Uslan Loves Archie

When Archie Comics decided to let acclaimed movie producer and comic historian Michael Uslan ("Batman Begins, "Dark Knight") write the six-issue "Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty" story, the publisher had no idea what a success it would be.

With the storyline generating renewed interest in the Riverdale brand around the world, Archie Comics recently announced a new magazine containing two brand new storylines launching in July: "The Married Life: Archie Loves Betty" and "The Married Life: Archie Loves Veronica."

Each title explores the promise and potential of Archie Andrew's two possible futures, one married to the haughty debutante, Veronica Lodge and the other married to the compassionate girl-next-door, Betty Cooper.

While it was previously revealed that acclaimed "Batman" artist Norm Breyfogle would be penciling both series, CBR News has learned exclusively from Archie Comics that Uslan has written bibles for both series and will also script the first story of each.

Archie Comics also shared news that former DC Comics editor Paul Kupperberg, who currently writes "Scooby Doo," will serve as the regular writer for both series beginning with the second issue, and that Joe Rubinstein ("Green Arrow/Black Canary") will ink the "Loves Betty" series and Andrew Pepoy ("Fables") will ink the "Loves Veronica" series.

CBR News spoke with Uslan, who is busy producing movie adaptations of "Doc Savage," "The Shadow" and "Shazam!," as well as the next Christopher Nolan Batman project, about his passion for Archie and why the love stories being told in "Archie Loves Betty" and "Archie Loves Veronica" are not far from his heart.

CBR News: So what happened? You just loved Archie so much that you couldn't walk away after one story?

Michael Uslan: Yeah, I guess so. It's kind of something like that. I love the fact that Archie is awakening - Archie Comics is awakening. It's a company on the move from a little mom and pop operation to really spreading its wings and making in some waves and being daring. It's a wonderful creative environment over there.

Let me go back. I learned to read from comics, according to my mom - before I was four - and it was predominantly from Archie, Richie Rich and Casper. So, I've always been a fan of that, and in going back and reflecting on my life, I have to say, Archie, along with maybe Rickie Nelson on TV, really provided me with all my pre-conceived notions as a kid to what high school and dating was going to be like. I was always disappointed that we didn't have a malt shop by our school by the time I got there. So, it's been a factor. I had this bucket list, and one of the things that I always wanted to do in life was to write some kind of really important Archie story.

Circa 1980, I approached [Archie Comics CEO] Jon Goldwater and wound up doing a book with my friend Jeff Mendel, and it was the first Archie collection. It was [published] in hardback and trade paperback by G.P. Putnam's Sons and it was called "The Best of Archie." We did a history of Archie. Jeff and I read every single Archie comic book in the archives, from 1941 to 1980, and we put together the best of Archie. That was when I met [Editor-in-Chief] Vic Gorelick for the first time. So, I have known Victor now for over 30 years, and my roots with Archie were strong.

So I went in to meet Vic. We met for a drink, and I said, "I want to write a graphic novel or something important for Archie." And he said, "Great. What do you want to do?"

I said, "Archie gets married."

He said, "You can't do that.

And I said, "Why not?"

And he actually couldn't come up with a good reason. It prompted us to get into some really creative discussions right away, and he came back and he said, "Let's do this. This is great. Let's shake the rafters."

In retrospect, beside the fact that these comics have sold incredibly well on a worldwide basis, we thought it would create a stir, but we didn't think it would create a worldwide firestorm in the media. That has been unbelievable to see. Everywhere, from India to Kenya to Australia back to the U.S. and Canada, it's been amazing and it prompted Archie to open up offices in India, as a result of the strong, strong interest in the storyline there. So, it's opened up new doors and created all types of new possibilities.

The natural flow from all of this, for them, was, "Hey - can we continue this? Is there a way that we can make it work?" And I said, "You know, even on Batman, there is a juvenile line of Batman comics, you can see cartoons of Batman with some great stories in it, there is a classic line, there is a line of "Dark Knight" live action movies, so I think there is room for a different parallel universe/interpretations of Archie." Fans understand the world of parallel universes these days and you don't suffer from, what they used to fear, market confusion. There doesn't have to be only one version of a character existing at any one time. So they said, "Could we launch this as a series?" And so I wrote the bible for "Archie Loves Betty" and "Archie Loves Veronica" and wrote the first stories of them both, and bingo! Now we have the making of what I think is going to be a groundbreaking magazine coming out that I'm very excited about, and again, it's about pushing the envelope and about being daring both creatively and in business-wise and marketing-wise. It's about attempting to open new outlets and markets for Archie.

I think if I had to sum up the best two things to come out of the "Archie Wedding" story arc, the first is the fact that it made the world aware that Archie Comics are still being published and it brought international attention to it.

I went online, and I have probably trolled through 15,000 postings on the internet at this point. The amazing thing is, people will go on and on, very heatedly, about whether or not Archie should get married. And if so, if it should be Betty or Veronica? And if you want to stir people up, and you don't want to talk about politics or religion, tell them that Archie is going to marry Veronica. I mean, it has been unbelievable. People going on with these long blogs and diatribes, even in major magazines and on television. And at the end, they go, "Well. I can't believe I've gone on like this. I am so passionate and riled about it. I didn't realize that I cared." But these characters are representative of a lot of peoples' youth. We've all grown up and turned grey or had kids of our own, and you kind of think that Archie and Betty and Veronica are still at the same old malt shop and the same beach and the same school there in Riverdale and will always be there, and now to see them growing up also, it has sparked parents and grandparents to buy these issues and read them with their children and grandchildren. I think that's wonderful.

