Archie Comics has launched what it calls its new app — it's really an update of the publisher's existing iOS and Android apps — with an offer of 100 free comics for those who download it. And there may be more: I asked Archie's Alex Segura how long the promotion would be in effect and he said, "We're looking to have this up for about a month, and if downloads reach a certain threshold, we'll be unlocking more free books on a tiered basis to celebrate the new app launches on Android and iOS."
There's quite a range of free comics available on the app, including classics, recent releases and comics that feature the side characters Jinx, Sabrina (original and manga versions) and Cosmo the Merry Martian. Not present: Afterlife With Archie, which carries a teen rating as opposed to Archie's standard all-ages rating. There are also no Sonic, Mega Man or New Crusaders freebies, although they are available for in-app purchase. Say what? Yes, this app is built on iVerse's Comics Plus platform, so you can buy new comics in-app. The app also includes Archie Unlimited, an all-you-can eat subscription service that allows subscribers to read a ton of comics, both new and back issues; because it's integrated into the app, you can then buy the ones you want to keep.
Here are my picks for six free Archie comics that make entertaining reading, especially on a lazy summer weekend.
Archie #1: This isn't quite the first Archie comic — America's favorite redhead made his first appearance in Pep Comics #22 — but it's a fun look at Bob Montana's original character designs: A bucktoothed Archie, a vampier Veronica and a snarling Mrs. Grundy. In the lead story, Archie invites both Veronica and Betty to the prom, setting a pattern that would endure to the present day. This issue includes a couple of Archie stories interspersed with a couple of funny-animal stories; it should be noted that one of the Archie stories, set on a train, includes a stereotyped black porter portrayed in a way that's offensive by modern standards.
Jughead #200: Penned by Robot Chicken writer Tom Root, this story about Jughead trading his metabolism for a ridiculously oversized hamburger was described by the late Chris Reilly as "hands down, the best Archie comic I have read in decades." It's a story that embraces the whole Riverdale gang, as each of them offers to give up his or her most important characteristic to help their friend. If you can't get enough of Jughead's gluttony, check out Jughead's All You Can Eat Extravaganza, a compilation of food stories that includes Jughead's visit to a real-life hamburger festival in Akron, Ohio.
Veronica #202: This comic marks the debut of Kevin Keller, the first gay character in the Archieverse. While it's important as a cultural artifact, it's also a pretty good story, because writer Dan Parent used the natural dynamic of the characters so well: A hot new guy comes to town, Veronica tries to lure him and can't figure out why he isn't interested, and Jughead plays the situation for all it's worth. Kevin Keller #1 is also available for free.
Life With Archie #1 and #2: Writer Paul Kupperberg did a brilliant job of answering the question, "What would Archie and his friends be like five years from now?" His take on the Riverdale gang as young adults is smart and witty, and he also spins out a dramatic soap opera with plenty of twists and turns. The comic has two storylines. In one, Archie marries Veronica and they both work for her father's company; in the other, Archie marries Betty and they both teach at Riverdale High. The other characters also have different stories in the two continuities, although there are a few points of convergence. The free selection also includes LWA #16, in which Kevin Keller gets married, the comic that was targeted by the One Million Moms group.
Betty and Veronica #1: This 1951 comic features three stories with classic period-style art by George Frese. The first one is the best: Betty's uncle gives her a car — a clown car — and hilarity ensues. It's Archie-style slapstick at its best, both funny and stylishly drawn. Also, if you're one of those people who has always wanted to see Betty and Veronica in bed together, you'll want to check this issue out (but it's still an Archie comic, so it stays wholesome).
Katy Keene: America's Pin-Up Queen: More stylish period glamor, this time from Bill Woggon, who created Katy Keene in 1945. Katy is a model who appears in some delightfully atrocious outfits, many of them designed by readers; her adventures are pretty tame, but the stories are good eye candy and the dresses are amazing.