Archie comic books were my life growing up. After graduating from Highlights magazines, it was Archie–tucked in before the years of Teen Beat. Those candy-colored high schoolers taught me quirky facts like what a car gasket was and that a cute way to spell shop was shoppe. Archie comics were also my first introduction to romantic relationships.
There was Archie, this goofy-looking redhead, being fought over by the homegrown Betty and the affluent Veronica. Betty made me think of bushels of corn and Daisy Duke shorts. Veronica was the first Mean Girl, her hair so black and shiny it reflected blue. These hot girls actually got in fistfights over the kid who in real life would be dodging spitballs. When Archie strolled the halls of Riverdale High, girls at their lockers would have their eyes turn into throbbing hearts.
Although I hung tight to Archie comics, my body was growing and soon I’d be buying posters of every guy with feathered hair–even putting a picture of the Fonze in a locket my grandmother gave me. If I were to choose a guy out of the pages of the comics, I’d choose the better looking “cad,” Reggie. Damn, that hair.
The unattainable Parker Stevenson and Andy Gibbs of the world were on my wall, but hidden in my psyche was Archie. He represented everything that culture said wasn’t cool. His car, Betsey, broke down every few issues. Usually the gasket. His only close guy friend, Jughead, was a doofus who swam in the local swimming hole with his crown on.
Archie didn’t play sports, but he could take the stage at school with his friends and play “Honey, Aw…Sugar, Sugar.” Other than that, he was sort of dense, yet the babes were all over him. It made no logical sense to a thirteen year old. But soon it will. Released last summer, a new reworking of Archie hit stands.
Drawn by Fiona Staples and stories by Mark Waid, the new look is modern, attempting to snag new readership of the more sophisticated comic readers who have been presented with strong characters, especially by Marvel, in the last decade. A week after the release, I hit my small city’s comic book store. They had sold out of their 24 copies. Two stores later, I found one one. If the old Archie was one of the Brady boys, who didn’t have typical heartthrob looks but an innocence and humor that made girls tune in, then the new Archie is the boy band One Direction—slick bad boys who know a good hair product when they see one.
This new Archie is buff, and dare I say, hot. His hair’s more pumpkin than orange, gelled up in a front swoop. His freckles aren’t circles but stippled dots. Even Jughead is transformed, now a sunken-eyed, deep brooding guy who might just be wearing guyliner.
The first issue begins anew, introducing the characters. Archie says, “I’m not exactly the most interesting guy in town.” The writers know that’s not true and we do too. With his new coffee-shop guitar-playing sexuality, he’s sure to mess with the heads of girls like those who fell for the fictional Edward in Twilight.
Archie comics has always had more of a female readership, so the creators are obviously catering to them. But with Amy Poehler, Serena Williams, and Lena Dunham helping shift tides, I thought we were headed towards an era where looks were secondary to talent and personality. Maybe this is the Magic Mike, Fifty Shades of Grey feminism that says, “We want eye candy, too.” Perhaps the reworked Archie is capitalizing on the delayed realization that, for females, fantasies are wrapped up in story.
The old Archie confounded me. How did the mushy-muscled kid get those girls with just the strength of his personality? He burrowed in my mind as I moved on to Shawn Cassidy, working my way up to John Taylor from Duran Duran, culminating at the apex with Brad Pitt. They were guys I loved to look at, but I never knew their inner lives except what People magazine would dole out to me. They never pulled their pockets inside out to show how broke they were. They never fell and tripped in mud while the popular kids stood near, pointing and laughing.
The confusion about how someone without Hollywood looks could attract glamorous girls didn’t eat away at me, it just remained there as one of the foundational curiosities of my youth. I didn’t have to figure it out. While my gurgling hormones pointed me towards jawlines and muscles, Archie kept his place as a steadfast that friend who I felt relaxed around.
How will this new Archie affect readers? The art’s great, the stories modern and compelling. But will he travel with the readers through college and marriage and kids? Will mothers push the Summer Spectaculars into the hands of their daughters? With a new CW show of the franchise in the works, I think he’s going to go the way of the rotary phone and rabbit-eared televisions—a conversation that begins, “In my day…” Just another separation between generations.
At twelve I never understood how a goofy, ginger got the girls, but now in my forties, I get it. I hope my daughters still get that lesson from somewhere.