On the Season 2 premiere of Riverdale, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) made a joke that Archie (KJ Apa) has saved so many people so far on the series that he is practically a superhero. He then jokingly came up with a superhero name for Archie: Pureheart the Powerful.
But while it was just a quick quip on television, it’s also a reference to a surprising aspect of Archie Comics history that you might want to hear more about – the era of the Super Teens!
The comic book industry, over the years, has been nothing but willing to adapt to whatever the fans are interested in reading about. Of course, the trick is to figure out what people are into in the first place. Once one comic book company seems to have gotten a bead on a topic of interest, the other comic book companies quickly follow suit. Thus, when MLJ Comics hit it big with their stories of a teen protagonist and his pals and gals, soon every other comic book company was releasing their one version of Archie Andrews (Timely went for a female version, Patsy Walker, whose series lasted for decades before the Marvel Age of superheroes in the 1960s pushed her out. She then became a superhero herself in the 1970s as Hellcat). Before you feel too bad for MLJ for being copied by everyone else, do note that they, themselves, were heavily inspired by the success of a series of films starring Mickey Rooney as teenager Andy Hardy during the 1940s. Archie Andrews was explicitly a riff on Andy Hardy.
We mention this only to put the second superhero boom of the mid-1960s into proper context. The first superhero boom, of course, was in the late 1930s/early 1940s, which actually inspired the creation of MLJ Comics in the first place, as they had a number of superheroes including the Shield and the Wizard. However, Archie and his friends soon became so popular that they took over all of the comic book titles that were previously superhero titles (like Pep Comics) and soon, the entire company just changed its name to Archie Comics.
The second superhero boom occurred in the mid-1960s, when comic book companies saw the great success that Marvel Comics (previously known as Timely Comics) was having with their superhero titles. Starting in 1965, a number of new comic book companies started up trying to do their own versions of Marvel Comics. Then, a year later, when the Batman TV show was released, even more companies got in on the superhero boom (specifically camp versions of superheroes).
Archie Comics actually started their own line of comics called the Mighty Comics Group to do Marvel-style superhero comics (written mostly by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel) starring the characters that MLJ had introduced in the 1940s (like the Shield, Black Hood and the Comet) plus a few superheroes that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had created for Archie in 1959 (the Fly and Jaguar) after DC had had some success introducing new superheroes of their own (like the Barry Allen version of the Flash and the Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern).
However, at the same time, the superhero trend was so big that it even made its way into the non-superhero lines of books. Like Goofy, for instance, became Super Goofy. In the Archie Universe, that meant that Archie would need to become a superhero, as well, and the answer there was Pureheart the Powerful!
In 1965’s Life With Archie #42, legendary Archie writer Frank Doyle, along with artist Bill Vigoda (yes, he actually IS Abe Vigoda’s brother), turned Archie into a superhero after he invoked the “PH Factor” (the “Pure Heart” factor), which gives generic superpowers to the rare person who is pure of heart (thus, when Archie does something less than noble, he loses the powers). After he saves the day, his memory (and those around him) are wiped, so no one recalls Archie becoming Pureheart.
The idea proved to be popular (it was in the middle of a superhero boom) and soon Reggie, Jughead and Betty were being transformed into super beings, as well.
Reggie became the villainous Evilheart…
Jughead became the superhero Captain Hero…
and Betty became the superhero Superteen…
Pureheart and Captain Hero were popular enough to get their own new titles, while Super Teen and Evilheart’s adventures took over Betty and Reggie’s respective titles at the time. Things were so crazy that even Little Archie got into the act as we learned that Archie had even become Pureheart when he was a kid (Little Pureheart).
By 1967, pretty much all of these new superhero stories were finished and the Archie Super Teens just made sporadic appearances over the last 50 years, although the Super Teens did get their own brief series in the 1990s, with Veronica joining in on the fun as Miss Vanity.
Roberto Acquirre-Sacasa knows a lot about Archie history, so it is fun to see him making reference to an odd era in the history of Archie and his friends.
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