Like all issues of the series, “Life With Archie” #36 features not only a look at the future adult life of Archie and his pals, but also the pre-announced death of Archie in the double-length issue. Prior to the tragic climax, though, writer Paul Kupperberg takes readers on an upbeat and optimistic tour of life with Archie, who reflects on his past, his present and the far different future he imagined for himself when he was a child. Through all of the optimism and tragedy, regular series art team Pat Kennedy and Tim Kennedy still make it look like a normal day in the life of Archie, and it’s a most notable one, indeed.
Despite the telegraphed conclusion of the issue, there is no sense of foreboding or sadness leading up to it; in fact, Kupperberg ensures that it’s just the opposite. As Archie both figuratively and literally takes a run down Memory Lane, this issue is anything but a downer. Instead, it’s a celebration, as Archie clears his head and realizes that, despite the stresses of his daily life, he nonetheless lives a fortunate one and one that is truly worth celebrating.
Like Archie comics often do, there’s an obvious but softly-tossed lesson to be learned here: life should be enjoyed, because one never knows when it might suddenly come to an end. Kupperberg spends well over half the issue on this message, but it’s such a well-paced and uplifting retrospective, complete with inspiring narrative, that it readily carries the sequence for its thirty pages or so before setting up the final scene.
The series has frequently carried a far less upbeat and positive vibe than the rest of the Archie line, because of its focus on the cast’s adult lives full of adult-like problems and responsibilities. Kupperberg amends that with this issue, though, as this story is all about the life of Archie in its entirety, which he acknowledges as being a whole lot brighter than the drudgery of his job and the stress of his marriage might indicate.
Past issues have also featured two concurrent storylines, one where Archie has married Betty, and the other where he’s tied the knot with Veronica. This has presented the potential for confusion to new readers, but there is no such dual path here. Kupperberg instead tells one story, negating any possibility of bewilderment for all of the first-time readers who will undoubtedly pick up this issue. He cleverly and ambiguously avoids mention of either continuity, building a final chapter that could cap off either direction that life with Archie would take. As Archie takes stock of his own life, he ponders the notion of fate, even as the structure of the story itself brilliantly illustrates that very idea.
Knowing that this issue will be the first, and possibly only, exposure to the series for many, the story wisely includes a lengthy and detailed recap of the series to date for those who might not be familiar with the nature of this title. Even so, Kupperberg’s story is so accessible that all readers really need to know is that this is the grown-up Archie and company, which is made clear early on. The issue welcomes new readers by telling a largely standalone tale; the story does refer to events from past issues but between the recap and the explanation provided by Kupperberg within the context of the story, readers are given everything they need to know to grasp the story and its setup of the unfortunate conclusion.
Once the final act is set up, Kupperberg moves from a mood of thankfulness and optimism to a steady sense of increasing tension. The existence of a threat against now-Senator Kevin Keller pretty much foretells just how Archie is going to go out, but is a non-issue since his fate is already known. The last dozen or so pages are tightly constructed by Kupperberg and the artists; they evoke a brief sense of mystery right up until the moment where the threat is revealed, and from that point on the Kennedys use a series of larger panels and single-page illustrations as Archie makes boldly makes his heroic move and makes the ultimate sacrifice in doing so.
The death of Archie is indeed a heroic one, and as told by all creators involved is an incredibly emotional sequence that’s surprisingly powerful. There’s no melodrama, and no over-the-top or overly sentimental actions or exclamations. It’s a superbly composed and genuinely poignant moment that just might go down as one of the most touching death scenes in comics, perhaps made more so by the fact that this did in fact happen to a character that few ever thought would be part of such a story.
“Life With Archie” was one of the first attempts to expand the boundaries of the Archie franchise, and “Life With Archie” #36 is the latest to successfully do so with a story device that some might call a gimmick, but is actually a magnificent example of solid storytelling that pushes the limits of the franchise while still remaining faithful to it.