Here is part two of my look at the excellent Life With Archie series written by Paul Kupperberg and published by Archie Comics. Click here to read part one.
Before continuing on to the final two issues, I first wanted to point out something that I forgot to discuss last time. One aspect of Kupperberg’s writing that I appreciated was that in neither reality was there any sort of fairy tale ending. Both the “Archie Marries Veronica” and “Archie Marries Betty” worlds showed that once Archie and his true love were wed they was still plenty of drama and tension and relationship problems. One marriage was not any better than the other. Rather, both realities were far from perfect, each with good and bad, with hurdles to overcome.
Kupperberg did an excellent job at developing the characters through various dramatic plot twists, very much making them come alive. I became quite attached to the cast in both realities, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. I would definitely say that Life With Archie was on a par with the superb work of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez on Love and Rockets.
And so we now come to the final two issues of Life With Archie, featuring the death of Archie Andrews. That’s not much of a spoiler, given the huge media coverage, plus the somber, atmospheric variant cover to issue #36 by Francesco Francavilla. Wow, I tell you, that guy is prolific! He seems to be doing work for nearly every comic book company in existence.
Previously in Life With Archie, Kevin Keller’s husband Clay Walker was shot during an attempted robbery. Fortunately he survived, but Kevin learned that the weapon used by the holdup man had been purchased at a gun show, circumventing background checks. Kevin decides to run for the United States Senate on a gun control platform. He is elected, but his controversial stance, plus the fact that he is gay, leads a deranged gunman to begin targeting gay victims.
As issue #36 opens, Kevin is preparing for a fundraiser at the Chocklit Shoppe, despite the urgings of the FBI to postpone the event until the shooter is caught. Meanwhile, Archie is taking a jog through Riverdale, his thoughts also running through memories of his childhood & teenage years, as well as pondering the possible future he might have if he and his wife might one day have children.
Looking back on his past, Archie reflects on how he was always trying to decide between Betty and Veronica. And, yes, they were the two girls who always meant the most to him. There was the other occasional relationship, such as Cheryl Blossom or Valerie from The Pussycats. But in the end, for Archie, it always came back to Betty and Veronica. Those two were central to his life. Kupperberg, via a flashback to a young Archie and school principal Mr. Wetherbee, implies that it was finally making a choice between the two that was necessary for him to grow up and become an adult.
That night, at the Chocklit Shoppe, waiting for the fundraiser to being, Archie and his old pals Jughead and Reggie are pondering how much things have changed, and the possibilities of the future. It’s an interesting look at how, on one hand, these three have grown & matured over the course of the series and, on the other, how in certain respects they are still the same three goofballs that they’ve always been.
And then Kevin arrives, only for the gunman to reveal himself as the dishwasher at the Chocklit Shoppe. The FBI agents attempt to grab him, but are hindered by the large crowd. At which point Archie selflessly throws himself in front of Kevn, taking a bullet for him. Lying on the floor, bleeding, surrounded by Betty and Veronica, Archie gasps out “I’ve always loved you” before succumbing to his injuries.
Issue #36 is supposed to be set in both the “Archie Marries Veronica” and “Archie Marries Betty” realities, and Kupperberg does a good job at writing it in such a way that the events fit into each seamlessly. Archie’s demise, even though we know it is coming, is nevertheless still very effectively scripted, a very tragic moment. The artwork by pencilers Pat & Tim Kennedy and inker Jim Amash is very well done, giving Archie’s contemplations on life, and then the scene of his death, genuine drama and emotion.
Life With Archie #37, the final issue, is set one year later. Kevin Keller is preparing for a ceremony memorializing Archie. Since Kevin didn’t move to Riverdale until he was a teenager, he is speaking with those who knew him all his life, asking them to relate what sort of person he was. Principal Wetherbee, Hiram Lodge, Reggie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica reminisce on various times in the past Archie was someone who helped out people and was there as a friend when you needed him. We see that going all the way back to his childhood Archie, despite his moments of silliness and mischief, underneath it all was a stand-up guy.
Kupperberg’s script is simultaneously wistful and optimistic. Despite the sadness, his story is at heart a celebration of the joy of life, the importance of friendship, and the possibilities of the future. As Wetherbee himself comments at the memorial, “The order of the day is not to dwell on tragedy, but to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit.”
Once again, the team of Pat & Tim Kennedy and Jim Amash, this time working alongside penciler Fernando Ruiz and inker Gary Martin, do great work. They all superbly bring the characters to life, expertly telling the story and imbuing it with emotion and poignancy, as well as moments of real fun and hilarity.
Some might wonder why Archie Comics decided to bring Life With Archie to an end at the height of its success. But I think it was a good choice. There is something to be said with going out on a high note. After all, there are numerous long-running comic book characters who’ve had decades of continuous, unending stories without any resolution or closure that eventually end up retreading old ground. Additionally, in the “mainstream” Archie Comics titles, the Riverdale gang will always be teenagers. So it is nice to be able to find out what could happen to Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Jughead, and the rest of the cast as they grew up, a storyline that has a definitive ending.
As with the previous issue, Life With Archie #37 had several variant covers, all of which I liked. Of course I couldn’t pick up every single one. I decided to go with the cover by Jill Thompson . The creator of Scary Godmother drew a beautifully nostalgic piece that recreates some of the classic, iconic images of Archie Andrews’ life.
For those who missed out on Life With Archie during its original monthly run, the entire series is being collected in the Archie: The Married Life trade paperbacks. Archie Comics has four volumes out so far, which collects the series up to issue #24. According to Amazon, book five will be coming out at the end of August. I definitely recommend picking these up. The stories by Paul Kupperberg and his various artistic collaborators are well worth experiencing.