Archie Americana Series: The Best of the Seventies


By Frank Doyle, George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo, Samm Schwartz, Harry Lucey, Stan Goldberg & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN 978-1-87979-405-4

The monolith of wholesome fun that is Archie Comics had fully cemented its place in America’s popular culture scene by the 1960s. With the Youth Market an acknowledged commercial powerhouse, the red-haired archetype (and the company which created him) was known as much for animated TV shows, the pop single “Sugar, Sugar” and soon a chain of restaurants. Archie also totally dominated the comicbook humour market.

This volume – now also available as a digital download – collects a scant few of the stories from that decade; concentrating on fashions and fads such as Hot Pants, CB radio, Protest Movements, the Bicentennial, Disco, the advent of video games and even popular movie and TV sensations as well as the ever-widening divide between rebellious teens and oppressive adults.

It also delightfully shows the overwhelming power of good writing and brilliant art to captivate an audience of any age. Padding out this potently nostalgic package is a brace of House-ads from the period and a fulsome cover-gallery of iconic power and riotous wit.

The eternal verities are still in effect. Jughead Jones is still wise, weird and eternally hungry. The teachers at Riverdale High School are still hard-pressed and harassed. Archie Andrews is, as ever, that good-hearted, well-meaning boy lacking common sense. Betty Cooper is still the pretty, sensible girl next door, and glamorous Veronica Lodge is as rich, exotic and quixotic as ever, whilst the school and leisure antics of the broader cast are hip, engaging and hugely entertaining.

The eternal triangle and perfect laugh formula was first seen in 1941 and forms the basis of decades of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending comedy ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, and has never been better depicted than here.

Following a poetic Introduction from actress Shirley Jones, the merriment kicks off with

‘Protest’ (Life with Archie #93, January 1970) by Frank Doyle & Samm Schwartz, seeing an ever-more frantic Archie desperate to join the national wave of teen rebellion but unable to find anything to dissent over or anyone angry enough to march with him…

George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo & Rudy Lapick regale us with Riverdale’s response to daring new fashion must-have ‘Hot Pants’ in a wry observation from Laugh #248 (November 1971) after which ‘Decisions, Decision’ (Archie #214, December 1971, by Doyle, Harry Lucey & Marty Epp) deliciously reveals how that Archie-Betty-Veronica quandary keeps going…

The anonymously crafted ‘Bubble Trouble’ (Everything’s Archie #21, April 1972, possibly Stan Goldberg pencilling?) then reveals how the garage band The Archies disprove media accusations that they are merely a bubblegum rock band with the help of a certain legendary star of Rock ‘n’ Roll…

From Archie #217 (April 1972) by Doyle, Lucey & Epp comes ‘The Late Archie Andrews!’ as desperate Principal Mr. Weatherbee goes to outrageous lengths to get the unlucky red-head to school on time, before a quartet of cool covers bridge the gap until the wackiness resumes.

‘Patch Match’ (Betty & Veronica #198, June 1972, Gladir & DeCarlo) details how Betty monopolises that Andrews boy by offering to sew onto his jacket all the cool badges he’s been collecting. Veronica of course responds with all the wealth in her arsenal but still comes out second-best…

‘Loyalville, USA’ (Archie at Riverdale High #12 December 1973, Doyle, DeCarlo & Lapick) sees Betty and Archie help out the town’s worst memorabilia vendor whilst Gladir, Goldberg & Jon D’Agostino prove there’s ‘No Fuel Like an Old Fuel’ (Pep #296, December 1974) by finding a way to save gas during an energy crisis that nevertheless lands Archie and Jughead in a storm of trouble…

Probably the most affecting tale in this collection, ‘You Came a Long Way, Baby’ (Betty & Veronica #233, May 1975, by Doyle, DeCarlo & Lapick) dramatically teaches the condescending girls how much progress in gender equality old maid Miss Grundy has been responsible for at Riverdale High. Then sadly uncredited ‘Bicentennial Banter’ (Archie’s TV Laughout #36 December 1975) sees those same lasses girls teach the boys about the female contributions and the decisive roles played by women during the American Revolution as they rehearse for a commemorative school play…

Archie’s eager fondness for CB radio is detailed in ‘Over and Out’ (Archie #256, September 1976: Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Lapick) before more covers whet the palate for further fun which comes through an animal-free ‘Pet Parade’ (Everything’s Archie #57, June 1977).

