It says something – although, I admit, I’m not quite sure what – that the book I enjoyed reading most last week wasn’t one of the “New 52″ from DC, nor was it the long-awaited return of Casanova from Marvel… Instead, it was The Best of Archie Comics, a collection of stories from the past seven decades of America’s favorite teenager. Well, apart from Justin Beiber, obviously.
I’ve written before about my secret, somewhat confused love for the Riverdale gang, but there’s something about reading such a chunk of history from the publisher in one sitting (It’s not only Archie stories, either – there’re Sabrina The Teenage Witch stories in there, as well as Josie And The Pussycats, the little-remembered That Wilkins Boy and even some Katy Keene) that’s weirdly compelling and addictive; I finished the 400+ page book and pretty much wished I had another one, as long if not longer, waiting for me immediately.
It’s not just that there’s something weirdly addictive and tempting about the never-changing world that these stories take place in – Although, reading this collection and seeing only minor changes in fashion and visuals between stories from the ’70s and ’90s, for example, is fascinating – but also that, from astonishingly early on, the Archie formula was set, and that everything from that point on is variations on that formula, updated for contemporary tastes but essentially keeping the tonality, the visuals and subject matter the same.
Sure, revamps have come and gone (There’s a cover gallery from the 1990s that shows off some of the stranger twists on the formula), but even those remain remarkably true to some platonic ideal of Archie and friends, just like something like Epic Mickey does for Disney; the book ends with some of J. Torres’ Jinx strips and one of the “Married Archie” stories, and if neither one seems like “classic Archie,” the Archie DNA is very present in both nonetheless (Norm Breyfogle’s art in the latter is astonishingly good, bringing a drama and dynamism to the characters that they’ve never had before, but keeping each character recognizable enough that it still reads as the familiar characters).
Reading this book, it becomes clear just how much that Archie is comics’ Disney, with the same eye on consistency, quality and purity of concept. The Best of Archie Comics really works as a celebration of what the publisher has become – the stories may not be to your particular taste, but there’s no way that you can finish the book and not appreciate what Archie has built, how true to itself they’ve been throughout, and, really, just how fun their comics have managed to be for more than seven decades. Sometimes, things don’t need a linewide reboot when they just stays true to themselves all along, after all.