I’ve never been interested in reading Archie comics. In fact, the only Archie comic I had ever read before last week was Afterlife with Archie, a title more known for killing Archie characters than it is about typical Archieverse things like love triangles and eating burgers like it’s your job. So when Archie Comics announced that everything was getting restarted with a new #1 written by Mark Waid and with Fiona Staples on art, my first emotion was annoyance.
I guess I’m going to have to buy an Archie comic.
Fast forward to last Wednesday when I got a text from my SKTCHD Out co-host Brandon. He’s ride or die with Marvel and DC, has a strong interest in many Image titles, but outside of that, he’s a bit wary of diving into new books due to budgetary concerns. Who can blame him? Even beyond budget, though, Archie had never previously interested him in the slightest. His text was surprising to say the least, as was the exchange in whole.
Two people who had never previously read proper Archie comics not only bought the issue, but loved it. That’s saying something. So how did they do it? Well, it’s pretty simple.
They made a really, really damn good comic.
The hook was obviously getting an A+ creative team onboard. Your average comic fan will at least try out a new comic by Waid and Staples, if only because we’ve come to expect quality work from them. The thing that grabbed the attention of potential new readers was also what made this first issue such a winner, as the Archie team trusted two greats to make something worthwhile in the process.
For me, the most surprising part of the equation was Waid’s work. It’s not that I don’t believe in the guy – his work on The Flash, 52 and Kingdom Come are amongst my favorite comics ever – but I’ve always thought of him as a writer whose instincts and style are built upon a previous era. I don’t mean that in a bad way, as that is one of the main reasons why I enjoy his work so much. However, it’s the same reason I was trepidatious of him being the writer on All-New All-Different Avengers. Could this enormously talented but classic styled writer be the voice of a potential new direction of a franchise? I had my doubts.
As he is apt to do, Waid made me eat crow, and eat it in bulk. Clearly I wasn’t giving him nearly enough credit as a writer. I would have expected it if I had just thought of his work on Impulse. Waid’s run on that book with Humberto Ramos is one of my all-time favorites, and in that book, he had an incredible handle on the voice of a whole host of young people. Archie is more of the same, just written for young people of the social media era, and he does it as zestfully as he once did with Impulse.
One of Waid’s rarest talents as a storyteller is his ability to boil a world down to its purest form. That ability is one of the biggest drivers of Kingdom Come’s greatness – few writers understand what the DC Universe is all about better than Waid – and its why Archie is so easy to jump into for neophytes like Brandon and I. This first issue requires zero knowledge of what preceded it. Everything you need to know about the book is given to you from the first page on. This book is the essence of Archie translated into a modern era.
When you’re relaunching something, that is really what you should do. Yet we almost never see it. Archie #1 doesn’t make any efforts to bridge its 74 year history with the new direction, save for a reprint of the character’s first appearance at the back of the book. It just starts everything from scratch and jumps right into it, trusting readers to figure things out. It is very simple and very easy to appreciate.
It also doesn’t try to dig too deep or be something it isn’t. It’s a high school story through and through, and it is still built on the tomfoolery and hijinks that Archie has been all about for decades. It is just told with a slightly different, more open tone that welcomes people of all varieties without sacrificing richness of story. It also gives the characters more to work from than the simple aspects everyone knows them for. Sure, Jughead is still in love with food, but it’s not what defines him, you know?
Perhaps most importantly, though, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Staples’ art is a big reason why. Her art is so perfect for this book that about 12% of me is sad she has to go back to Saga. Obviously I’d rather she stick around on that book, but it is already hard for me to imagine anyone following her up here. Just look at that image of Jughead at the top and that innocent ignorance he’s feigning. It’s such a charming character moment that it made me genuinely laugh out loud, and is currently the front runner for my favorite moment in comics of the year. In fact, this issue is so good, number two on that list might just be the montage of Archie learning about his dad’s three passions. Staples is the biggest reason why those bits hit as hard as they do.
The whole issue is filled with character moments like those two, and Staples nails them throughout. She’s one of the most gifted artists in comics when it comes to character acting, and instances like Archie becoming a rock god or Betty trying (and failing) to talk to her former boyfriend show exactly what makes her one of the best. She makes you live in the story, and gives the book a boundless enthusiasm that is refreshing and undeniable.
She’s also a wonderfully inventive artist, and there are little sections – like when the newly single Archie walks out of a movie theater with friends and instead of showing text, their dialogue bubbles show graphic star reviews (Archie’s bucket of popcorn even has a comment) – that beautifully pair that inventiveness with Waid’s ability to approach a story in unique ways. This book is full of those “magic of comics” moments I always write about.
There aren’t a lot of comics that I’d be willing to hand out to anyone, but Archie #1 is immediately one of them. And when I say anyone, I mean anyone. I’m actively trying to convince my wife to read it, and she has never read a comic before. This is the type of comic that is a perfect gateway to new readers like her, as it is simple, fun and inviting. It’s the kind of issue that if I were a retailer, I’d tell customers, “if you buy it and don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back.” In an era of perpetual reboots, relaunches and renumberings, no comic has succeeded as completely in making a #1 feel like a truly new beginning than Archie’s debut.
Other publishers should take note. You don’t always have to start over with a bang. Sometimes, it’s best to do it with a “hi” and a smile.
All art in the piece by Fiona Staples with colors by Andre Szymanowicz.