Thursday, November 12, 2009

I'm a Betty: An Introduction to Archie Comics

From my last blog, a review of the horrible TV movie, Archie Return to Riverdale, you can probably surmise that I love Archie Comics. Otherwise, why would I love such a piece of shit movie and take an entire evening to yank screen caps for the three people that read this blog? Since us Archie fans are in the middle of a ground breaking milestone, with the "Archie Marries Veronica" storyline, I figured it was my duty to offer my fan's commentary and criticisms. But first, it's necessary for my three readers to know just why I care so much.

I can’t pinpoint the exact date my mother introduced me to Archie. But I do know I was in the second grade. I was looking at the comic book stand at some grocery store. Perhaps if I had older brothers, I would have drifted towards Batman or Spider-Man. But alas, my mother geared me towards Archie, the girliest, dorkiest, lamest comic book known to man.

It was Laugh Digest #127. I think I still have it somewhere in a box in my attic. When I go home for Christmas break, I'll fish it out. It’s not that I thought the stories and gags were rip-roaringly hilarious. Nor was I yet fully compelled by the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle. No, I loved the simplicity. The Riverdale kids reminded me of the 1950’s. At the time, I was rejecting all things 90’s. Fuck Grunge. To hell with plaid. Give me sock hops. Give me malt shops. Give me wholesome teen fun!

After probably an overwhelming amount of begging, my mom bought me The Best of the 50’s in the Archie Americana Series. I loved it. I immediately enjoyed the Betty and Veronica stories best, with “Going, Going Gown” (a story about Betty owning a designer knockoff of a dress Veronica bought for the big dance) being my favorite. At the checkout stands, after more begging, my mom bought me many Betty and Veronica Digests and Double Digests.

In the beginning, I probably liked Veronica more just because she was the brunette. I had a thing against blondes because the bitchiest girl in my class was blonde. But Betty was the good girl, and I wanted to be (and was, for the most part) a good girl. So my loyalties switched.

Between Digests and random issues of Betty, I became well acquainted with the storyline: Archie Andrews, all-American schmuck liked both rich, spoiled Veronica Lodge and sweet girl next door, Betty Cooper. Despite Betty's unwavering loyalty, Archie dug the glitter and would often surpass study dates with Betty for concerts and charity benefits with Veronica. However, something deux es machina would occur like Archie's Jalopy crapping out on him, and Veronica would end up going to the big dance with some hunk in a flashy, fully working car leaving him dateless. Of course, one phone call to Betty would have her fixing his car in a formal dress, allowing them to arrive in style.

It's really a horrific pattern of abuse, but I, like everyone else who enjoys our cliche addled pop culture, liked to see the good girl overcome adversity and least until the next big dance. Due to some tragic playground rejection (where the current object of my affection chose said bitchy blonde girl over me) I no longer just liked Betty, I felt I was Betty. I felt if I played my cards right, was willing to take a bunch of crap from the guy I liked and be loyal to him at all costs, I would eventually win over the mean, popular rich girl. (Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" video was my dream come true.)

I was a casual Archie reader until the summer of 1999, when my obsession fully bloomed. I was listening to an Oldies station with my best friend. The song on the radio was "Come on Down to My Boat" by Every Mother's Son. I told my friend how it reminded me of this comic book. I dug out my Archie Americana Best of the 50's book and showed her the first story where Archie buys a crappy boat to impress Veronica. Then I was reminded that "Sugar, Sugar", (the song I christened as the boy I currently loved and my song) was by none other than The Archies.

Thanks to the internet, I researched the hell out of the history of Archie Comics. I learned about the humble beginning. The successful run of the Saturday morning cartoon. The introduction of racially diverse characters. The Marvel crossover where Archie met The Punisher. And the (up till now) most controversial and talked about storyline: The Love Showdown.

During 6th grade, I assigned everyone in my class an Archie character. I was Betty, the guy I liked was Archie (naturally) and my main competition was Veronica. I lived vicariously through comic book characters for a year. I thought if I acted like Betty, I was sure to win over my all-American schmuck. What I failed to realize was acting like Betty didn't help the real Betty, so why in the hell would it help me? It made no difference if society was on her side, Archie wasn't.

Throughout high school and college, I went back to casual Archie reader. I mean, if you've read one, you've read them all. One thing that's always bothered me about Archie is the lack of canonical stories. There are very few things that carry through every Archie story, just personality traits, and even then it's a crapshoot. Imagine my excitement when the story "Bad Boy Trouble" came out. I wasn't so excited about the new look as I was about a storyline that continued past one issue.

Since then, there've been many "new look" stories, most of which I haven't followed. But this summer, my friend Amanda alerted me to the Story of the Century. I always knew that when Archie finally made his choice between Betty and Veronica, it would be the end of the publication. I didn't know if I would live to see the day. After some slapdash research I found that Archie Comics had no intention of closing up shop so I knew that the decision wasn't final...or it was a dream sequence or something.

Still, even I fell victim to the craze. Archie was proposing to one of the girls. Soon after I discovered it was Veronica. More research taught me there were six issues in the story arc. I guessed that three would tell of Archie's marriage to Veronica, and then somehow, through a soap opera-esque bump on the head (or some other such nonsense) Archie would travel back in time and marry Betty.

Well...I was kind of right. In future posts, I'll dissect the six issues of the Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty story arc. I'll go into minute detail with every gripe and concern. So far, the first three issues have been I (and everyone else) know about Archie and Veronica's marriage. I've had three months to stew over it.

So as I go through the first three and the last three, know this, dear readers: I'm a Betty fan. I am wholly on Betty's side. I, like many, am a Betty. If I could, I walk around in one of those shirts that said Team Cooper, I would. I'm also one of those that wants to see Betty with Archie. Unlike many, I think she would be terribly unhappy with anyone else. Do I think she should stop being such a doormat and tear Archie a new A? Yes. But give up? It's been 68 years...why now?

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