Our gormless star naturally becomes ‘A Fool for Cool’ (Archie Giant Series/World of Archie #461 September 1977) after listening to bad advice and patterning his dating techniques on the Fonz from TV phenomenon Happy Days

Betty & Veronica #263 (November 1977) was the original home for Gladir & DeCarlo’s ‘Video Vexation’, with the girls losing their place as the boys’ abiding passion once Pop Tate installs a computer arcade system, after which Star Wars gets thoroughly spoofed in ‘Costume Caper’ (Reggie & Me #104, April 1978) with Lapick adding his inking sheen to Gladir & DeCarlo’s smart rib-tickler.

‘Melvin’s Angels’ (Betty & Veronica #277, January 1979) by Doyle, DeCarlo & Lapick then sees Betty & Veronica undertaking a bruising mission for a mystery man on a speaker phone before the glitzy glamour-era comics celebration concludes with ‘Disco Dude’ (Laugh #343 October 1979) as a big food prize entices slovenly slowpoke Jughead to show off his amazing dance moves. Of course, his cunning plan goes disastrously awry…

These charming and comfortable yarns are a gentle delight and a much neglected area of cartoon and graphic narrative. It would benefit us all to take another long look at what they have to offer. If only to see how far fashion has not come…
© 1970-1979, 1998 Archie Publications Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller


By Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski, Jack Morelli & Digikore Studios (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-87979-493-1 (HC)

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were one of many publishers to jump on the “mystery-man” bandwagon, concocting their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard mix of masked champions, two-fisted adventurers, prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) saw a gap in the blossoming yet crowded market and in December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, He-Man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far less imposing hero; an ordinary teenager having ordinary adventures just like the readership, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Goldwater developed the youthful everyman protagonist concept and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with making it work. Inspired by and referencing the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney, their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely fetching Betty Cooper. The boy’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that vignette, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. It was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began an inexorable transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946 the kids were in charge, and MLJ officially became Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies. The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating Jughead to assist or deter and scurrilous love-rat rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with fans but was infinitely fresh…

Archie’s success, like Superman’s, forced a change in content at every other publisher (except Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated) and created a culture-shifting multi-media brand which encompassed TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar – from the animated TV cartoon – became a global summer smash hit.

Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

The perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily, genial giant jock Big Moose and occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst many others), growing into an American institution and part of the American cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly and seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and over the decades the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a wide and refreshingly broad-minded scenario, and in 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle when openly gay student Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski (lettered by Jack Morelli and coloured by Digikore Studios), Kevin debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010). It was the first comicbook in the company’s long history to go into a second printing…

Also collected in this landmark debut compendium is the sequel tale from Veronica #205 and the 4-issue Kevin Keller miniseries which cemented the new star’s popularity.

It begins with context-establishing essay ‘Get to Know Kevin Keller’ before comic introductions are made in ‘Isn’t it Bro-Mantic’ as Veronica encounters a charming, good-looking and exceeding together lad who utterly bowls her over.

She is totally smitten with him even though he can out-eat human dustbin Jughead and loves sports. Although he inexplicably loves hanging out with the ghastly Jones boy she is determined to make him exclusively hers. Jughead is truly cool with his new pal, and he soon sees a way to pay Ronnie back for many of the mean things she has said and done over the years…

When Kevin finally explains to Veronica why she is wasting her time, she takes it well and soon they are hanging out as best buds. After all they have so much in common: chatting, stylish clothes, shopping, boys…

Immensely popular from the outset, Kevin struck a chord with the readership and returned a few months later in ‘The Buddy System’, with Veronica’s bombastic dad giving the perfect new student the all-clear to monopolise his daughter’s time. The following fun-filled days do have one major downside however, as poor Betty is increasingly neglected.

