Today, Archie #1 hits stands, and we all get to find out whether Archie Comics' bid to modernize Riverdale will resonate with the new audience they're hoping to pull in.
Seven months ago Archie Comics announced that it would be rebooting its flagship title Archie and handing the reins over to Mark Waid, best known for his work on superhero comics, and artist Fiona Staples, best known for her gorgeous and intense work on Image Comics' Saga. But the first real wave of excited attention for the Archie reboot didn't arrive until Staples' revamped character designs revealed, well... Sexy Archie.
Or, at least, an Archie Andrews you'd actually believe could have two girls mooning over him simultaneously, drawn in a sleek modern style. We asked Waid if he was surprised by the reaction to the new look, and he responded, "I know I'm supposed to say 'very,' but my honest answer is 'not really.'" Staples' art, in his opinion, speaks for itself.
But an art and fashion revamp isn't the only way the series is bringing itself up to date. At the start of issue #1, Veronica and Mr. Lodge are just a rumor of some rich folks who are about to relocate to Riverdale, and Archie and Betty are already an item. Well, that is, they've just broken up after being best friends and a couple since childhood, and they're not telling anybody why. It's just known as The Lipstick Incident. Archie's friends — Kevin Keller (a returning face), Maria and Sheila — can't stand to see Riverdale High's most popular power couple apart. In the first issue, in true Archie fashion, they concoct a cockamamie scheme to get them back together, much to the chagrin of Archie's best pal, Jughead.
"The easiest way to screw this up," said Waid, "would be to go overboard trying to cram every last little bit of hot-in-the-moment topicality into the series, because that stuff will date fast. The key isn't to use the word Snapchat twelve times a page," he continued — though the first issue does namedrop Archie's Twitter handle and a hashtag that fans can use to discuss his breakup with Betty — "it's to make sure the kids of Riverdale are reacting to things contemporary high-schoolers face, like the pressure to excel both academically and extracurriculars; the pressure to grow up faster than we adults ever had to; the fluidity of the modern world; things like that."
Modernization has been the tacit watch word at Archie Comics for half a decade now. To a certain extent that has meant new titles with a very different tone from the usual Archie books, like a zombie apocalypse arriving in Riverdale that's definitely not played for laughs, or the classic Life With Archie title being revamped into two parallel storylines about what Archie's adult life would be like depending on whether he married Betty or Veronica. But perhaps most visibly, it's been with the PR-friendly addition of more minority characters to the wider cast of the main series, whether that minority is of race, disability, or sexual orientation, as with Kevin Keller, the first LGBTQ character in the Archie gang.
But though Kevin has a significant role in the first issue, which also features numerous new secondary characters of color. But Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Reggie — you know, the usual gang — are still the white, straight teens they've always been. And in an environment when even Marvel and DC are offering a young, Egyptian immigrant Doctor Fate, a female Thor and a black Captain America, it raises the question: In 2015, does Archie represent the American every-teen?
"He can," Waid said, "if we take care to deepen and broaden him and make a point to show him interacting with kids of all backgrounds. And while Archie, Betty and Jughead certainly help form the core cast, I think you'll be very surprised at how diverse Riverdale High really can be."
Archie Comics has made four pages of the first issue available in preview (above), and the full book is available today in shops and digitally.
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