What’s the matter with Archie? That’s the question everyone is asking in the first chapter of a mini-series that takes the Riverdale gang back to 1941 which, not coincidentally, is when Archie debuted in Pep Comics.
This isn’t a move back to the short and sweet gag strips of yore, though, it’s an altogether more serious affair. Writers Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn kick off their tale in May, with Archie, Jughead and co graduating high school.
This is a melancholy Archie, with him on the cusp of adulthood and the world on the verge of all-out war. What should be a great summer is lost, with Archie in almost a fugue state.
It’s almost as if he can sense that the world is changing for the worse, and even Riverdale won’t hold out, despite Betty’s insistence that everything will be OK.
I liked this issue a lot, though it gets off to a rocky start with a page that simply confuses me.
Is this the writers trying to lock the five-part mini-series into whatever passes for official Archie continuity by implying the Memory Lane alternate worlds device, which set up Paul Kupperberg’s excellent Life With Archie series, has been walked down? What’s all that business with cows and legacy?
Once we get into the story, though, things settle down nicely, with all the traditional characters in place. The only person departing from their classic mode is Archie’s seriously grumpy dad, but his mood helps the story along.
By the end of the issue Archie realises that continuing to wear his old Riverdale High shirt isn’t going to keep the wider world at bay – there’s a world war on and it’s time the US got involved.
Archie 1941 manages to be a serious, yet breezy, read all at once. Waid and Augustyn’s dialogue evokes what we pretend was a simpler time, while the art by illustrator Peter Krause and colourist Kelly Fitzpatrick is Saturday Evening Post naturalism that throws into relief the darkening tone. Nice Easter eggs include a box of Pep breakfast cereal and a copy of Jackpot comic, but the main event is the subtlety of expressions and body language.
With the likes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Afterlife With Archie having fallen into mythical status, I’d be wary of recommending a new, supposedly monthly series from the same company, but with old comics pros Augustyn, Waid and Krause at the helm, no problem. If you’re a fan of Archie, Americana or just great comics, buy this book – from the gorgeous Art Deco logo (likely by excellent letterer Jack Morelli) to the Next Issue plugs, it’s pure enjoyment.