Bizarro Back Issues: When You Want To Bring Down An International Terrorist, Send In the Archies! (1992) [Kids’ Comics]
When most people look at Archie Comics, they usually say that the appeal comes from how relatable those simple characters are. There is, after all, comfort in routine, and seeing those teenage love-triangle hijinx play out over and over again can amuse Archie's target audience of kids for a couple of years before they get tired of the same ol' jokes and move on to another interest, leaving Riverdale's favorite teens with a pleasant haze of nostalgia. But we, however, know better.
I mean, no, that's not an entirely inaccurate assessment, but the one thing it overlooks is that the cast of the Archie titles are never too far from diving into something that goes far beyond the routine. They've been dropped into just about every weird genre there is, from soap opera drama to religious sermonizing to blood-soaked zombie horror. And then there was the time that the the regular core-universe Archie characters were hired by the government to go undercover and bring down a terrorist operation.
That happens on page one, by the way. And then it gets weirder.
It all came courtesy of Bill Golliher and Rex W. Lindsey in 1992's Archie & Friends #61, but it also saw a late-2000s reprint in Tales From Riverdale Digest, and if you ever decide to put together a run of a single Archie book, that is the one to grab. In addition to delightfully bizarre lead stories like "Denim," Tales From Riverdale was also a clearinghouse of the stranger side of Archie Comics. This issue, for instance, also reprinted an issue of Archie's Weird Mysteries where the gang uses Dilton's time-travel garage to swap ages with their teachers.
For this story, though, they take a much more down-to-Earth approach. Relatively speaking.
The Archies, an occasionally world-famous high school garage band, have been invited by the super-rich Vincent Van Heusen to play on his private island. The only problem is that Van Heusen isn't just a rich guy, he's the kind of rich guy who's bent on world domination and is using his money to fund a sinister scheme to that end, and whose niece just happens to be really into "Sugar, Sugar."
The good news is that the government is aware of Van Heusen's plot, if a little hazy on the actual details. The bad news is that rather than sending in, you know, the army, their plan is to see if five completely untrained teenagers can't go in and bring down his entire operation. To be fair, though, they're not sending them in empty-handed:
Yes. They are sending Archie and Jughead into an armed, guarded fortress on a remote, isolated island, and they are giving them musical instruments that double as vehicles that are maybe slightly slower than just walking.
Betty and Veronica fare better, but not by much:
Reggie only gets a camera disguised as the world's gaudiest pendant, meaning that the intelligence files on the Archies are at least thorough enough that they know not to trust him with anything more dangerous than a rock.
Thus armed, the Archies are shipped off to Van Heusen Island, where they meet both Vanessa and a private army of slightly mismatched goons, as though Van Heusen just told all of them to "dress like a gangster," and everyone had a different idea of what that meant.
Once they're on the island, they start poking around, but they find their investigation thwarted at every turn, probably because they are literally just high school teens and not actual secret agents. Even though they have a distinct advantage that comes from Van Heusen's architects deciding to fill his estate with air vents large enough for two or three teenage guitarists to climb through comfortably, they keep coming up short.
Eventually, though, all of their John McClaneing pays off. When Reggie sneaks out of the concert to poke around Van Heusen's basement, he discovers exactly what his plan involves. See, "Vanessa" isn't really van Heusen's niece at all. She's the prototype...
... of his army of Robo-Teens!
There are a lot of questions here, but I think the most obvious is that if Vanessa's not real, why exactly did Van Heusen invite the Archies to his island to play a concert? Turns out that's the only one that's actually answered: This is the test run to see if Vanessa can pass as human by seducing Reggie, meaning that Archie Friggin' Comics did the plot of that movie Ex Machina like 23 years before Oscar Isaac got around to it.
The big idea here is that if Vanessa does pass, he'll also replace the Archies, sending them back to pass as teenagers until he gives the gives the order to unleash a nightmare of robotic death on Riverdale. For as Riverdale falls... so falls the world!
There's one thing that Van Heusen didn't count on, though: Reggie Mantle's boundless, intractable ego.
With that, Reggie blows the lid off the whole scheme, leaving the rest of the gang to fight their way through Van Heusen's private army.
Or, to put it more accurately, leaving Betty and Veronica to fight their way through the goons all by themselves while the others make their getaways on what might be the three most dubious modes of transportation since Superman's Justice Jogger.
See, there was one thing that Van Heusen didn't count on: In programming his robots to be undetectable, he accidentally gave them the ability to have crushes, which could in turn motivate them to turn on their creator and bring down his entire operation.
In terms of world domination plots, that's strictly amateur hour, but let's not overlook the fact that he somehow created a robot that was capable of falling in love with Reggie Mantle. Considering that no human is capable of the same thing, that should stand as his both his greatest accomplishment and his biggest mistake.
No, wait. This is his biggest mistake:
Why, why, if you were creating an army of secret undercover robots meant to kill everyone who stood between you and world domination, would you program them not to lie?
So let this be a lesson to you, folks: If you ever meet a teen and you think they might be a killer robot, just ask. They have to tell you if you ask.