You’d think Archie would be jealous too, but he’s just glad that someone safe is keeping other guys away from his Ronnie. It seems the perfect scenario for everyone but Betty, but then man-hunting rich and entitled princess Cheryl Blossom hits town and puts everything back into perspective…

The guest shots rapidly evolved into a miniseries, expanding Kevin’s role whilst answering many questions about his past. It started with ‘Meet Kevin Keller’ where we learned he was an army brat, born in Britain but raised all over the world, and now lived in Riverdale with his dad (retired and invalided army colonel) Thomas, mum Kathy and feisty sisters Denise and Patty.

It also revealed he loved practical jokes as much as food and sports…

Whilst sharing these facts with Betty and Ronnie he also let slip some less impressive details: how he was a nerdy, braces-wearing late developer who was frequently the target of bullies…

‘The Write Stuff’ is set during the build-up to his father’s surprise birthday party and discloses how Kevin plans to serve in the army before becoming a journalist, whilst also showing the gentle hero’s darker side after he is compelled to intervene and stop the persecution of a young Riverdale student by bullies…

In ‘Let’s Get it Started’ the newcomer is ambushed and pressganged by his new friends into participating in a scholastic TV quiz show where his nerves almost get the better of him. Happily, Ronnie inadvertently breaks his paralysing stage-fright with a humiliating gaffe, but that’s just a palate cleanser for a potent object lesson in the concluding chapter…

As Kevin steps in to shelter and help one of the kids who used to torment him long ago, ‘Taking the Lead!’ also finds him reluctantly running for Class President at the insistent urging of Ronnie and the gang.

It’s not that he wants the position particularly, but when bigoted jock and star quarterback David Perkins starts a campaign based on intolerance, innuendo and intimidation, Kevin feels someone has to confront the smugly-macho, “real man” most popular boy in school…

And despite a smear campaign and dirty tactics any Presidential candidate would be proud of, truth, justice and decency win out…

This breezy and engaging collection concludes with ‘An Interview with Kevin Keller’ offering further background direct from the horse’s mouth and also includes a host of covers, variants and remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century star.

Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller is a superb, hilarious and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again.
© 2012 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jinx


By J. Torres, Rick Burchett & Terry Austin (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-93697-500-6 (HC)        : 978-1-87979-491-7 (PB)

Despite tremendous advances in the last decade or so, for most people, when we say comicbooks, thoughts either turn to outrageously buff men and women in garish tights or leather hitting each other and lobbing cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed at an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of already-confirmed fans.

For American comics these days that is indeed the norm. Over the years though (and throughout the rest of the world still), other forms and genres have continued to wax and wane.

One US company which has steadfastly held its ground against the tide over the decades – supported by a thriving spin-off TV and movie franchise – is a teen-comedy powerhouse which created a genre through the exploits of carrot-topped Archie Andrews and the two girls he could never choose between – Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.

For far too many years, other companies largely ignored the fact that girls read comics too and, in their frantic, slavish pursuit of the spandex dollar, lost half their potential audience. Girls simply found other ways to amuse themselves until, in the 1990s, the rise of manga painfully proved to comics publishers what Archie Comics had always known.

Ever since that pivotal moment Editors have attempted to recapture that vast missing market: creating worthy titles and imprints dedicated to material for the teen/young adult audience (since not all boys thrive on a steady diet of cosmic punch-ups and vengeful vigilantes) which had embraced European classics like Tintin and Asterix, manga material, momentous comics epics like Maus and Persepolis or the abundant and prolific prose serials which produced such pop phenomena as Twilight, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

Archie thrived by never abandoning its female readership and by constant reinvention of its core characters, seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages: shamelessly co-opting pop music, youth culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix (the company has managed to confront a number of major issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years), and the constant addition of timely characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and a host of others – such as spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom – all contributed to a broad and refreshingly broad-minded scenario.

