Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #21: Welcome To The 21st Century, Archie Andrews!
by Scott Redmond
They say the only three certain things in life are birth, death, and change. When it comes to comic books those things are also certain as they come in the form of retcons, reboots, and resurrections.
For our purposes retcons are elements that are retroactively added into a character’s history after the fact, reboots are either big full change revivals of a character/title or are extensive changes to their canon, and resurrections are characters making the return from death or character limbo.
Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
Whether someone reads comic books or not, there is little doubt that the vast majority of people are familiar with the names Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge, Forsythe “Jughead” Jones, and all the rest of the crew from the classic world of Riverdale.
Archie Comics has been sharing the tales of young characters, among various other comics, for eighty years now. Yet there was a point in the very recent past where they all could be forgiven if they were shocked that the original comics depicting those characters’ adventures were still being published.
In the last few years, folks were given a whole new more modern take on these characters focused through the teenage angst drama filter of The CW through the new show Riverdale.
The thing is, this was not the first time that Archie Comics took a giant swing to give their iconic characters a modern coat of paint, moving away from the all-ages classic look they had for so many decades.
Before there was Riverdale, there was Life With Archie and Afterlife With Archie, the rise of Kevin Keller, and one of the biggest relaunch reboots since the DC Comics New 52 era. Let’s turn back our clocks to 2009 and where the change all began.
What Was It?
Actually, first, we need to look at 2007 and 2008, where President and Publisher Richard Goldwater (son of Archie co-founder Jon L Goldwater) and Publisher Michael Silberkleit (son of Archie co-founder Louis H. Silberkleit) passed away respectively. Following their passing, Silberkleit’s widow Nancy Silberkleit and Richard’s half-brother Jonathan “Jon” Goldwater stepped in to run things as co-CEOs of Archie Comics. Nancy handled the scholastic and theater aspects of the company while Jon handled all the day-to-day publishing and entertainment style decisions.
This is where the spark of change was first ignited.
In 2009 the publisher made the huge announcement that with the 600th issue of the main Archie series, the title character would, at last, make a choice between the two girls he had been semi dating for decades. Yes, he would be making the choice to marry town rich girl Veronica Lodge and even take a position at her father’s company before the couple eventually has twin children. This six-part story shocked fans at the time, especially since halfway through it changed course.
The second half of the arc saw Archie actually marry Betty Cooper instead, and showed what their married life would be like. Overall it was all a dream story, as Archie took two different paths down the literal Memory Lane that exists within this comic book universe (he had always walked down it, but never up before this moment). Truly this was the moment, as the reception was very positive, that sealed the deal for Goldwater that they very much could modernize these characters and their world rather than being stuck in time forever.
Following this came the 36-issue Life With Archie series which chronicled the continued look at the two futures where he was married to Betty and Veronica respectively. The final two issues though were titled ‘The Death of Archie‘ and told one story across the issues that was ambiguous about which world it was, leading up to Archie actually dying. There was also a later revival of this idea where Valerie Brown from Josie and the Pussycats walked down the lane and saw a future where she was married to Archie.
At the same time, 2010 saw the introduction of Kevin Keller, the first gay character for the universe, in Veronica #203, before he later got his own series and is now a stalwart member of the Riverdale gang in all its adapted forms.
Life and death didn’t stop with new characters and future marriages though. In 2013 the publisher took a sharp turn into graphic dark horror comics with the launch of Afterlife With Archie which depicted a Riverdale that was struck by a magical zombie curse that led to the deaths of many well-known characters. It was the first Archie series to be sold in shops with the Teen+ rating because of the darker content. This was followed by The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2014), Jughead: The Hunger (2017) with werewolf Jughead, Vampironica (2018) with vampire Veronica, Blossoms 666 (2018) featuring twins Jason and Cheryl competing to be the antichrist, and Jughead: The Hunger vs Vampironica (2019) which brought the werewolf and vampire pals to the same world to duke it out.
