The More Things Change: A Look At The Rebuilt Riverdale Of Waid And Staples’ ‘Archie’
For a long time, the fact that Archie Comics didn't change a whole lot wasn't just a trademark of character, it was a major selling point. After all, stripping things down to those simple gags meant that there was a whole library of mostly timeless stories that could fill up those Double Digests at the grocery store, and when you're a kid who wants to read as many comics as you can for as little as you can, they end up being a pretty appealing purchase.
But with Mark Waid and Fiona Staples' reboot of Archie this past summer, they were given a unique opportunity to rebuild everything about comics' favorite teenagers. This week, with the release of the third issue, all of the major players are finally in place, so it's time to take a trip up to Riverdale to see how much has changed --- and how much has remained the same.
So let's start with Archie Andrews himself. As a character, he's always had two defining characteristics that have provided the seeds for about 90% of the stories that he's been in since 1940: He's girl-crazy and he's a huge klutz. Those are both very much intact, especially the latter --- Archie first encountering Hiram Lodge after accidentally demolishing his entire mansion halfway through its construction is the highlight of the series so far.
But before that, right up front, is the idea of Archie as a musician. It makes sense that it would, since historically, the biggest pop cultural success of Archie (the Company) was that time that a band made up of fictional cartoon characters had the number-one single of the year right here in the real world with "Sugar, Sugar" back in 1969. For a long time, though, being part of a band was just something Archie did every now and then because, well, kids sometimes have bands. It's like how he was on every team at Riverdale High so that there could be a fun sports gag in every season.
Recently, though, it's taken a much more prominent role. The Archie-Marries-Betty timeline of Life With Archie, for instance, saw Archie moving to New York to try to follow his dream of playing guitar before returning to Riverdale to become a music teacher. It's been steadily becoming a bigger part of his character, and putting it there from the very beginning makes a whole lot of sense.
Also, it doesn't hurt that it gives him a way to connect with his father, since Fred Andrews has never really had a whole lot in common with his son. He doesn't even have the red hair --- Archie gets that from his mom.
The biggest change so far, though, has come with Jughead.
I'll admit that giving Jughead a tragic backstory for his nickname was the part of the story that I was most leery of, but honesty, it's not without its precedent. He is, after all Forsythe Pendleton Jones III, and while we don't know a whole lot about his family history (which is weird when you consider that Jughead is also a time-traveling policeman), we do know that the Joneses were a pretty prominent family in Riverdale at one point. Put that together with the fact that Jughead's perpetually strapped for cash and always hitting up his solidly middle-class buddy Archie for a loan, and it's easy to see how you could make the leap to the story of fallen fortunes that we have here.
It's equally easy to see how Jughead's perpetual sleepy eyes and detachment from everything (outside of time policework) could also make the slight shift over to the calm zen state that we see him in here. His talent for manipulating the situations around himself, though, has been there for a long, long time. It's one of the things that got him that permanent spot on ComicsAlliance's illustrious list of the Five Greatest Comic Book Characters of All Time.
As for the other two main characters, you can't really talk about one without mentioning the other, and they're the ones that are the most up in the air at this point: Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.
It's worth noting that the idea of Veronica moving to Riverdale as a teenager rather than growing up there is one that actually goes back to her first appearance, where she arrived in Riverdale as a "sub-deb" (don't worry, I had to look it up, too), with a phonetically spelled accent that hovered somewhere between Mid-Atlantic and Southern. That's been retconned in the years since, of course, but it makes a lot of sense to revive it here.
I'm a person who has had a lot of conversations about Archie characters, and one of the things I've learned is that the folks who make these books really like Cheryl Blossom, because, as one of them put it, she's a wrecking ball who swings in and demolishes the established order of things. I mention that because Veronica's arrival in Riverdale makes her the wrecking ball again, for the first time in decades.
Well, not the literal wrecking ball. That would be Archie.
But still, with the setup of Archie and Betty as an established relationship that just came to a disastrous (and purposefully vague) end and two issues of everyone sort of hovering around deciding what to do now, Veronica's arrival throws everything into doubt --- and gets the first emotional reaction out of Jughead.
But what's really interesting is that the first real interaction that we see from Veronica is with Betty. We see her with Archie first, and with Jughead, with Hiram Lodge, and even Miss Grundy and a couple of the other minor students, but those interactions are just the façade. The first time Veronica really talks to someone, the first person who goes to talk to her after a humiliating experience, is Betty --- and that the first thing Betty does is keep anyone from seeing Veronica at her lowest.
It doesn't go well, naturally. I mean, they've got to be enemies if they're going to be frenemies, you know? But it means something that the interaction they have, while Archie is there, doesn't necessarily involve him. Instead, it's revealing in its own way, the idea that Veronica doesn't yet feel at home, and that Betty wants to help her right up until the moment that she decides to crush her.
With that, we can see the changes that have been made and how it's all set up to propel the story into the familiar tale of triangles and shenanigans that we've all come to love. The changes are made, the Lodges are in Riverdale with a bunch of truly ominous billboards, and the major characters are in place --- sorry Reggie, but you're always going to be a second-stringer and we all know it.