There are non-sensationalised interracial romances, and in 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle for a family-entertainment medium with the rapturously well-received introduction of Kevin Keller; an openly gay and proud young man who was a clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream kids’ comics.

Where once cheap, prolific and ubiquitous, comics magazines in the 21st century are extremely cost-intensive and manufactured for a highly specific – and dwindling – niche market. Moreover the improbably beguiling and bombastic genres that originally fed and nurtured comicbooks are increasingly being supplanted by TV, movies and assorted interactive games media.

Happily, old-school prose publishers and the graphic novel industry have a different business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, so the magazine makers’ surrender has been turned into a burgeoning victory, as solid and reassuringly sturdy Comics-as-Books increasingly buck the slowly perishing pamphlet/papers trend.

Publishers like Archie…

Jinx was another barely-noticed landmark which saw one of the company’s venerable and long-lived child-stars given a stunning makeover and refit courtesy of a multi award-winning creative team.

Writer J. Torres (Teen Titans Go!, Degrassi: the Next Generation, Alison Dare, Days Like This, Lola – a Ghost Story and others) in conjunction with celebrated artists Rick Burchett (Batman Adventures, American Flagg!, Blackhawk, Black Hood) & Terry Austin (X-Men, Superman, Batman, Cloak and Dagger) are responsible for turning adorable six-year old tomboy Li’l Jinx into a genuine icon of, if not role-model for, modern teenaged girls in a style and manner at once astonishingly accessible and classically captivating.

If you qualify as an Ancient One like me, you might be familiar with precocious, feisty Li’l Jinx who debuted in Pep Comics #62 (cover-dated July 1947). Created by Joe Edwards, she debuted as the publisher began dropping superheroes such as the Shield and Black Hood to specialise in kid-friendly humour features. Over the coming decades she appeared in her own title, as well as Li’l Jinx Giant Laugh-Out and assorted anthologies such as Pep and Archie Giant Series Magazine.

Like Edwards’ own son, her birthday was on Halloween and the writer/artist put much of himself into the strip. A boisterous, basically decent, sports-loving, mischievous tyke (in the manner of our Minnie the Minx), when not romping, cavorting and tussling with other kid pals Gigi, Greg, Charley Hawse, Russ, Roz and Mort the Worry Wart, Jinx almost exclusively interacted with her long-suffering dad Hap Holliday.

Her mother was seldom seen. The kid’s Christian name is lost to history: apparently so screamingly embarrassing that to utter it was to invite battered ear drums and mangled limbs…

Li’l Jinx faded away gradually during the 1980s as fashionista-teenagers and Mutant Turtles supplanted the pesky kid characters in Archie’s increasingly “young adult” oriented stable.

Jinx Holliday was revived and given a thorough 21st century upgrade for a new serial in Life With Archie (#7-11, March-June 2011); a growing girl just starting big school. The former tomboy hadn’t lost all her rough edges though…

This volume collects the serialised story of her beginning the inescapable if deplorable process of becoming responsible – with all the scary changes that entails…

After a handy ‘Cast of Jinx’ page, the dramatic comedy (available in both paperback and hardcover editions) opens with 4-part tale ‘Little Jinx Grows up’ – as serialised in Life With Archie – with the nervous Californian 14-year old starting at Rose Valley High School where she immediately falls foul of draconian martinet Principal Mr. Vernon.