While the book that kicked it all off, Afterlife With Archie, has been dangling on a sort of cliffhanger for years (write and Archie Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has been busy with the Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina shows), there have been signs of life for the Horror imprint again. A second vampire Veronica book came out in 2020 titled Vampironica: New Blood and after a few years hiatus Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has started up again.
All of this success at moving the publisher forward into new ground reached its peak when the publisher announced in December 2014 that ahead of the 75th anniversary they would be actually rebooting the mainline of books for the first time ever. Spearheading this reboot of the beloved characters would be superhero comic book and character revamp veteran Mark Waid and artist Fiona Staples who was killing it with her work on the Image Comic series Saga at the time (she would leave after three issues, to be followed by Annie Wu for one issue, then regular artist Veronica Fish).
These Eisner award-winning creators wiped everything off the board and came at these characters with a new focus, one that brought them right into the modern-day. This wasn’t a Riverdale that was stuck in a perpetual ’40s or ’50s era feeling. These kids looked and dressed like they were from today, and had problems that were more akin to what we see teenagers deal with both fictionally and in reality now in the 2000s. Through the new Archie #1 that arrived in July 2015, they took time to put the characters in new spots and slowly roll out new but familiar versions of the cast.
Here Archie and Betty had been an item but an incident led to them breaking up, and rich girl Veronica and her family are but a rumor as they are just coming to the town here. Others steadily trickled in, as the world grew organically. Another facet that sets the world apart is how characters from marginalized groups have a bigger role in the supporting cast this time around, making this Riverdale a more diverse place right from the start.
Following this launch, the rest of the line began to grow. A new Jughead series from Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson arrived in October 2015, followed by the three-issue Betty & Veronica series from writer/artist Adam Hughes, a digital Life With Kevin series from Kevin Keller creator Dan Parent, the Reggie Mantle starring Reggie and Me from Tom DeFalco and Sandy Jarrell, a new Josie and the Pussycats series from Marguerite Bennett and Cameron DeOrdio and Audrey Mok, two Sabrina starring series (Sabrina: The Teenage Witch and Sabrina: The Teenage Witch – Something Wicked) from Kelly Thompson and Andy and Veronica Fish and Jack Morelli, among many other books.
There were even alternate universe books where the characters met various musical groups like the Ramones, which led to an Archies series just about the characters doing band stuff, and even one where they met and fought the aliens from Predator.
The main rebooted book continued on for 32 issues before Waid stepped away, to be replaced by Nick Spencer and Marguerite Sauvage who brought the series back to its classic numbering with issue #700 (after there was a #699 that recapped the whole series). This new version saw Archie dating Sabrina Spellman and moved a lot of other pieces forward in different ways. Mariko Tamaki came aboard as a co-writer soon after and the book officially changed its name to Archie & Sabrina with issue #705, before turning into Archie & Kathy Keene with issue #710 (an arc that Tamaki co-wrote with Kevin Panetta) before the book went on hiatus in July 2020 after the final Kathy Keene issue dropped.
This hiatus came about partly due to the industry upheaval that came from the opening months of lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. While the industry is back on its feet, word about when new issues of Archie may return hasn’t been uttered just yet.
Was It Good?
Both creatively and financially it was a success for the publisher. Objectively it was quite good because it took a concept and characters that were known and found a way to catapult them into a new era and diversify them while retaining the core elements. This reboot truly showed that if a publisher really wants to, there is nothing holding them back from letting go of elements of the past to embrace the now. Granted, the Archie stuff wasn’t as popular for a time as Marvel and DC might be now so it was a bit easier, but the point still stands.
Because of these steady changes, the Archie brand is stronger than ever and we’ve gotten to see a ton of great projects both in the comics and on our TV screens for years now. While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina shows were popular and have a lot of engaged and happy fans.
Whether the publisher can keep this up or not will be the real test, as things have definitely cooled off in recent times.
Next Week: A forgotten daughter becomes a break-out character for a new era