Since the first issue of the new Archie comic, one of the driving forces behind the plot was the recent breakup between Archie Andrews and Betty Cooper, paving the way for Veronica Lodge to wrap Archie around her finger like a freckled piece of string. The impetus behind the breakup was "the lipstick incident," which was describned specifically as Archie not cheating on Betty – leaving everyone to ask, "what exactly happened?"

Archie #4, by Mark Waid and Annie Wu, answers the question. Spoilers follow.




What happens is that Archie and Betty have found themselves in a nice, comfortable state of equilibrium, where everything is just fine. Since a) they're teenagers and b) this is a comic book, that can't last, and it doesn't.

Two other supporting characters, Shelia and Maria, decide that Betty is too tomboyish, and decide to help her dress up for a date, complete with a new dress and makeup. She shows up for a date with Archie, who is taken aback, and suddenly everything isn't so fine any more. Things go unsaid, and in the vacuum, a well of confusion and misunderstanding bubbles up in both of them.

It all comes to a head when Betty walks out of a movie and Archie follows her, and the two of them argue over why Betty chose a midnight movie with Archie to wear an expensive dress and a lot of makeup, including, yes, lipstick. Archie asks why Betty's changed; Betty insists, dramatically, that wearing a little lipstick doesn't change anything; words are said that can't be taken back, and Riverdale's power couple is no more.




So on the surface, it's pretty obvious what's happened. Betty wants to be more than "just like one of the guys," into video games and fixing cars and eschewing more traditionally feminine pursuits. She finds she liked dressing up and turning a few heads. But Archie is fine with Betty the tomboy, and wants everything to stay in the nice, comfortable, understandable space he's used to – and he views this change in Betty as jeopardizing a relationship that stretches back to childhood.

Archie's in the wrong, but Betty's been all but pushed into this by Shelia and Maria, who have a habit in this series of sticking their noses in other people's business, and neither of them handle it like adults, because neither of them are adults. Again, on the surface, it's pretty cut and dried teen melodrama. But there's a deeper subtext.




Archie Comics have – with a few exceptions – historically stuck to one-and-done formula stories where everything has to be back in the same place it was before by the end of the story. If Archie is elected class president in one issue, he's going to be right back to being a normal student in the next. If Veronica winds up penniless, you can bet she'll be back on top before too long. There is a nice, comfortable stability to that, which is just what Archie Andrews, in Archie #4, wants.

But with the revamp by Mark Waid and Fiona Stapes (and in this issue, Annie Wu) there's been a shift to more modern storytelling. All the characters are still themselves, but they wear more up to date fashions and aren't all being drawn by artists told to be nth generation Dan DeCarlo clones. Their storytelling is more serialized, with this very issue being a culmination of a subplot that's been on the boiler for months. It's been a very enjoyable series, but it has changed, and this change means that things don't look and act the way they did before, the way Betty doesn't look or act the way Archie's familiar with.

The breakup isn't just between Archie Andrews and Betty Cooper. It's a breakup between classic Archie Comics and the revamped Archie Comics.




The new Archie series is great. You're missing out if you haven't given it a shot yet.


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