At least many of her oldest friends are starting too, but they all seem so changed and grown up since summer vacation…

As they settle in, Jinx is oblivious to the fact that more than one of the boys she used to wrestle and play football with now treat her differently…

She’s just starting to hate the place and its stupid rules when Greg points out the final straw: Freshman Baseball – in fact all her favourite sports – are for boys only. Former child model Gigi is typically smug about it, hinting again that it’s time Jinx began acting like a girl, but that only provokes the incensed tomboy to break another rule…

Everybody is talking about Jinx after she extremely publicly signs up for Football Tryouts, and neither a barracking from Mr. Vernon or some heavy-handed bullying of Greg by the senior Football squad can change her mind.

The Principal thinks he has the final word after making Jinx take a permission slip home to her dad, but after Hap Holliday absolutely refuses to let his little girl get crippled by teenaged Neanderthals, Jinx simple forges his signature…

The tryouts are a disaster, but at least Greg is honestly trying to help her. Surly Charley, however, delivers a tackle that results in her being stretchered off, and when dad is called to school all hell breaks loose…

While she’s grounded and recovering, BFF Roz starts dropping hints about Greg and romance, promptly going into snoopy overdrive when a mystery caller leaves a large bouquet of flowers…

For the first time Jinx realises High School is just one big stew of frustrated hormones which only adds to her worries. So preoccupied is she that, when Greg timidly asks her to a dance, she doesn’t realise what he’s saying and shoots him down without even noticing. The mystery flower-sender – covertly watching – does, however, and seethes…

Flustered, confused and determined to end the turmoil in her head, Jinx then ambushes and pre-emptively kisses Greg, but the result is something neither of them nor their secret stalker expected…

The grand gesture completely destabilises Jinx who goes into a spiral of angry depression and tetchy acting-up. Baffled Hap is hopeless to cope, and, with Halloween approaching, throws himself into organising her birthday costume party: a tradition they’ve enjoyed since she was a toddler. He has no idea how much his little girl has changed and that the prospect of a party sounds like torture to her…

And thus the scene is set for a showdown nobody will ever forget…

All dramatic foreboding aside, this clever, warm tale ends well and promises much more for the future. Smart, witty and intoxicatingly engaging, Jinx is a superb example of what can be accomplished in comics if you’re prepared to portray modern kids on their terms and address their issues and concerns.

Without ever resorting to overblown soap melodrama or angst-ridden teen clichés, Torres has delivered a believable cast of young friends who aren’t stupid or selfish, but simply trying to find their own tentative ways to maturity. The art by Burchett and Austin is semi-realistic and mesmerisingly effective.

This terrific turbulent tome includes many bonus features such as a ‘Football Pinup’, J. Torres’ thoughts and commentary on the story as described in ‘The Voice of Jinx’ and a fascinating, picture-packed peek behind the scenes in ‘The Concept Art of Jinx’.

More production secrets are revealed by Editor Suzannah Rowntree, describing how the project was conceived and created in ‘The Story of Teen Jinx’ and there’s even a smart selection of one-page Short Comics treats to wrap up the fun.

‘Fitting In’, ‘It’s Complicated’, ‘Frenemy of the State’, ‘The Dating Game’ and ‘Chat Fight’ all combine to prove that although they might be growing up, the cast are still kids at heart…

Compellingly funny, gently heart-warming and totally absorbingly, this book will resonate with kids and parents, offering genuine human interactions rather than repetitively manufactured atom-powered fistfights to hold your attention. It especially gives women a solid reason to give comics another try.

Sheer exuberant fun; perfectly crafted and utterly irresistible…
© 2012 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

New Crusaders Legacy


By Rich Buckler, Ian Flynn, Robert Kanigher, Stan Timmons, Alex Toth, Carmine Infantino, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers, Gray Morrow, Alec Niño, Tony DeZuñiga, Jerry Gaylord, Ben Bates, Alitha Martinez & many more (Red Circle/Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-22-8

In the dawning days of the comic book business, just after Superman and Batman began creating a new genre of storytelling, many publishers jumped onto the bandwagon and made their own bids for cash and glory. Many thrived and many more didn’t; now relished only as trivia by sad old blokes like me. Some few made it to an amorphous middle-ground: not forgotten, but certainly not household names either…

