Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Fiona Staples
The Archie relaunch made huge waves last month. A staple for young readers for over fifty years, Archie has become associated with an outdated conservative worldview where teenagers barely even kiss each other and would give a kidney to snag the good booth at the malt shoppe. Over the last couple of years, the line has expanded by places analogues of the classic Americana characters into thought-provoking mature horror lines like the zombie survival title Afterlife With Archie and the seventies-style occult series Chilling Tales Of Sabrina. Fevered interest in these respectful reinterpretations of beloved childhood memories has boosted sales and inspired a significant relaunch by Mark Waid (on the tail end of one of the best Daredevil relaunches Marvel comics has ever seen) and Fiona Staples (whose art in Saga has set the industry aflame). Last issue introduced Archie and Betty as a teen couple together since elementary school who just broke up under mysterious circumstances. Their friends, unable to process this sea change, went into overdrive trying to force them back together, leading to legitimate humor that’s appropriate for children and emotionally real to adults.
In this issue, Archie needs money to fix his crappy car, so his friends try to keep him from killing his accident-prone self on the construction crew for the new Lodge Manor. Betty is trying to learn how to go from tomboy to couture queen in time for her birthday party, but she’s willing to ruin a manicure if it means secretly repairing her still-beloved ex-boyfriend’s jalopy when he’s not looking. Scenes of Archie ruining a series of after-school jobs (like standing in front of a burning ice cream stand shrugging, “I don’t have much luck” as the manager in the background screams, “How? HOW?”) brought actual laughs from me, and when he accidentally causes a cataclysm on the construction site, it comes across as a funny anxiety nightmare rather than a cheeky Kids-On-Our-Focus-Groups-Like-Destruction editorial note. Betty’s half-smile at seeing Archie happy with his car repair but not knowing she helped him is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I don’t know if I want these kids to get back together. But I dearly love them both in ways I haven’t since I was ten, and I want them both to be okay.
This is a great book for kids in the same way Pixar makes great movies for kids – all-ages entertainment should never mean simple or dumb or broad. We should show our children well-created, intelligent art that appeals to their expectations about friendship and school and first jobs and growing up, and this should inspire them to make their own art. If you love comics, come to Ultimate Comics and pick the first two issues up for yourself. And if you love children, these will make excellent back-to-school gifts or donations to local elementary classrooms.
-Matt Conner for Ultimate Comics & NCComicon