Thursday, December 18, 2014

Archie’s violent death isn’t the end for him — or us

7/16/2014

Archie is dead — well, at least as dead as a fictional comic book character can be.

America’s favorite two-dimensional redhead is being killed in Wednesday’s edition of “Life with Archie,” a comic series that envisions adult incarnations of Archie Andrews and his Riverdale pals, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie and others — including Kevin Keller, the comic’s first gay character. In next week’s edition, Archie is killed taking a bullet for Kevin, a U.S. senator targeted for assassination because of his “personal point of view” on gay rights and gun control, Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics publisher, said.

Archie is dead — well, at least as dead as a fictional comic book character can be.

America’s favorite two-dimensional redhead is being killed in Wednesday’s edition of “Life with Archie,” a comic series that envisions adult incarnations of Archie Andrews and his Riverdale pals, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie and others — including Kevin Keller, the comic’s first gay character. In next week’s edition, Archie is killed taking a bullet for Kevin, a U.S. senator targeted for assassination because of his “personal point of view” on gay rights and gun control, Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics publisher, said.

Archie’s death is depicted on the comic’s cover in graphic detail. In a scene visually reminiscent of Lee Harvey Oswald’s killing, a blood-soaked Archie lays amid a crowd of people fleeing from the shooting. Perennial love interests Betty and Veronica kneel at his side. Archie’s final words as they stand over his body: “I’ve always loved you.”

Conservatives reacted with predictable irritation to Archie’s “agonizingly politically correct” “death by homophobia” in the spin-off of the 70-year-old comic that typically engenders nostalgia for wholesome Americana.

“I hate to sound like a grumpy old conservative, because I love pop culture,” Mark Tapson, a screenwriter and conservative pop culture critic for acculturated.com, told the New York Daily News. “On the other hand, it does send a message that law-abiding Second Amendment backers are ticking time bombs, and homophobic at that, so it’s just disturbing.”

Others have expressed more dire warnings about what Archie’s death at the hands of “liberal propagandists” means for the country.

For their part, the folks at Archie Comics contend they weren’t even trying to tell a political story in the “Life with Archie” series, which is described as a less-idealized Riverdale reality in which Archie marries both Betty and Veronica. That apolitical claim, however, doesn’t really hold water when one considers the comic’s other recent politically charged topics: affordable health care and gay marriage (both drawn with a heavy liberal hand).

Doesn’t really sound like the Archie we grew up with, does it?

Supporters of the comic’s story arc say that’s the point. Gay rights advocates and comic book enthusiasts have heralded Archie’s death as a historic moment in pop culture that should be celebrated for its “boldness.”

“Archie Andrews is a very iconic all-American hero. To have him literally take a bullet for the ideas of diversity and equality in a comic book is a very powerful statement,” Jono Jarrett, a founder of New York-based Geeks OUT, an organization that supports gays who enjoy comics, told Reuters news service.

So, is Archie’s death disturbing? Powerful? Both?

If nothing else, the comic book’s move is an effective publicity stunt, having reminded people across the country that new Archie stories are still being published. (Are we the only ones who thought those “Archie” editions sold in line at grocery stores were just republished compilations from years past?)

And Archie fans fear not: Your favorite ginger is not gone for good. Archie will continue to appear in other versions of the Archie Comics brand. He only died in the “Life with Archie” series. The character lives on. Remember, Superman was killed in 1992’s “The Death of Superman” and Capt. James T. Kirk died in 1994’s “Star Trek Generations” — yet both were resurrected and featured in blockbuster movies last summer.

Conservatives longing for the days of 1950s Americana should be cheered by the reality that an Archie “reboot” likely is only a breath away based on recent pop culture trends (see “Transformers,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Batman,” etc.). Of course, with that, you never know what you’ll get. Andrew Garfield, the star of the current “The Amazing Spider-Man” franchise, advocated for his character in the revamped movie series being revealed as gay or bisexual and love interest “Mary Jane” becoming a boy named “M.J.” Garfield’s idea was unsuccessful, but there’s no saying it couldn’t be revived for a Archie-Jughead-Veronica love triangle down the line.

As with the comic, America’s story is evolving. The narratives of pop culture sometimes reflect our society, and other times are meant to push it in a specific direction. Archie’s death is supposed to shock us, but ultimately he’s just a series of dots on a piece of paper.

Life goes on — both for Archie and the rest of us.

Tommy Felts,

managing editor

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