Saturday, May 29, 2010

Marking A Milestone

I rarely talk about single issues of Archie here, I really prefer to specialize in the Digests with a particular focus on the Double Digests, but it seems an event has transpired that is a major milestone that deserves, nay, demands to be recognized by any serious Archie aficionado.

I like to guess how Archie's story-lines and publishing strategy will play out, and even though my record is pretty good I am sometimes surprised. I was blown away by the announcement of the twin "Archie Love Betty" and "Archie Loves Veronica" series (here), but when the Archie/Valerie romance was announced I dismissed it as merely another stunt issue to keep pursuing a resurgence of traditional newsstand sales (here).

When Kevin Keller was announced I wished that Archie Comics hadn't mentioned he was gay, since there was no indication of this on the cover, and simply let it be part of the story (here). It seemed to me that any big storyline would forever more be spoiled by advanced solicitations.

Today is when I eat some humble pie. I can be a little arrogant about Archie sometimes (no, really), and I've officially been knocked down a peg.

The Archie/Valerie romance that plays out in Archie #608-609 is a real, tangible turning point for our characters on the same level as Luke finding out who his Daddy is. This is far from the throw-away story I had assumed it would be where everything returns to status-quo at the end.

This isn't a typical Archie romance story. This isn't about Mr. A. going cartoon ga-ga over a new babe in town. There are no shenanigans (except from Alex and Alexandra Cabot, but more on that later), no scheming and deceptions.

This is a story of your first real, deep love. The one that hits you unexpectedly; when you look at someone you've looked at a hundred times before, but suddenly there's electricity between you.

This is also the story of a romance based on integrity, respect and cooperation. Much of the first issue is spent following Alex trying to screw the Archies and get the Pussycats top billing on what was supposed to be an equally-billed tour. This gives ample opportunity for slapstick Archie humour, but it serves another purpose. It establishes that the Pussycats are more experienced in the music business, that both bands take the business of it seriously and act with integrity, and that while the Pussycats really function more as a unit, Archie is the Archies.

Integrity is a big theme in this story, maybe even the main theme.

What makes this story so important is that Archie is actually in love, truly and deeply, for the first time. After working late on a song together, Archie and Valerie have an almost unintentional good-night peck. Then each of them looks back at the other as they part company, and it's game over. Writer Dan Parent and artist Bill Galvan capture this moment when the spark ignites in a beautifully simple way, every bit as effective as a John Hughes movie. There is a gravity to this story that honestly shocked me.

Like when Fred pulls Archie aside and tells him he has to come clean with Betty and Veronica about what's happening, because it's clearly serious. Or when Betty puts it all together and realizes that Archie has actually finally chosen. Or how about Archie openly discussing the fact that him and Val are in love with Betty and Veronica? Big, epic moments, told in an intimate, simple and honest way.

Expect further stories involving this romance. I won't be surprised at all if a new hybrid band formed: Val didn't want to tour without Archie, Archie is the only one in his band that really takes it seriously and he gets along very well with Josie and Melody. Add to that the simple fact that every young "indie" band these days is co-ed (and yes, I know the Archies are co-ed, duh, but Betty and Ron are really in the background whereas if Archie joined the Pussycats he would be on equal footing with Josie), and it seems like we're heading towards a new musical phenomenon. Stop laughing, "Sugar, Sugar" was a huge hit.

The two issues together are a surprisingly touching and poignant story, which seems to have real consequences for the Riverdale crew.

Only time will tell, but this could be the first sign that the establishment of the New Reality of Jughead Continuity was simply a test case to see if ongoing continuity could be gently inserted into the existing Archie universe. Or perhaps we are going to see an epic reality-warping battle between Archie's New Continuity and Jughead's New Continuity, though that seems unlikely.

Most importantly of all though: With Betty fully accepting that Archie has moved on to his true love, Adam Chisholm finally has a clear shot.

Adam, make this one count. You're never going to get a better opening, and all your hard work will be for nothing if you let this one pass you by.

Archie's out of the way! Dude! The way I see it, there are three steps to you gaining Betty's heart and a slot in the second tier, and one major obstacle.

Step 1- Get an interest/identifier. Now. Having light brown hair and an interest in Betty isn't enough anymore, time to step it up. Yes, I know you've shown your ability in a number of sports, but who in Riverdale hasn't? Look how much more play Chuck gets now that he's a cartoonist. Find something interesting and at least a little unique and make sure you tell people about it.

Step 2- Get Hal onside. Hal's a smart guy, and I know for a fact he hasn't been all that thrilled with the way Ol' Arch has been treating his little girl. He already likes you a little, make him see that you'll treat Betty with the respect and thoughtfulness a certain Mr. Andrews rarely did.

