I read my first Archie comic when I was around 10 years old in the late 80s, and vacationing in Karachi. And I was a fan from the first comic book. It opened me up to the suburban American life, which was not as commonplace to Pakistanis as it is now (remember this is the pre-internet era). Here, I discovered Archie and his gang, which seemed an extension of all the Michael J Fox high school movies that I loved at the time.
I discovered the dilemma that every teenage boy goes through (before I was even a teenager): that of choosing between the good girl (Betty Cooper) and the spoilt, hot one (Veronica Lodge). Obviously, we all had best friends at that age, and Jughead Jones fit the bill so well that at times I wished I were him, and he was the main protagonist rather than the hero’s sidekick. Because, to be honest, Archie Andrews was, how do say it, downright dumb at times in comparison to his bestie and even his adversary, Reggie Mantle.
But then, as I grew up (and I use that term loosely), I realised that was the reason why we all loved Archie ¬– and his gang – so much. Because he was also an awkward, bumbling teenager who was looking for ways to make money to date, hanging out with his best friend, trying to scrape through his classes under the eagle eye of Mr Weatherbee and Miss Grundy, all the while falling prey to Reggie Mantle’s countless pranks. That’s why we could relate to him; because, like us, he too was far from perfect.
So imagine my surprise when I hear about Archie’s forthcoming death. How is this possible? And why on earth would anyone want to kill Archie? Those were the questions that raced through my mind. After all, Archie couldn’t die. He just couldn’t! He was just a teenager for crying out loud – despite having been created more than 70 years ago. I figured it was a hoax.
As it turned out, it wasn’t.
According to an interview with Jon Goldwater, CEO, Archie Comics, our favourite teenager is going to be killed while trying to save the life of a friend. This will happen in the Life with Archie series which centres on Archie’s adult life and shows two parallel lives – he marries Veronica in one and Betty in the other, but the ending is the same. (Just so you know, the comics in which Archie is a teenager going to High School will continue to be published. Thank God for that!). Archie will die in the second last edition of the Life with Archie series; the last one will take place a year after his death, to show how his friends dealt with it.
It is likely that Archie’s death is Goldwater’s attempt (we will find out whether it will be successful or not in July) to revive the comic, which, truth be told, has not been able to regain the popularity it commanded in the 1980s – a time when most Pakistanis discovered Archie.
Of course, over the years, Riverdale has evolved. Archie has dated an African American woman, Valerie, and a gay character, Kevin Keller was introduced, who now has his own comic book. And there are talks of a Sabrina the teenage witch movie in the works, not to mention a number of parallel Archie series including Life with Archie and Afterlife with Archie (yup, it began publishing a few years ago, and takes place post Archie’s death – a sign of times to come that we all missed?)
Also read: In 'Afterlife', Archie comics veer into horror
These changes, coupled with the fact that Lena Dunham (creator of Girls) has been signed on to write a four-part series, make it clear that the company is hoping to reinvent Archie for those pesky millennials who have short attention spans among other shortcomings.
And while this devotion to reinvention should perhaps be lauded, I cannot help but wish that Archie stayed the same; that he still lived in the Riverdale I witnessed when I was younger, where Archie and the gang hung out at the Chocklit Shoppe run by Pop Tate. That he continued to be dazed and confused when it came to choosing between Betty and Veronica. Basically, that things hadn’t changed.
To say that it was a more innocent time would be a cliché; to say that it was a time devoid of cell phones, Facebook and Twitter and their subsequent complications in our lives would perhaps be more appropriate; but to say that it was a time which I look back at fondly and long to revisit would perfectly hit the spot.
Much like a milkshake at the Chocklit Shoppe once did.