Archie Comics announced today that the magazine format comic series that chronicled two potential futures for Archie will end this summer with the death of the series star. And while “Life With Archie’s” parallel story lines where the famed redhead married either Betty or Veronica may make it seem like a tough trick to kill Archie in a definitive sense, Kupperberg told CBR that in the two-part finale running in issues #36 and 37 the end will include just that.
Below, the writer explains to CBR News how “Life With Archie” #36 will work to present an iconic end to the life of Riverdale’s favorite son while #37 will focus on his remaining friends and family, and he tells what the loss means for the entire series, the Archie line and the stories he’s been building for years.
CBR News: Paul, let’s start with the obvious. This is a big move for both the series and Archie as a character. What was your initial feeling on the idea of our hero dying, and how did it jibe with where you felt the series was going/had gone?
Paul Kupperberg: I was in a story conference with [Archie CEO] Jon Goldwater, [Editor-in-Chief] Victor Gorelick, and [President] Mike Pellerito talking about where we wanted to go for the end of “Life With Archie” and Jon said, “Why don’t we do something we’ve never done with Archie before?” We’d already taken Archie and the gang to a lot of new places over the course of the last three years, but when he said “Let’s do the death of Archie,” I really thought he was kidding. Even after he’d convinced us he wasn’t and we started discussing the why and how of his death, Jon didn’t entirely commit to it. He wanted to think on it before giving me the go-ahead, and it took a couple of months and a revision or two of my six-month overview before he thought we’d nailed the direction and gave me the okay. But it really did fit in and make sense with the direction we’d been going in for a while, starting with Clay getting shot in “LWA” #22 and then the mall shooting in #30.
Comic book deaths are a funny thing. It’s an instantaneous attention-getter for longtime readers and casual readers alike, but they also almost demand a very iconic moment that sums up the character in some way. How does this story meet those expectations in a unique fashion with ol’ Archie Andrews?
Not to hurt myself patting myself on the back, but I think — I hope — Archie’s death is one of those iconic moments. Archie is in character right up to that final moment, reacting exactly the way I think anybody who’s ever written him would have had him react in the situation, and then I end on a twist on what I think is one of the truly indelible iconic images from the series history.
From a logistical standpoint, this is kind of tricky because “Life With Archie” has always told TWO potential future stories for the Riverdale gang. What do you say to readers who are worried that Archie will die in one timeline but live out a happy destiny in the other?
Yeah, that really was the tricky part, but I think we found a way to kind of merge the two story lines for that climatic issue so that there’s no doubt the death is the finale for both timelines. It took a bit of finesse, but it was more a matter of staging than anything else to tell the story of that last day without pointing definitively to one or the other and say “this is from the Betty continuity, or that’s taken from the Veronica story.”
Looking at the stories of the book themselves, both serials have a lot going on that will presumably lead toward this finale. In the “Archie Marries Veronica” strip, Veronica has been framed for corruption charges, Kevin Keller is fighting corruption in the senate, and things in general feel rather high stakes. How does the trial this is all centering around drive towards the series finale?
Again, all roads in both stories were set up in such a way as to take us to that moment. We’ve always had a bit of crossover between the two serials, starting with Jughead owning the Chocklit Shoppe in both. Sure, the details of his life are different in the two story lines, like whether he’s with Midge or Ethel or the appearance of his sister Jellybean or whatever, but the Jughead’s Chocklit Shoppe is a constant in both strips. The same with Kevin and Clay, including Kevin’s senate race and Clay having been shot. Their story crosses the line between the Bettyverse and the Ronnieverse, so I used those constants to anchor the story in #36.
Of course over in “Archie Marries Betty,” the couple is having marital problems amidst some personal milestones for some of the rest of the cast. Do you anticipate wrapping all the major arcs for these events in the lead up to issue #36?
More or less, yeah. A lot of “LWA” #36 is Archie’s introspection over where life has taken him up to this point, his coming to terms with the ups and downs of being a grown-up in general and a married grown-up in particular. Real life is a rollercoaster, a series of events good and bad that come at us at a fairly fast clip, and while the good may outweigh the bad at some points, or the bad outweigh the good, it’s never black or white, but always a shade of gray. Except for the third story arc where we had the Bettyverse and the Ronnieverse meet, I’ve always tried to keep “LWA” grounded as firmly in reality as possible. I mean, the two Archies story line was fun, but after it was over we all agreed that it wasn’t the right way to go for this series. What made “LWA” work was the reality and how readers connected with the ups and downs of Archie and the gang.
