I read Archie comics as a kid.
I know these things are dumb, but when you're too young to notice
and 256-page booklets are less than three bucks, you knew where
to reach on the checkstand rack. Typically, I would walk away
from the store with one Archie-related comic each time we went,
and we went to the store a lot.
Fortunately, I was reading the stuff during the company's most interesting age....during the time when they suddenly began releasing wild, crazy, beyond-the-norm concept titles. None of them lasted long, but the likes of what you're about to read have never been seen again in the same-old same-old world of Archieville, USA. It began in 1989 with....
ARCHIE 3000: This was the first one to come out. It was nothing but the same old storylines, except with Jetsons humor added. So naturally, it lasted a lot longer than some of these others. The series started getting creative in later issues, but as you'll see became a trend, that's when it was axed.
VERONICA: Yes, this started out as a Different Take Comic, and no, Veronica didn't have her own book before this. Back then, the series was called "Veronica In ____" and would feature a different location every bi-month, where Ms. Lodge would get into adventurous globetrotting situations. That was the idea that took fifty years to think up. Betty didn't have her own self-titled series yet either....she had "Betty's Diary" and "Betty & Me," though.
FACULTY FUNNIES: Hoooooooo boy.
Their first mistake was thinking an entire series centered around
Riverdale High's boring teaching staff would sell any copies. We
are, after all, talking about a bunch of fogies so old they can
remember when Garfield was a president and not a cat. Their
second mistake was calling it "Faculty Funnies," which
had to look repulsive on any comic book rack.
The idea to make them superheroes didn't factor into this until the first issue was written--a prototype cover for Issue #1 made it onto a print ad to prove that. After the editor read "The Adventures of the Awesome Foursome," however, he must have decided "hey, let's make the teachers super for the entire series!" and redesigned the logo and cover. That didn't make it any less hideous. To get a feel, click on the cover and see a larger size--wait, there's no cover there. Oh yeah, I forgot I don't have that issue. The cover I wanted to show you has this man dressed in a remote control, zapping four over-the-hill people in tights with a tickle ray. Yeah, you really need to see this.
DILTON'S STRANGE SCIENCE: Now the ideas were starting to flow. Resident token nerd Dilton Doiley was given his own book, and a cousin ("Danni Malloy"), and an underground lab to create the most horriffic unintentional creations ever. AND a flying motorbike. And then, after issue #2, a pet DINOSAUR (named "Gleep" for the odd noise it made). Most of the plots were stolen from old B-movies, but this was still a change from the norm interesting enough to make me buy all the issues. Maybe it only lasted 5 editions because they MADE GLEEP GROW UP and he went from a cute little thing to an ugly huge lump with a Barney-esque face. What a buncha yutzes.
ARCHIE'S R/C RACERS: Archie and Reggie are both captains of opposing teams in a publicized race across all 50 states in the US, using nothing but radio-controlled cars. The premise worked better than it sounds. Road-trip catastrophes were rampant, and the thing was one long epic story with CONTINUITY (a concept heretofore unseen in the Archie world!) The best issue was #6....it has my favorite scene from the series, where a geeky tour guide has just been blasted with several jillion volts of electricity and wakes up to find he can control anything electronic with his mind.
That didn't happen until 2/3
into the issue; it wasn't the focus...making it even more
They traveled to a different state, once per issue....and the series was canned before they could make it to mine, though it was given an ending issue. To add an extra pinch of authenticity, Archie Co. tried to get the rights to use actual R/C cars in the comic...but the best they could get was an OK from the obscure Kyosho Hobby Company. Kyosho got their brand name and all their R/C devices mentioned in the series (and they had a lot for a company I've never heard of).
Every issue also contained one appearance from a little boy named Justin. You knew it was him because he wore a shirt with "Justin" on it, and good thing too because depending on who was drawing, he looked different. In the last issue Justin was revealed to be the son of the "guy who owns Kyosho." But....he wasn't Asian.....
EXPLORERS OF THE UNKNOWN: Woo!
Predating many TV shows with this premise by several years, the
Explorers were a team of experts in various destructive fields,
sent by an attractive redhead named "Blaze" to
investigate strange occurances. You had Wheels the pilot, Angel
the karate expert, Nitro the bomb maker, Spike the stuntman, etc.
The reason any of this had to do with Archie was because they
were characters in a book series he was reading. Every issue's
first panel would show him with the latest book and mentioning
that the characters remind him of his friends. Hey, I was too
young to ask "how."
Then we're sent into his reading mind for the latest installment...and "Wheels" is Betty, "Angel" is Veronica, "Spike" is Jughead.....look, I never cared how we got there, I just cared that we did. I was finally seeing Archie characters battling giant robots and blowing up things--hey, about time, right? Unless they've got a Manga series planned soon, they won't be doing anything like this again.
