Since March, Archie Comics has promoted that something major — perhaps deadly — will happen in the “Over the Edge” arc of the main Archie series. As of this week’s Archie #21 by Mark Waid and Pete Woods, readers now know the victim of the fateful drag race between Archie Andrews and Reggie Mantle — Betty Cooper, who at the end of the issue is unresponsive in the hospital, as the scene fades to black.
Though it’s not clear if Betty will make it out of the story alive — in the initial press for the story, Waid said, “one of the kids looks death in the eye — and death doesn’t blink” — but what has been made clear is the intention that this story will have long-term ramifications on the series, especially given Betty’s status as the “Heart of Riverdale.”
CBR spoke in-depth with Waid about “Over the Edge” and the developments of Archie #21, what to expect in next month’s Archie #22 (the conclusion of the arc) and beyond, managing expectations in a highly hyped story, and how he intends to maintain Archie‘s balance of humor and drama in the face of such considerably raised stakes. Plus, an exclusive preview of Pete Woods’ art from Archie #22.
CBR: Mark, now readers know that Betty is the victim of uncertain fate in the “Over the Edge” arc, which feels like the outcome with the most emotional stakes for everyone. Why did Betty have to be the one facing mortal peril?
Mark Waid: That’s a great question given that the story quite unexpectedly took some curves and swerves even as it was being written and advertised. Plans changed drastically at one point during the building of “Over the Edge,” but what came out of those changes ended up making for a much stronger story that, I think, also honors most everything we said about it from the start and serves our readers much better.
Why Betty? She’s the Heart of Riverdale, which is the title of our next arc. Taking Betty out of commission and away from all her volunteer work and out of the way she’s always there for her friends changes the whole town. There’s hardly anyone in Riverdale who hasn’t met Betty at one point and come away better for it. She’s invaluable to the community. And now it has to learn to do without her.
While it’s not yet known if Betty is going to make it out of this alive, it’s been stated that the outcome of this story will have major repercussions. How much does Betty’s altered status quo — in whatever form it takes — affect this series going forward? Will it be touched up in in other New Riverdale series? (You’re co-writing Jughead now, after all..)
With Jughead on hiatus, that leaves Archie as the only “New Riverdale” series, which is a blessing, really — that gives me a great deal more latitude in storytelling, without having to worry about continuity. But that status quo change really, truly does affect everything in the Archie monthly. I could go into detail, but it would require spoiling absolutely everything upcoming. Sorry.
Reggie is also a key component on this story, and he at least seems pretty remorseful by the end of this issue (and in legal hot water). Will we see a contrite Reggie Mantle on the other side of this?
He’s got more to worry about right this second than remorse. He’s a wanted man. He’d better hope the cops actually catch up to him before someone — or someones — in Riverdale exact vengeance on Betty’s behalf.
Issue #21 engages in a very clever narrative technique by starting with a series of old-school-ish lighthearted stories, like Jughead acting as a waiter at Pop’s, before returning to the dire circumstances of the main story. How did you arrive on this device to tell the story?
It was the best way I could think of to show how the news impacted the cast far and wide — how everyone would drop everything they were doing instantly in order to be at Betty’s side. Also, I really enjoy changing up my pitch whenever I can. After last issue, readers were pretty confident they were going to get 20 pages of angst out of this story, and I hate giving the readers exactly what they expect.
How much is this story going to shape the tone of the series going forward, at least in the immediate future? Your run has balanced humor with serious material, but with something as major as Betty fighting for her life, it seems — emphasis on seems — that it’ll be hard to have too much levity for a while. (And based on the advance solicitation text, the issues coming up certainly sound pretty darn serious.)
I’m confident we can keep the tone balanced. Yes, what happened to Betty is heartbreaking, and yes, it will shake everyone for months to come, but I’m able to find comedy despite that with the ways in which the other kids try to fill her shoes. Regardless of the tragedy at hand, regardless of the emotional gravitas, I still stand by my mantra: it’s not an Archie story unless Archie ends up with a bucket on his head at some point.
One thing that’s been a question for observers with the Riverdale TV show is, how far can things be pushed and still be authentically “Archie”? This story feels like similarly pushing things outside of the Archie comfort zone, more than anything in the New Riverdale era so far. (Granted, this is a company in recent years that killed Archie in a political assassination attempts and had Riverdale invaded by zombies — but with this being the core Archie series, it carries a different weight.) For you, how do you approach moving these characters in unexpected or risky directions while remaining true to them? How does it compare to when you’ve done similar things with superhero characters?
It’s the same philosophy. Hippocratic Oath. Do no harm. Keep the characters grounded in who they are, go back to ground and drill down to see what makes them tick and what’s kept them alive for nearly 80 years, and then rebuild from there. This honestly, truly, was not an attempt to emulate the show in any way — we already have a Riverdale comic for that very purpose. It just felt time to remind the readers and the characters that sometimes actions have major consequences.
You’ve worked with some major artistic talent on Archie, and Pete Woods had no small task in this issue — as we talked above, balancing some silly stuff with life-or-death moments. What do you admire about how he handled issue #21?
Oh, man. What’s not to admire? Pete juggles comedy and tragedy beautifully. You ache for the characters when Pete draws them shattered. He really brought his “A” game.
Archie #22 wraps up this arc, though the fallout will continue. Looking at the preview, it looks like it’ll include a Lil Archie-esque flashback with Archie and Betty. How should Archie fans emotionally prepare themselves for this issue?
Strap in. Get ready to flash back to see Betty at her best all through her life, to see the specific moments at which each of her friends first fell in love with her. Bring tissues.
The promotion for this arc has not been shy, to say the least. The solicitation for issue #22 states “we promise it will never leave you.” House ads say that characters will be “forever changed.” Obviously you and Archie Comics have confidence in “Over the Edge,” but for even someone with as much experience in the comics biz as you, is there any concern of setting expectations too high? Or is it all part of the fun of constructing a story like this?
You want me to be honest? In a market with 800 new comics a month, often you have to stand up and holler to be paid attention to. We know we’re kicking ass on this book. I actually believe this is the best writing I’ve ever done. Publishing “Over the Edge” was a good way to remind readers that they should keep watch on a book where we’re giving 110 percent every month.
Archie #22 is scheduled for release on July 19.
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