Archie Andrews had to die.
It was the best way to help bring the long-lived comic icon and his collection of everyday, relatable friends full circle in time for a 75th anniversary rebirth and allow him to remain rooted in today's present.
"It was a decision that was long in the works — we were about halfway through Life with Archie's great, acclaimed run when we started to consider how to end the book," Archie Comics publisher and CEO Jon Goldwater told Polygon in an email interview. "I remember we had series writer Paul Kupperberg in the building for a story conference and I threw the idea out. Everyone looked at me in shock. But after we talked it through, it was clear that it was the best way, tonally, to end the series — which covered so much ground and was very much the flagship book for the company."
The Life with Archie series, which originally ran from 1958 to 1991, was reborn in 2010 as twin alternative plot lines that followed the life of Archie had he married Betty and had he married Veronica.
In the second to last comic in both takes of the series, Archie is killed by a would-be assassin trying to gun down the book's first gay character, a senator recently elected on a gun-control platform.
That July issue was followed up by the series finale in August, which had the group coming back together at the Chocklit Shoppe to remember Archie. In December, Goldwater, son of Archie Comics co-founder John L. Goldwater, announced the relaunch of the flagship series, with Archie No. 1.
"The Archie characters aren't in need of a tune-up, ‘shocking change,' or revision," Goldwater said in a prepared statement at the time. "These characters have stood the test of time and resonate to this day — we've proven that over the last six years. What Archie No. 1 will do, though, is bring together two of the most talented creators in comics in Mark Waid and Fiona Staples and create a surprising and definitive take on Archie's origin — a story that has never been. The book will bring back some of the bite of Archie's original tales in a modern, forward-looking manner, while still retaining the character's all-ages appeal. What better way to celebrate 75 years of Archie Andrews?"
Speaking more recently to Polygon, Goldwater said that Life with Archie, his marriage and ultimate death help set the stage for Archie No. 1.
"It all kind of comes full circle with Archie No. 1 — which is in many ways a rebirth for the character."
Longtime fans of the Archie books are probably familiar with Archie's habit of meeting famous and sometimes odd folks in Riverdale and beyond. Archie Comics has a long history of crossovers.
His latest, announced last fall, has the teen meeting the deadly Predator from the Arnold Schwarzenegger led film of the same name. While Archie has met the Punisher, the Tiny Titans, even KISS, this particular cross-over seemed to surprise fans of the book and its red-headed lead. I asked Goldwater what made them decide to have Archie hunted down by a Predator in a mini-series.
"Why not?" he said. "That's what I said when the idea came up. It's projects like these that keep people on their toes in terms of Archie. The only thing they can expect is the unexpected. And we feel, as long as we're true to the characters and genuine, that there are no limits to what we can do with them."
Goldwater said the idea for the Dark Horse crossover came about at a creative summit at the Archie offices.
"We started talking about some of the great Archie crossovers — like Archie Meets Punisher, Archie Meets Kiss, and so on — and wondered aloud about what we could do to possibly top that," he said. "I think it was [chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa] who threw out Predator, and then we called Dark Horse and they were all for it."
And it's not just mini-series that seem to be toying with drastic changes to the Archie formula.
Afterlife with Archie kicked off in early 2013, dropping Archie and friends in a zombie apocalypse that starts in Riverdale thanks to a little poorly thought-out witchcraft from Sabrina.
"Archie is a character rooted in the present."
The first four issues of the comic sold, and newspapers, NPR and the likes of Fangoria, were in enthralled.
"Afterlife with Archie was born over coffee and breakfast," Goldwater said. "I was sitting with my son, Jesse, and our future CCO, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. They were both talking about a Life with Archie variant cover Francesco Francavilla did - which he titled Afterlife with Archie. Jesse and Roberto were saying they were bummed to discover the interiors of the book were not an Archie horror title. Roberto then said he'd love to write that kind of book. So, right there, I said ‘Let's do it.' And soon after, Francesco Francavilla was onboard, and Afterlife with Archie was born."
Born out of a desire to create comics relatable to everyday teens by introducing a typical teenager and his everyday life, much of Archie's 75-year run may seem threatened to some by these sort of crossovers and new series like Afterlife with Archie and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I asked Goldwater if he thought pushing the envelope so far with so identifiable a character could weaken the franchise.
"Not at all," he said. "I think it strengthens it. It shows how flexible these characters are — how, even in dire, dangerous situations, Archie is still Archie and Betty is still Betty, etc. These characters, if portrayed truly, can be dropped in almost any kind of setting and remain viable and vibrant."
Then, I asked, is the classic Archie and the time period it represents becoming a less important element of the overall canon?
"I think Archie is ever-evolving, and isn't tied to a specific time period," said Goldwater. "One of the things I really wanted to do when I took over the company six years ago was to really anchor Archie and his friends in the present. Moves like Life with Archie or Archie No. 1 are just the latest examples of that — showing that Archie and his friends live in the real world, not stuck in some kind of retro universe."
For Goldwater, Archie isn't a nostalgia brand, a series rooted in its birth in the 40s, it's a brand meant to stay relevant to today's youth, a series meant to be always rooted in the current decade's present.
"Our fans are smart and know what appeals to them about Archie — they can tell if something doesn't ring true," he said. "As long as we honor the essence of these characters and show them in different settings but always as themselves, we can put them in different worlds or settings. It's about retaining the elements that make Archie Archie — the humor, the friendships and the story."
Ultimately, Goldwater said, toying with some of these integral elements of Archie's success is the best way to continue that success.
"It's a wonderful way to remain viable, vibrant and to keep our fans engaged," he said. "The classic Archie will always be a part of our output, in our digest and bookstore output, but we have to continue to push the characters into new, entertaining directions. We're not a nostalgia brand. Archie is a character rooted in the present."
So what's next for Archie and Archie Comics?
The company has already announced the details of Archie No. 1 along with an upcoming one-hour drama television show called Riverdale, a line of clothes from Marc Ecko and, of course, 75th Anniversary themed-books timed to Archie's 75th in 2016.
"Our big news is Archie No. 1 — from writer Mark Waid and artist Fiona Staples," Goldwater said. "That hits [this] year and kicks off our 75th anniversary plans in a big way. We also have the launch of our superhero line, Dark Circle Comics, in February with The Black Hood, with The Fox and The Shield following soon after.
"And that's just what we've announced so far!"