veronica for my niece when she was ten years old and she loved them. I’m not sure I’d buy this Archie for that same ten-year-old. But I’d be fine buying it for the thirteen-year-old she is now.
Lori: I think it would work for older tweens and teens who might consider the older art style “uncool.” Staples art is definitely a draw and is one of the reasons I considered picking it up myself.
Michael: I do think it’s a good choice for first timers… conditionally. It’s a different kind of comic from the classic stuff, even though they’re both about the same group of kids. Even though the classic stuff is about teenagers, like Eva said, it’s really for younger tweens. It’s a fantasy, aspirational version of high school. The new series—while not super dark and realistic—is clearly written for people who are either in high school or are looking back at it. So while I wouldn’t just hand this to anyone unfamiliar with Archie, there’s a large group of people who aren’t the audience for the classic stuff, but would enjoy this version.
Mike: I think that this was a great starting point for Archie Comics. They reintroduced a comic book series that’s been around since 1941 and give it a fresh look at something very dear and familiar to many comic book fans. Archie, Betty, and Veronica are probably as iconic as Batman and Superman. Everyone knows who they are. Time will tell if this new version will have staying power, but I like what I see.
Robin: I find myself reading this a bit like watching a good, cheeseball teen TV show a la MTV’s Awkward, ABC Family’s The Fosters or the older Greek, or the now classic favorites like Gilmore Girls and Freaks and Geeks. I’m curious to see where it’s going, and hoping it will live up to my hopes: be a snappy dialog driven teen dramedy. I wonder how they’ll expand the characters and move beyond the expected plots, and have my fingers crossed that they might reinvent what we already know into something really great. And, now we’ve actually got Archie coming to TV in the new series Riverdale, so…I’d be curious to see if they go more In the direction of this series than the classic original.
Michael: I’d forgotten they were making a TV series until Robin just reminded me. I didn’t have any interest in that before, but if they can get close to what Waid and Staples are doing, I’ll get on board.
Filed under: All Ages
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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