As a kid I didn’t have much to do with comics. To me they were a small treasure found in a box at the back of my mother’s closet. They were in a box of things my oldest brother had left behind when he went into the army. I would sneak in once in a great while and read one. Growing up I knew names of some of the bigger heroes; Superman, Spiderman, Batman. And I knew of Archie. I had one or two of the digests and I remember the never ending rivalry between Betty and Veronica. I recall Jughead and his insatiable appetite, and Mr. Weatherbee and Ms. Grundy as well. So when I was given a couple of issues of Life With Archie, I jumped at the chance to read them.
One thing I am learning about reading a comic is that with this method of bringing you a story there are a lot of elements that go into the telling. It’s not just the dialogue or the picture that tells the story, as even the cover can sometimes be a story in itself. Upon opening the cover of Life with Archie #36 we see Our Story So Far… which explains – well, the story so far. In my rush to find out how he dies I read only the first page of it before rushing on through the issue. As I was reading I found it frustrating and a little confusing. Never once did Archie give the name of his wife and there were other details that left me asking, “When did that happen?”. After I finished both issues I went back and read the second page of Our Story So Far… and it answered my questions and cleared up my confusion. But it also made me want to hunt down those first 35 issues to read the whole of the story for myself. They did a very good job of explaining a few of the major details of the series without giving it all away. And the writers and artists did an excellent job of bringing Archie’s life full circle, with a look back at his growing up and even a look forward to what his life might have been like in his 40’s both with Veronica and with Betty.
One thing that stood out to me between the two issues was the artwork. When I opened issue #37 I had to take a second look at the previous issue. I realized that the artwork between the two issues was different. But it is important to note that they need to be. In issue #36 there is a serious tone to it and the art reflects that without losing that familiarity of what we grew up with. The next issue has a more cartoony feel to it and the mood of the issue is enhanced by that. Understanding, of course, that each artist puts their own unique line into their art I truly feel that the artists involved in these two issues did a wonderful job of bring the story together in words and in pictures. I urge anyone who picks up these two issues to first read Our Story So Far and when you have finished the issues, read what the writers have to say afterward. It’s very enlightening.
Having said all that, let’s get to the story. I was expecting the old gang. Like most of our memorable childhood heroes, they never aged; eternal teens. But now it came with a twist. Life With Archie had them grown up. Since he apparently couldn’t choose between Betty and Veronica there are two realities. In one he is married to Betty and in another he is married to Veronica. I was only given issue 36 and 37 so I have missed the whole of the story. In these issues there is a shocker awaiting that we – well, I – never expected; not only did they grow up, Archie dies.
Issue 36 takes us on a walk with Archie thru his past, his present and even a brief glimpse of how he imagines his future in 20 years or so. Archie does some deep thinking while he’s out for his morning jog and he can’t quite put his finger on why the reminisce. He always thought he would leave Riverdale and he wonders now why he never did. He comes to the conclusion that Riverdale is his home. It’s where his heart is and always will be. He feels like “the luckiest guy in Riverdale,” having married the only girl he ever loved and is surrounded by friends. “I know I’m starting toward [my future] from the best place possible” he thinks to himself. Wow. The irony. After his vigorous morning run he stops into the Chocklit Shoppe, which is now run by Jughead, for a good breakfast. There he discusses current events with Jughead and Reggie.
Kevin Keller is Senator Elect and is preparing for a campaign fundraiser taking place that evening. Also important to note is that Keller is gay. There had been a shooting at the mall recently and in the old friends’ discussion we find out that the shooter targeted gay employees and also had Keller’s campaign literature in his room. The shooting, and fugitive shooter, leave Keller being advised to cancel the fundraiser. Keller and his husband, Clay, however, refuse to hide and decide to move forward with the event.
Evening comes and the fundraiser is held at the Chocklit Shoppe. It seems that the whole town turned out. With overcrowding and too little security, there’s a bit of chaos when a man draws a gun. Archie sees it from across the room. Keller pushes Clay out of the way, the security people are pushing their way through the crowd, but it is Archie who reaches him first. And when the trigger is pulled it’s Archie who takes the bullet. In all the confusion it takes everyone a minute to realize what happened. With a tearful Betty and Veronica leaning over his bleeding body Archie says weakly, “I’ve always loved you”. This issue leaves us with the crowd in tears as Archie’s lifetime friends cry over his lifeless body.
Life with Archie #37 takes place one year later. Keller is standing on Mr. Weatherbee’s front porch discussing the past. Like the previous issue, this installment is a series of memories of how things were in the “old days” with Archie being the focus. However, this issue has a distinctly different feel to it as it is Archie’s friends and loved one’s who are doing the remembering. Keller speaks to different people in turn and each one has a story to share about Archie, ranging from when he was just a little boy to when he was a high schooler. Each story gives a little deeper insight into who Archie was.
Keller’s purpose for these interviews is to know the heart of Archie for the dedication of a memorial in his honor. At the gathering for the dedication Keller gives a moving speech about the closeness of Riverdale and the community of people who make the town what it is. He continues with “It’s not the place that makes the man…it’s the people who brought him into the world and gave him his moral values”. This brings a tear to Mr. and Mrs. Andrews. He finishes his poignant speech with this: “It’s the men and women who taught him and confirmed those values. It’s the friends and family who held his hand and whose hands he held in times of need. Archie Andrews is the product of all of us…Just as he’s part of us all in return. And I can think of no more hopeful note for Riverdale’s future, my friends, than that!” And with that Mr. Weatherbee unveils the monument in honor of Archie; the renaming of Riverdale High School to the Archie Andrews High School! That may seem like the end but I assure you, it is not. But the last three pages I will leave for you to read for yourself. I can tell you it brought a tear to my eye.