None of these new ideas lasted very long. Instead of buying them, the Archie-buying fanbase chose to continue to purchase comics that showed the same old things happening that had happened the previous month. They just weren't buying INTO imagination. The company gave a few more tries though....
JUGHEAD'S TIME POLICE: HOLY
$#%@!! First, you had to forget everything you assumed you knew
about Jughead. It turned out the real reason he wore that stupid
hat all the time was because it was a time-travelling
device...and the real reason he wasn't interested in any of the
Riverdale girls was because his TRUE girlfriend lived in the 29th
century. Together, they were employed in the Time Police in a far
future where time travel is easy and protecting history isn't.
There were many, many revelations beyond that. Jug's deadliest enemy was Morgan LeFay, who as it turned out wasn't really a witch, but a woman from a further future with weapons so advanced, they pretty much worked LIKE magic. In issue #5, it was revealed Riverdale's Civil War general Colonel Pickens was actually an older Jughead who had traveled in time to that point once. Pickens had been part of Archie continuity for several decades; this was a big thing to reveal.
Do you think this sold any copies? Nope....the better the ideas, the worse they sold. Sales of Jughead's Time Police were so bad, creator/writer Rich Margopolous published a sob note in issue #3 complete with a drawing of him crying. I kid you not.
One of the big mysteries of the series was that Jughead didn't know who had built the time-travelling hat. The technology within was too advanced for the 24th century where the Time Police was. The sixth issue didn't mention it was the last, but Margopolous pretty much knew. He revealed the answer in that issue: it was his girlfriend. I know, it sounds obvious, but a couple red herrings hid the true answer pretty well.
What was Margopolous DOING there anyway?? He also created the Explorers series, and it was clear he had an imagination too good for the average Archie reader. Hopefully, he found work with one of the bigger comic book boys. What a waste...we better move on, I'm getting depressed.
JUGHEAD'S DINER: It was a dark
and stormy night. Jughead was driving home from some kind of
food-related convention when his car ran out of gas. Stopping in
front of an old diner, he checked inside to see if anyone there
could help him. He found the diner was abandoned, and sat on a
stool wondering what to do. ZAM--the stool was an
interdimensional gateway that transported Jughead to the world of
Dinersville, where everybody is obsessed with diners! There, with
the help of some extremely weird new friends, he opens his own
diner and must battle the oncoming threat of the fast-food chain,
led by boss Slimy Sal Monella! It....gets weirder from there.
Seriously, this is THE weirdest series Archie Co. ever published. The plots were just bizarre, and there was an unhealthy obsession with tacky things (bonnet hair, Bingo, horn-rimmed glasses, in addition to diners themselves). It was all thought up by Dan Parent and Bill Gollhier, two of my favorite Archie artists (they drew very similarly to each other, wrote many stories together, and likely completed each other's sentences). I can't really explain what they were thinking when they made this, because it couldn't be "this is funny." Jughead's Time Police girlfriend probably spent many sleepless nights worrying where he was, and I doubt she believed the story when he came back.
LAUGH #24: This wasn't a
series, but it could have been....I like it enough to mention it
here. In 1990 the Archie Editor Man gave a new assignment to the
writer of the Ninja Turtle comic: create a new story for Super
Duck. "Super Duck" was Archie Co's earliest
other-than-Archie series, and ran in the 1940's. For fun, they
tried to see if they could bring Super Duck back. "Explorers
of the Unknown" and "Jughead's Time Police"
started out as one-story tests in variety issues, so maybe we
would have seen a "Super Duck" series if this had
gotten enough of a response.
And in my view it deserved to. Though only one issue, the plot introduces you to a wide variety of animal characters that you've never seen before, but can pick up on what they're like immediately, and feel like you've known them for years. The writing was above-average, and this also starred Sabrina's cat Salem in one of his last "pre-sitcom" appearances where he was orange and couldn't talk.
There was only one problem with it: in his original run, "SUPER DUCK" WASN'T A SUPERHERO. He was just called "super" because he could talk. The actual Super Duck was more like Duckman than Superman, and the writer unwittingly revealed he knew nothing about the source material when he tried to bring this character back. Oooops!
HOT DOG: Meanwhile, as Jughead was doing all sorts of interesting things, his dog was having a far-out string of adventures on his own. After getting picked up by a UFO and saving the doglike warriors there from the evil Galacticats, he was rewarded with their technology. Hot Dog was now the owner of a doghouse that was literally 10,000 times as big on the inside as it was on the outside. Hundreds of floors, thousands of machines, a robot butler and a new chihuahua sidekick richer, Hot Dog had some pretty interesting experiences. I definately have to mention the one where he and the chihuahua turned themselves into humans, but in the process turned Archie and Reggie into dogs. They ended up taking the date with Betty and Veronica that the other two had planned, and Hot Dog licked Veronica's face. "WOW, THEY'RE SO EXOTIC!!" B&V gushed. This is what everyone missed....Hot Dog got the same 5-and-you're-done issue deal the others got.