The second thing that it did, based on everything that it did and all those the reactions that we received, was it made the general public - on a worldwide basis - aware that comic books are still being published. That there are stores that you can actually find and go to buy comic books, and I think that was really good for the whole industry.

You mentioned that you're only writing the first issues of these. Will you remain involved moving forward?

I'm getting them jump-started, but I also wrote the bible for each one. The bibles cover new characters, situations for all of the characters over the long-term and where it's headed and the twists and turns and the soap operas and the character arcs, so it's pretty comprehensive.

And one very important thing: this series is going to have a big focus on not just Archie and Betty or Archie and Veronica. There is going to be a big focus on the friends and family of Riverdale and their futures and how Archie's decision to marry Betty or Veronica has impacted and had a butterfly effect on changing the lives of all the people around them. So there is a huge concentration on everyone, to Jughead, Moose, Midge, Reggie, Dilton, Chuck, Nancy, to the teachers and the parents. I am hoping that people will find that, while it protects the essence of the characters and the integrity of the characters as they may be four or five years from now, it also gives us a lot of what Stan [Lee] gave us in early Spider-Man. There is a lot of soap opera here. There are a lot of character things going on, and I hope that readers will find that to be far more interesting than just the gags and the slapstick that they may be used to from the Archie high school stuff.

I know you don't want to give too much away, but I, for one, am a huge fan of Forsythe Pendleton Jones III. Can you give us a tease of what the future holds for Jughead?

Oh yeah, I don't have to tell you how important Jughead is to the whole Archie universe. His life takes very interesting turns depending whether Archie marries Betty or Archie marries Veronica. He is going to attempt to succeed Pop Tate and he sees a real future for himself there, but it's very challenging and very, very nerve-wracking due to the economy and things that are taking place in Riverdale all around him.

How Jughead reacts to women as opposed to high school girls is going to be an interesting development in his story arc, because one thing that I've learned from my own high school reunion over the years is that most people evolve. Just because Veronica may have been a rich bitch in high school, [it] doesn't mean that five years [later] that she is the same person - that she hasn't matured in some sense or evolved in some sense. So I wanted to be true to the characters, but I wanted to show that evolution.

But, there are some people - like, do you remember "Married With Children?" There are some people who peak in high school. And God, there were people who were in my high school, who were superstars of whether it was sports or otherwise, whose lives to this day are still being defined by their role in a football game, or a basketball or at a student council meeting. So I wanted to take all of that into account, as well.

This whole thing really reflects my life's journey and my experiences with people that I know and a feeling that I really know these characters and that I've known them my whole life and have a sense on, in this day and age, where they might go with their own futures.

Can you shed any light on what Archie's life is going to be like with Betty versus what it's like with Veronica? And were there maybe elements of those two distinct choices that you didn't see coming until you started writing the actually story?

Oh yeah. At a certain point, the story started writing itself. Once the characters were established, really, they took over the writing of the arc.

In the ongoing series, we're going to dial it back slightly, and it's going to open up for Betty and Archie when they are in New York City before they come back to Riverdale - and both series will take place before there are kids, so you really get to see them just really starting out after the wedding and trying to make a life for themselves.

Archie is facing huge struggles in the city. The economy continues to play a role. They move into an apartment building in New York, and you're going to meet a brand new supporting cast of very Metropolitan young people that I think will be fun and interesting. There are going to be lots of surprises, and different people from Riverdale will be showing up, and there are going to be some really early tests of Archie's maturity and character as things get underway.

On the Veronica side, they are primarily in Riverdale, which means you are going to see a lot more of the Riverdale population, initially, in the Veronica run, and the dynamics between Archie and Veronica are going to change somewhat - and I don't want to give away too much of the surprise, but there are lots of international business issues and some local issues that crop up that Archie was never expecting as a businessman for a big enterprise. It's going to have an impact on his relationship with everyone. It's going to change a lot of things for him and for Veronica.

In your original pitch, or even when you were first thinking about this, did you know that you would end up at this point where there are two distinct paths or had you chosen Betty or Veronica as the future Mrs. Archie Andrews?

It was inspired specifically by the Robert Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken," but my other influences were the Joni Mitchell song, "Both Sides Now" that was popularized by Judy Collins, and the Gwyneth Paltrow movie, "Sliding Doors."

Those were my major influences, so it was critical to what this was all about to show the two alternatives, to show the contrasts. That's the way to make it most meaningful and meaty and to allow people to follow both evolutions and how they affect everybody in Riverdale, not just these two. So, no, that was it from the beginning.

Now, one thing that we have established very clearly is that if you pick the "Archie, Will You Marry Me?" trade paperback, I re-iterate in my afterword in there, "one of these two futures will happen," but like everything else that I've learned about life, coming back to the main theme, it has to do specifically with the choices that these three people are going to make over the next five years. And I break that down. It's about the actions of Archie and Betty and Veronica, it's about the lack of action, it's about the things they say to each other and the things they fail to say to each other. Ultimately, those four things are going to be what add up to determine, which of these futures is going to be the one. So in that regard, yeah, there is a bit of "A Christmas Carol"/"It's a Wonderful Life"/"The Wizard of Oz," those have been influences as opposed to inspirations, but certainly influences as to how this develops.

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