MLJ were one of the quickest publishers to jump on the Mystery-Man bandwagon, following the spectacular successes of the Man of Tomorrow with their own small yet inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad costumed crusaders, beginning in November 1939 with Blue Ribbon Comics. Soon followed by Top-Notch and Pep Comics, their content was the standard blend of two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels and, from #2 on, superheroes…

However, after only a few years Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater spotted a gap in the blossoming market and in December 1941 nudged aside their masked heroes and action strips to make room for a far less imposing hero; an “average teen” who would have ordinary adventures like the readers, but with triumphs, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 featured a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed goof who clearly took his lead from Mickey Rooney’s popular Andy Hardy matinee movies. Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. A 6-page tale introduced Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper as well as his unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones in their small-town utopia of Riverdale.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first solo-starring magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of wealthy, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comicbook industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (Superman being the first)…

By 1946 the kids had taken over, so MLJ renamed itself Archie Comics; retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like Superman’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV shows, movies, a chain of restaurants and even a global pop hit “Sugar, Sugar” (a tune from their animated show).

Nonetheless, the company had by this stage blazed through a rather impressive pantheon of mystery-men who would form the backbone of numerous future superhero revivals, most notably in the High-Camp/Marvel Explosion/Batman TV show-frenzied mid-60’s era…

The heroes impressively resurfaced under the company’s Red Circle imprint during the early days of the Direct Sales revolution of the 1980s, but after a strong initial showing, again failed to sustain the public’s attention. Archie let them lie fallow (except for occasional revivals and intermittent guest-shots in Archie titles) until 1991, when the company licensed its heroes to superhero specialists DC for a magically fun, all-ages iteration (and where’s that star-studded trade paperback collection, huh?!). Impact Comics was a vibrant, engaging and fun all-ages rethink that really should have been a huge hit but was again cruelly unsuccessful…

When the line folded in 1993 the characters returned to limbo until DC had one more crack at them in 2008, attempting to incorporate the Mighty Crusaders & Co into their own maturely angst-ridden and stridently dark continuity – with the usual overwhelming lack of success.

Recently the wanderers returned home to Archie for a superbly simplistic and winningly straightforward revival aimed squarely at old nostalgics and young kids reared on highly charged action/adventure cartoon shows: brimming with all the exuberant verve and wide-eyed honest ingenuity you’d expect from an outfit which has been pleasing kids for nearly seventy years.

Released initially online in May 2012 – followed by a traditional monthly print version that September – the first story-arc made it to full legitimacy with a thrill-packed trade paperback collection, equally welcoming to inveterate fanboys and eager newcomers alike.

The series introduced a new generation of legacy heroes rising from the ashes of their parents’ and guardians’ murders to become a team of teenaged gladiators carrying on the fight as the New Crusaders.

This collection supplements and follows on from that magical makeover: having new team mentor The Shield train the potential-filled juniors through the records of their predecessors. The stories included here come from those aforementioned 1980s Red Circle episodes; culled from the pages of Mighty Crusaders #1, 8, 9, The Fly #2, 4, 6, Blue Ribbon #3, 8, 14, The Comet #1 and Black Hood #2, spanning 1983-1985…

Following an engaging reintroduction and recap, current creative team Ian Flynn, Jerry Gaylord, Ben Bates & Alitha Martinez reveal how the grizzled, flag-draped veteran has trouble reaching his teenaged students until he begins treating them as individuals, and sharing past Crusaders’ cases.

Starting with personal recollections of his own early days as America’s first Patriotic superhero in ‘The Shield’ (from Mighty Crusaders #8, Marty Greim, Dick Ayers & Rich Buckler), Joe Higgins explains his active presence in the 21st century, leading into a recapitulation of the first Red Circle yarn.

