I’ve practically grown up with Archie and his gang. I’ve been reading Archie comics since I was nine and have not stopped since, but I mostly read my old comic books more than buy new ones because I think the older ones are funnier. Still, I occasionally shell out a couple of bucks to update my collection, especially when there are specials involved like The Archie Marries Veronica and Archie Marries Betty arc. When I saw the thick 50-story volume of The Best of Archie edition, I knew that I just had to have it.
The compilation is quite informative and packed with trivia about the origins of Archie and the gang. It features the first appearance in 1941 of Archibald “Chick” Andrews, a country boy trying to impress his new neighbor Betty Cooper in Pep Comics Volume #22. The first version of Archie, while bearing similar personality traits as the current redheaded troublemaker, was actually quite different in the manner he spoke (he had a blown up view of his own importance), and had a stubborn streak a mile wide. The drawings were very crude, unlike more polished comic book versions in the 70s onwards. The special also explains how Veronica Lodge, a sub debutante (whatever that means) from New York, decided to move to Riverdale to come between Archie and his “steady” Betty.
Aside from backgrounders on the featured stories, the special also provides a brief discussion about the conditions during the era when the comics were released to give readers an idea about the influences that affected the stories, and the artwork at the time. What’s cool about the volume is that it features insights from the people behind the Archie comic book franchise — Victor Gorelick, Dan de Carlo, artists, historians and even Spiderman creator Stan Lee and horror novelist Stephen King about how the comic books affected their lives. However, I wasn’t all that entertained about the choices of stories that they featured in the edition.
While there were really funny stories in the selection, I didn’t care much about some (especially those lifted from the specials) because they were incomplete — an example would be the story from the graphic novel Archie: The Married Life where the Lodge Corporation is set to put Pop Tate out of business and Archie is torn about what to do. The story ends with Moose declaring he was running for mayor and then lights out. The next story featured has nothing to do with the last and I suppose that is one of the reasons the volume felt a tad inconsistent and scattered.
What I appreciated about the compilation though, is that it managed to illustrate the evolution of America’s favorite teenager, as well as the franchise (the compilation included stories about Josie and the Pussycats, Super Duck, Katy Keene, That Wilkin Boy Bingo, and the original Wilkin character Wilbur that predated Archie, and the teenage version of Jinx). At times I thought that the selection of some of the newer titles owed to the fact they were using the compilation to promote the new lines, but that’s just me.
All in all, I think Archie’s greatest strength is its ability to draw in readers into the gang by having characters that are identifiable. This is the reason why even stories dating back to the 70’s still manage to strike a connection with teens of today. Archie never goes out of style, the clothing may change, as well as the lingo, but Archie is universal. Knowing him for over two decades has been awesome but knowing him beyond those years through this special is even more spectacular. Reading this comic (book) made me feel like I’ve been inducted into a very special club.