Step 3- Be unrelenting in your quest for panel time. Seriously, get your face in every issue you can. Exploit every friendship, every acquaintance. Cultivate relationships with anyone who can get you in there. Seriously. If following Smithers around for a day under the guise of a "career shadowing" project will get you in the background of a panel, do it. Eye of the tiger, Adam, eye of the tiger.

And watch out for your biggest obstacle, and your most formidable challenge.

Dilton Doiley has been waiting far longer than you for Betty to give up on Archie, expect the full-court press.

Good luck Adam. You're going to need it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An Open Letter to Augie de Blieck Jr. of Comic Book Resources

If you've never read Augie's regular column "Pipeline" at Comic Book Resources, you're really missing out. Pipeline is always interesting, well-written and thoughtful, and this week's column COMIC PUBLISHERS: IT'S TIME TO TAKE DIGITAL SERIOUSLY is excellent reading. Especially as a preface to this letter.

Dear Augie,

First off, I'm a fan. I love your column, and this week's was no exception. I agree 100% that Marvel and DC are missing a few boats right now, but I'd like to point out that one major publisher is not.

I know, the immediate argument is that Archie is not doing the same thing as Marvel or DC. Marvel and DC are publishing superhero comics; morality tales about responsibility and judgment told through the use of archetypal characters. Archie on the other hand is telling morality...oh, wait a minute. Minus the spandex and fisticuffs and it would appear there's a lot in common.

Another argument against comparing Archie to the "Big Two" is that DC and Marvel are involved in longer-form storytelling whereas Archie is far more encapsulated. Basically, the idea that there's an ongoing continuity in the Marvel and DC universes, but in Archie there is no larger continuity and nothing ever changes. One need only follow the recent (meaning last 10 years or so) stories revolving around a Mr. Forsythe Jones III (known to his friends as "Jughead") to see that there is, in fact, a larger continuity in the Archie universe. The New Reality of Jughead Continuity first began to form with the arrival of Jellybean, and continued through the Jones' new house and neighbours, Jughead's dance expertise and the introduction of his nemesis: Trula Twyst. Irrefutable evidence that things do change in Riverdale. The recent revelations about Jug in his "Freshman Year: The Missing Chapters" story were as significant to his character (arguably more so) as anything from any invasion, countdown, crisis or siege.

Speaking of the "Freshman Year" books: Waldo Weatherbee's work woes were one well-written (yes!) sub-plot. His story was for grown-ups, as was the story of Forsythe's decision to put his family ahead of his career.

I submit this all to support the idea that Archie is in the same arena as DC and Marvel, just different icing on similar cakes.

"There still needs to be outreach to the greater market - you know, basic Marketing 101" was one of the points you made. For almost a year I've been watching Archie Comics pursue just that strategy.

Last September I realized that the "Proposal" storyline was a way to get Archie back on the traditional newsstand. Suddenly, single issues of Archie were appearing in magazine racks that hadn't seen a comic book since Michael Keaton was Batman.

Which ties directly into another point you made: as a father, and someone with limited time, you almost never get to the comic store anymore. I'd be willing to bet you get to the gas station, convenience store and supermarket every now and then.

This is why you've become Archie's new target demographic. Two new series (Archie Loves Betty and Archie Loves Veronica) are aimed directly at guys like you and I, and we'll be able to grab them anywhere. Plus, the two comics will be combined into one ongoing magazine, available pretty much everywhere.

More proof? How many 8 year olds care that a "Robot Chicken" writer (Tom Root) is writing an issue of Jughead? Now, how many 35 year olds care about this information? I don't know about you, but my hand is up.

In this blog post from last month I contrasted Joe Quesada's (Marvel EIC) view of the newsstand (basically, it's dead) with Archie's clear strategy to reopen this market. I'll be very interested to see how their new Stan Lee superhero series fares, but I guarantee you it will have more exposure to the general public than any new book from the Big Two.

Back in March I was congratulating Archie Comics on their enormous digital success. They've had a wildly successful App for almost a year (they're the most popular comics on iTunes), and Archie is the 4th most popular book App on the iPad. More than a little ahead of the competition.

Keep an eye out for "The Return of the Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E." (written by the great Tom DeFalco), a four issue story starting in Archie 610. DeFalco described it like this: "In bringing back The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E., my question was: if spies actually existed in the Archie world, how could they be seamlessly integrated into Archie's continuity while still being true to his universe? That is my creative challenge - to create a realistic and dangerous situation for the characters to act in, kind of like mashing up 24 and The Bourne Identity with Chuck and Get Smart." 

Sounds good to me, and if you were an Amazing Spider-Man fan back in the day it probably sounds good to you too. The best part? Archie Comics is going to make it easy for you to get it, no trip to the comic store required.

I just thought I'd throw out my two cents, and let you know that one publisher is thinking the exact same way you are.

Respectfully yours,