Most people who haven't been hiding under a rock for the past couple of days have heard the news about Archie Comics' plan to kill off its namesake and flagship character, Archie Andrews, in a forthcoming issue of Life With Archie: The Married Life. For those not familiar with the series, Life With Archie: The Married Life, which debuted in 2010, is a comic magazine with two discrete story arcs, both of which take place in the future when the former teenagers from Riverdale are in their twenties. In one, Archie is married to Veronica Lodge; in the other, Betty Cooper is the lucky bride. This phenomenon, which is explained away as parallel universes, had its genesis in Archie #600-605, a six-part "fantasy" storyline which began in October of 2009. (This feature was followed by an epilogue in Archie #606 in which Archie is, once again, a high-school student in the present day.) Life With Archie: The Married Life was first published in August of 2010, with a frequency of ten (10) issues per year.
LWA has not strictly followed the original storyline from the six-part Archie comic series. In the latter, for example, both couples (Archie/Veronica, Archie/Betty) went on to have children; in the LWA reboot, the story arcs were said to have taken place prior to the pregnancies, and as of this writing neither Veronica nor Betty has become a mother. There have been other twists and turns, including the introduction of Jughead's little sister, Jellybean Jones, as an 18-year-old; the death of Miss (Geraldine) Grundy, now Mrs. (Waldo) Weatherbee, from renal failure; and the pregnancy of Midge (nee Klump) Jones, formerly Moose Mason's girlfriend and now Jughead's wife. Perhaps the best-known story arc, and the one that has generated the most buzz up to now, involved the marriage of Archie Comics' first gay character, Kevin Keller, to Dr. Clay Walker (which took place in issue #16). The writing and scripts by the hugely talented Paul Kupperberg, as well as the artwork by Fernando Ruiz and Pat and Tim Kennedy, among others, have been first-rate and the reviews generally positive.
So why does Archie Comics, a company that has been in business since 1939 and known by its current name since 1941, when its namesake was first introduced, want to risk its reputation by having Archie Andrews—arguably one of the most beloved characters in comic-book history—shot and killed at the conclusion of the comic magazine's run this July? Their rationale for doing so is rather baffling. As Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater explains to CNN, the death of Archie is a "natural conclusion to the Life With Archie series" (so, this blog writer idly wonders, what about the remaining issues due on my subscription?) and that the death is meant to be final, with no retconning afterward. The character of Archie Andrews will, of course, continue to live on as a teenager in the comic-book company's other publications; it's only Life With Archie that's ending, literally and figuratively. This should be some comfort; but, somehow, it isn't. Thanks to this abrupt and violent climax of a futuristic storyline, there's always going to be a dark cloud over the once-wholesome gang from Riverdale, especially where longtime readers are concerned. And this dark cloud is very likely to manifest at newsstands and comic shops, both on- and off-line.
Personally, I don't think this decision was well thought out. It smells of a publicity ploy, not a cheap one but one which may end up costing the Archie Comics organization a great deal in terms of reputation, goodwill, and (ultimately) dollars. Judging from the comments on the posts—and there have been quite a few posts—on Archie Comics' official Facebook Page, the reaction is overwhelmingly negative, with a number of fans threatening to boycott the Archie series. Is this how the company wants to end up, after 75 years of existence? Will Life With Archie: The Married Life #s 36 and 37 ultimately be the Death of Archie as a brand?
It also seems to me that Archie Comics, with its many Facebook posts (in particular the one below) on the topic, is basically rubbing its hands in glee, as if pleased with the power it has over pop culture, Americana, and comic readership—the power to create and destroy, to give life and bring death. Sadly, the organization may have won this particular battle, but by killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, it's likely they'll lose the war.
Yes, I know the Archie series is fiction—believe me, I'm not delusional despite what is probably evidence to the contrary—but a large part of the enjoyment of this medium of entertainment entails suspending one's disbelief, and Archie Andrews is as real to many folks as their own friends and relatives. Also, the key words in the preceding sentence are "enjoyment" and "entertainment." There's nothing necessarily wrong with comic books and like media echoing real life, but there is such a thing as overdoing it. Most folks read comics and/or watch cartoons because they want to feel good. They want to laugh. They want an escape from everyday troubles, not a reminder of them. The news about the forthcoming demise of Archie Andrews came out the same week that two well-known actors, comedian John Pinette and Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney (ironically the inspiration for Archie Andrews), passed away, on April 5 and 6, respectively. Yes, tragically, people do pass on. We know this. Is it necessary to show a popular, beloved, young and healthy comic-strip character meeting an untimely and violent end for the sake of realism?
Having enjoyed reading Archie comics for many years, and having been a big fan of The Archie Show and its subsequent incarnations since the program debuted in 1968, my final observation is one which is echoed by Andy Kim, the popular singer/songwriter who co-wrote The Archies' biggest hit, "Sugar, Sugar," as well as other tunes for the cartoon band created for the TV series and voiced by Ron Dante. On his Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as on the fan forum for his official website, Andy wrote: "[It] feels like there's a death in the family."
Yes, it does, Andy. It certainly does.