I am a sucker for nostalgia. Especially when it involves one form of entertainment or other. When Archie Comics began publishing Afterlife With Archie last year, I remembered all those days and weeks of reading various Archie comics as a kid, an obsession that two of my older cousins introduced me to, almost sixteen-seventeen years ago. Afterlife is quite different from any other Archie comic to date, not in the least because it is a horror book first and foremost, but the nostalgia from that book still hit me. I’ve looked at various Archie comics ever since, wanting to jump in at some point, but I never did. Until now.
A few short weeks ago, one of my childhood friends died a heroic death. Archie Andrews, a character I’ve loved for almost a decade and a half, a character I remember fondly to this day even though years have passed since I last read a proper Archie comic, died defending a friend from a murderer. Curiously enough, I missed the entire event somehow and didn’t realize what had happened until a few weeks ago. I have just read Life With Archie #36 and #37, and I was in tears when Archie died in the final pages of the former issue.These covers, by Mike Allred and Cliff Chiang respectively, capture the true essence of what Archie comics have been about from my own experience, what kind of a setting Riverdale was, and what kind of a character Archie Andrews really was. Just an ordinary fun-loving teenager is how I remember him, caught in a love triangle and drawn into friendships that have truly stood the test of time in a far more relevant way than any other superhero friendships I’d say.
Writer Paul Kupperberg begins Life With Archie on a very self-introspective note as Archie considers the kind of life has had led to this day. To be clear, this isn’t the Archie I remember, for in the pages of this title, Archie has grown up and married. In one future, he married Betty, in another, Veronica. Surprisingly enough, since this is the first time I’ve read this title, Kupperberg writes the issue from a neutral perspective, where we never see which universe this story is taking place in, as the story is common to both. And that in itself reflects on the kind of character the original Archie comics and their many successors were, as I remember what little I’ve read over the long years.
And all these changes mean that these comics ended up being a great entry point for me. Sure, there is a hell of a 2-page catch-up info-box at the beginning of #36, but still, it was a great experience. Just to see one of my dreams come true, for the Riverdale gang to have grown up and moved on with a life of their own, is thrilling. Jughead managing Chocklit Shoppe, Mr. Weatherbee and Ms. Grundy married, Archie married to Betty/Veronica and Reggie dating Veronica/Betty, it was all an experience that I really can’t forget.
But then, towards the end of the #36 issue as Kevin Keller the Senator hosts his fundraiser at Chocklit Shoppe and Archie takes a bullet for his friend, it all comes crashing down. All I can see is how pencillers Pat & Tim Kennedy put together those final pages. I can vividly see as Archie makes a run for Kevin and steps in the shooter’s path. The comics are on my tablet and I’m writing this on my laptop, yet I can only see the expressions of horror on the faces of Archie’s parents, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Mr. Lodge, Pop, Moose, Clay and all the others. In fact, dammit, I’m crying as I write this now.
For how different this issue is from any other Archie comic I’ve read to date, and the final few pages of Archie’s heroism and his brave death, I have to say that this is most definitely one of the best comics I’ve read in my life. Paul, Pat, Tim, Jim Amash and Glenn Whitmore attempted something incredible here, and they succeeded immensely.
But that’s not all, because with Life With Archie #37, the story jumps forward a year later Archie’s death, on the first anniversary of his death. In this issue, also penned by Paul Kupperberg, Kevin Keller talks to various prominent people in Riverdale, trying to get a true sense for what kind of a man Archie was, what experiences shaped him, what his history was, and how this dork and goofy boy changed all of Riverdale.
Each story of recollection in this issue is heart-warming and emotional. Kupperberg spans the years of Archie’s life and focuses on his friends, his loves, his teachers, his detractors and more. How could I not love any of it? Kupperberg is simply phenomenal in this issue, and I have to say that I just want to go back and read this title from the first issue after getting through this one. I want to catch up on all the years of Archie that I’ve missed.
I’ll admit that after the tearful reading experience of #36, I was quite unprepared for #37 and the flashbacks as they happened one by one. And I cried again. Each story in this issue is about Archie being Archie, a friend to all, confused and yet dedicated, determined and naughty, and so much more. I dare say that he is quite unlike any other character in comics, by far! And in this issue Kupperberg got the chance to focus on quite a few characters that he didn’t really get around to in the last issue, such as Mr. Weatherby, Mr. Lodge, Cheryl Blossom and more. The writer reminded us of Archie’s many adventures, his pranks, and more besides.
And most of all, the speech that Kevin Keller gives in the final pages is just too incredible in itself. As is the Riverdale gang’s final thoughts on their missing friend. Life With Archie #37 is truly an issue that celebrates Archie as he was, a man who was a sum and product of his nature and his nurturing.
The credits cast of this issue is a bit longer than the one before, with Fernando Ruiz on the pencils alongside Pat and Tim, Bob Smith and Gary Martin on inks, Jack Morelli on the letters and Glenn Whitmore still on the colours. I have no criticism at all of this issue (or the one before that for that matter), because I loved every panel, every page, every character.
“The Death of Archie” might be an event that passed under my radar, but I’m glad that I caught up on it. It is a reminder that even when things get tough, there’s always hope. That life always carries on. That there’s always healing. That heroes don’t have to wear tights and capes and hunt those that go bump in the night and fight off villains the likes of which will make you scream. Sometimes the challenges are just those you face everyday.
And that Archie Andrews is truly a great hero and a great role model as well, I dare say and add.