The Middle Ground #32: Pals and Gals

I have to admit it: Upon learning that Alex Segura was leaving DC to go and head up Archie Comics' publicity department, my first thought was somewhere along the sarcastic lines of "Great, now I have to pay attention to what Archie is doing." But here's the thing: I used to really love Archie comics.

Growing up in the cold, barren and cruel landscapes of the west coast of Scotland, I think it's fair to say that I'd be forgiven for having thought Archie and his gang were some ridiculous parody of the American High School experience - After all, everyone knew it was much more like Beverly Hills 90210, right? - but that was part of the appeal, when I first discovered the characters. There was something so completely alien, and also completely formulaic about each and every story that I read in Archie and Betty and Veronica and Betty's Diary and Jughead and whatever title I'd stolen from my sister, who'd inevitably picked it up while accompanying me to the local comic store and bored out've her mind, that I was weirdly hypnotized by. The weird cartoonish quality of the writing - Reductive and simplistic and repetitious, but with its own sense of balance and grace - was unlike anything I'd really come across before (These days, I liken it to the Silver Age Superman stuff that I love so much) that I couldn't get enough, and I couldn't really explain why. It was like popcorn without any real taste or appeal that was, somehow, utterly and entirely addictive.

My Archie phase didn't last that long: I picked favorites (Veronica over Betty, Jughead over Archie and wondered why Moose and Ethel never seemed to get that much attention from anyone), tired of the formula and moved on. While superhero comics tried their best to grow up with me - and I discovered all manner of other things to read, as well - Archie steadfastly stayed exactly where it was. At the time, back when I was, what, twelve years old or something, I remember being kind of disappointed about that; why couldn't there be a Watchmen for Archie, or at least a self-aware Justice League International? But now I realize how ridiculous that would be, and how much I was missing the point. What makes Archie Comics great is their very lack of verisimilitude. Yeah, you can tweak the formula a bit - and I think the company's been doing that, with things like their alternate future "Wedding" stories (Even more similarities with Silver Age Superman!) or introducing new characters like Cheryl Blossom and Kevin Keller - but to do anything more would be to lose the weird charm and whimsy of the company's completely unrealistic world.

The appeal of Archie is an odd nostalgic one, for a world that's never really existed except in the pages of these particular comic books, but to update them too much or push the redheaded teen's metaphorical envelope into areas further than Archie's Weird Mysteries would seem to me to be a terrible mistake. Give me Riverdale, as comfortable and cartoonish and silly as possible, or give me something else altogether.

Hmm. Maybe I'm more interested in Archie than I thought. Oh, Alexxxxx...

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