When I first saw the solicit for this title, I admit I didn’t pay it quite as much attention as I could have. Between the chronological archives Dark Horse has started and the hardcover collections by artist, there has been a glut of old Archie re-releases, with more coming every month. This one was a chunky 400-page paperback from Archie’s own publisher, though, and about the size of its Double Digests. Despite its rather uninspiring cover art (which remains a weakness), I decided to give it a shot.
It’s not *quite* a Best Of – the publisher is trying to give a historical overview of the titles the company put out, and thus you’ll see stuff here of lower quality that nevertheless gives a broader look than just a bunch of Archie love triangle stories – but it’s actually a very decent effort. The stories all have as many credits as they were able to locate, and a short paragraph either saying why they felt this story deserved to be in the book, why this ‘sort’ of story typifies Archie and his friends, or the occasional celebrity blurb. Each decade gets about 50 pages, ending with the Life With Archie years that we’re getting right now.
As for the stories I mentioned above, we see many of the other titles Archie put out over the years that weren’t Archie. Some are famous enough to stand on their own – it’s nice to see the first Sabrina comic here, as well as a couple of Josie and the Pussycats stories (though I’d like to have seen something from the early, pre-band Josie years). And then there’s things like Wilbur, Ginger, and That Wilkin Boy, all of which try unsuccessfully to duplicate Archie’s formula with writing and characters that simply aren’t as good. Still, it’s interesting to see them here (we even get a glimpse of the infamous Super Duck) as a sign that it wasn’t just recently that Archie would try lots of different ideas to see what stuck – they were *always* doing it.
As for the Archie stories themselves, they are solid and readable – this is more of the Best Of that the title led me to expect. In particular, every time you see Bob Bolling credited you are in for a real treat. He’s got 3 stories in here, two featuring his specialty – The ‘Little Archie’ Archie as a kid strips – and they’re all brilliant, with two of them dredging out memories in me from when I was a small boy reading digests myself. Seeing Little Archie drag Betty through Riverdale’s worst outgrowth in order to put off her obsession with him – only to have it backfire and end in one of the most heartwarming moments in the history of the series – is beautiful. Likewise, one of his stories with adult Archie shows Betty misunderstanding seeing Archie and Veronica after he was just on a date with her, and spiraling into a blue funk. Archie’s solution requires a major deus ex machina, but we don’t care, as it’s simply so sweet. There needs to be a Bolling collection asap.
We do get a few stories we’ve seen reprinted many times over the last two years – Archie’s debut, the first appearance of Veronica, that Reggie with the football game – but that’s simply as the archive has skewed heavily towards the 40s and debuts, and you can’t really leave them out. But there’s other fascinating stuff here – some Katy Keene and Archie pin-ups, a few Jughead Dipsy Doodles, and of course Archie in the early 1970s taking the time to explain his growing media empire to the reader. We also get a few reminders that it wasn’t just experiments with other characters or series that didn’t work out for Archie. Witness Jughead’s pin that makes him irresistible to women, or ‘The New Archies’ trying to split the difference between Archie and Little Archie, or even things like Alexandra from Josie having magical powers – which, naturally, she uses for evil.
The book ends with a few stories that are right up to date. We get a Life With Archie from the current series, the only comic in here longer than 6 pages (by design, the editors admit), as well as a very funny Reggie comic about an anthropomorphic personification of his ego – and you can imagine how big it is. Kevin Keller even gets mentioned as a new breakout character – although his sexuality is not mentioned, FYI. And lastly, we see they’re still trying new things – the very last strips are one-page gag comics featuring Jinx, a teenage version of the bratty L’il Jinx from decades earlier.
There’s things I wish we’d seen in here – I’d have liked a few of the more serious 70s-style political stories, and I’d have loved one of the old ‘Betty Cooper is insane’ stories that the web has highlighted. But really, you can’t do a best of for Archie in only 400 pages – there’s simply too much. What you can do is give a sampler and show that Archie has, for the past 70 years, been doing what it’s doing today – writing fun, likeable stories and then finding ways to market them in any way possible. And if that defines Archie as a business more than a character, that’s not to say that the character is weak. You’d never have lasted 70 years without people loving Archie and his friends, and this collection shows why everyone loves them. As a history, it’s fine, and I would not mind seeing a second volume in a similar vein.
You can leave out That Wilkin Boy next time, though.