There have been shared events between the two universes since the beginning of “Life With Archie” — the appearance of Sam Hill being the most recent. Ultimately, what do the ways these stories have grown alongside each other say about Archie as a franchise and Riverdale as a fictional world?
I think the Archie universe is limitless. Archie Comics has been proving this pretty much on a monthly basis since the original “Married Life” story arc in “Archie” #600-605 by Michael Uslan and Stan Goldberg, with Kevin Keller, and with all the stories they’ve done since, right on through to “Afterlife With Archie,” which is kicking everybody’s expectations of what an Archie Comic can be in the butt, even more so than “LWA” did. And the fact that these out-of-the-box stories have gathered Eisner, Harvey, and GLAAD Award nominations and wins shows that this is what the readers want to see. There will always be room for the traditional teen Archie stories, but readers want these characters to grow up some along with them so they can keep on reading them past childhood.
In a broader sense for the death, are you approaching this as the true “final Archie story”? In other words, do you and the publisher consider this to be the definitive end to the characters that have been around for over 70 years?
No, not even close. This is the final “Life With Archie” story, but by no means the end of anything except this title. As I said, there’s limitless potential in all these characters and they’ll keep right on living as long as we can keep on telling their stories in whatever “universe” that happens to be. Off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen other directions to take the gang in a similar vein, each of them with endless stories to tell.
But the passing of Archie won’t be the finale of the series. The supporting cast of the book will be saying their farewells in #37. How did you choose to set that story up as a capper on the big events of #36?
We didn’t want to end this particular life with Archie on the death. After all these years, we thought readers would want and need closure, kind of like a memorial service where anybody can stand up and talk about the dearly departed. So we gave the supporting cast that opportunity. They’re sort of like proxies for the readers. And we wanted to do an affirmation of the world of Riverdale, let everybody know that even after the unthinkable, life goes on for the community and for everybody who loved Archie. Yes, there will always be a hole in the lives of his loved ones and the loss is never forgotten, but the world keeps turning and life goes on.
Between the two final issues, you’re also divvying up art duties between your regular collaborators Pat and Tim Kennedy and Fernando Ruiz amongst other contributors. What were you looking for on the page as this adult version of the Archie world draws to a close?
All Fernando and Pat and Tim had to do is what they’ve been doing all along — draw great comics. In a way, I think their jobs are a lot harder than if this were a traditional superhero or other action comic. There may be more drawing involved in traditional punch-’em-up stories, but that sort of action is easy to make interesting compared to what they’ve been given to draw. Most of “LWA” is people standing or sitting around talking in the Chocklit Shoppe or walking through the park — all of which has the potential to be a major yawn visually. But Fernando and the Kennedys take those situations and invest such great personality and body language in the characters that you don’t even realize all they’re doing is eating a hamburger at a table.
In the end, the “Life With Archie” series has been about a lot of life milestones — marriage, death, cancer, babies, jobs and everything in between. What best sums up the series for you, and how do you hope to reflect that idea in the finale?
I think that summing up moment was the death of Miss Grundy in the Bettyverse story in “LWA” #6. When I wrote the panel where Mr. Weatherbee came out to tell everyone that she was gone, I got choked up and had to walk away from the computer for a few minutes to regain my composure. That was the first time I was conscious of just how incredibly well-rounded and real these characters could be. I’d grown up reading Archie Comics and when I first started writing them, in some of the teen Archie tales a few months before I was offered the “LWA” gig, I stepped into a Riverdale and characters that was as familiar to me as the streets of Brooklyn and the friends from there with whom I’d actually grown up. But writing that scene made me see the impact that Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the rest of the Riverdale gang could have on me. That moment became the touchstone for me for the rest of the series and I never forgot that I wasn’t just writing cartoon figures but characters that are locked into the American cultural landscape and whose lives meant something more to readers than just a few minutes of diversion or entertainment. I hope I managed to keep that going all the way through to the bittersweet end.
“Life With Archie” #36 arrives in July from Archie Comics.