RIVERDALE HIGH: This replaced Faculty
Funnies. They were starting to calm down now, but this
series was still allowed to go nuts if it wanted to--like the
issue where Chuck drew all the teens as animals for a new comic
strip, and the rest of the issue was them in that form. Every
issue also came with a fake edition of the Riverdale High
One unusual issue was hyped in other Archie comics as featuring "GUEST STAR COUSIN BRUCIE!!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?? AAAAA!!" I think my thoughts were the majority of preteen America's: "WTH?? Am I supposed to know who that is?" Years later, I found out Cousin Brucie was the longtime host of an oldies radio show in New York. Oh yeah, Cousin Brucie was a hot, well-known item to pay for. They weren't entirely dumb...they won the comic rights to the Ninja Turtles, after all. But then this...I don't get it.
SEVERAL SERIES REDESIGNS: It's
now mid-1991 and the ground is littered with the ugly dead forms
of countless failed comic books. In the end, all they discovered
was that their fans wanted nothing but the same, endlessly. But
they still weren't ready to completely give up. Instead of
putting out yet another string of crazy stuff, they handed the
reins of several Archie comics over to newcomer Daryl Edelman,
who revamped those comics with new characters, stories and
situations. Veronica was dragged back to Riverdale and her series
was self-titled from that point. Daryl was also given control of
"Betty & Me" and "Jughead."
If you think there's nothing left to do to Jughead, you're wrong. They could change his HAIR!
Great idea, right? He also took up skateboarding, while Betty became a TV news reporter. The regular Archie universe was now expanded to include Anita, Jeffrey, Sassy Thrasher, Dr. Oddred, Crystal the New-Age Girl, Aerobic Liz, and Sara Bellum (before she was the Mayor's aide on Powerpuff Girls, she was a psychiatrist in Riverdale). The new guys may have all been forced token minorities (Jeffrey was blind and Anita was in a wheelchair), but they had personalities you could grow to like. We also got to meet Jug's grandma. She could shred some wicked wheels as well!
I want Sassy back. She
disappeared two years later when Daryl's contract was up and the
comics he was in charge of were "turned back to
normal." I quit reading Archie around the era of Cheryl
Blossom, and she's no Sassy. I know Sassy is very 80's and very
dated, but so are a bunch of teenagers who hang around in
chocolate malt shops and say "Dig it."
Then again, it depends on who's writing her, and the bulk of Archie writers are usually hacks who can't write a joke unless it's a certain number of years old. Sassy DID appear in an Archie story outside of the realm of Daryl, and under a different writer she was reduced to a cookie-cutter version of herself that I'd like to forget. "Dig the dude on that bodacious skateboard!" Oh please....
THE NEW LITTLE ARCHIE: I've
saved the best for last. The Archie Co. used to have a
"Little Archie" series, and if you think that was about
the teenagers as kids, you're right. Unfortunately, it was
created back in the 1950's, and went into the 90's still based on
1950's ideas of what kids acted like. One day the editor must
have said "This is hopelessly out of touch," and
ordered a redesign of Little Archie at around the same time as
those other three issues were redesigned. The difference was that
Daryl had nothing to do with this, and the New Little Archie
would premiere in expanded digest form (that meant 96 pages an
The main man responsible was artist Frank Rocco, who drew the bulk of what was in Issue #1. Issue #1 was excellent, but it must have tired Rocco out. He quit, and they had to find a replacement. They stupidly handed the reins over to supergeek Joe Edwards, who gave the comic a preschool mentality that nearly killed it.
Joe Edwards' regular Archie stories were just as bad...a typical scene would be Archie dancing and happy while giant "HAPPY" block letters appeared below him. I hate you, Joe Edwards.
FORTUNATELY, they took control away from Joe after a few more issues and gave it to Dan Parent and Bill Gollhier. Those last issues have the best writing of any Archie series I've ever bought. They're genuinely hilarious and as clever as anything Nickelodeon was broadcasting at the time. I love love love those issues and you can't make me give 'em up.
In 1993 "The New Little
Archie" was canned, and two more new titles were introduced:
"World of Archie" and "Archie and Friends."
These lasted many years longer than any of the earlier attempts,
because they were, again, the same old junk. The company learned
a sad lesson and they never tried any radical changes again, unless you count the arrival of Jughead's little sister Jellybean as one.
Don't blame me....I bought all the titles listed here. If you were reading Archie at the same time, it was YOUR fault.
|They did, however, try
one more different title, based on a new video game
character. And for some reason, this one stuck.
"Sonic the Hedgehog" just recently passed a
whopping 150 issues and is still going. There's no way I
expected this title to last so long, especially given
Archie's track record....
Here's to the Freedom Fighters!
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