‘Atlantis Rising’ comes from Mighty Crusaders #1, by Buckler & Frank Giacoia, which found psionic plunderer Brain Emperor and immortal antediluvian Eterno the Conqueror launching a multi-pronged attack on the world. They were countered by an army of costumed champions including the Golden Age Shield, Lancelot Strong the (other) Shield (for a while there were three different ones active at once), Fly and Fly-Girl, Jaguar, The Web, Black Hood and The Comet, who communally countered a global crime-wave and clobbered the villains’ giant killer robots…

This is followed by a modern interlude plus pin-up and data pages on Ralph Hardy AKA ‘The Jaguar’ before a potent vignette by Chas Ward & Carlos Vicatan from The Fly #4 reviews the animal-master’s Aztec origins and rebirth in ‘Renewal’

‘The Web’ offers the same data-page update for masked detective and criminologist John Raymond before ‘The Killing Hour’ (Blue Ribbon #14, by Stan Timmons, Lou Manna, Rex Lindsey & Chic Stone) sees the merely mortal manhunter join his brother-in-law the Jaguar in foiling a nuclear terrorism plot…

More modern pin-ups and data-pages reintroduce ‘The Comet’ before Bill DuBay, Jr., Carmine Infantino & Alec Niño reworked the original 1940’s origin tale by Jack Cole from Pep Comics #1 in 1940.

Reproduced from 1984’s The Comet #1, this chilling yarn detailed how an idealistic scientist became the most bloodthirsty hero of the Golden Age, with a body-count which made the Punisher look like a pantywaist…

The infomercial for ‘Steel Sterling’ precedes a wild and whimsical origin-retelling of the star-struck, super-strong “Man of Steel” by his 1940s scripter Robert Kanigher, illustrated with superb style by Louis Barreto & Tony DeZuñiga from Blue Ribbon #3, after which ‘Fly Girl’ gets star treatment in a brace of tales, augmented as always by the ubiquitous fact-folio.

‘A Woman’s Place’ by Buckler, Timmons, Adrian Gonzales & Ricardo Villagran (from The Fly #2) clears up an exceedingly sexist old-school extortion ring whilst ‘Faithfully Yours’ (Fly #6) saw her movie-star alter ego Kim Brand subjected to a chilling campaign of terror from a fan. Timmons, Buckler, Steve Ditko & Alan Kupperberg took just the right tone in what might be the first incidence of stalking in US comics…

‘Black Hood’ has no modern iteration in the New Crusaders. Still active in contemporary times, he did encounter the kids during their debut exploit and is phenomenally cool, so he gets a place here. Following the customary introductory lesson he appears in a gritty, Dirty Harry themed adventure (from Blue Ribbon #8 by Gray Morrow) as undercover cop – and latest convert – Kip Burland who sidesteps Due Process to save a kidnapped girl and ensure the conviction of crooks hiding behind the law. The gripping yarn also discloses the centuries-long justice-seeking tradition of “The Man of Mystery” …

That’s followed by a snippet from Rich Margopoulos, Kupperberg & Giacoia entitled ‘A Hero’s Rage’ wherein Kip discovers his uncle Matt (the Golden Age Black Hood) has been murdered and ditches his leather jacket and ski-mask in favour of the traditional costume before joining the Mighty Crusaders…

Without doubt the most engaging reprint in this collection and by itself well worth the price of admission is ‘The Fox’ from Black Hood #2. Written and drawn by the inimitable Alex Toth, this scintillating light-hearted period comedy-drama finds the devilish do-gooder in Morocco in 1948, embroiled with wealthy expatriate ex-boxer Cosmo Gilly who has no idea he’s become the target for assassination…

The recondite recollections surge to a climax with ‘Old Legends Never Die’ (Mighty Crusaders #9, by David M. Singer, Buckler & Ayers) as the first Shield is accused of excessive force and manslaughter when his 1940’s crime-fighting style seemingly results in the death of a thief he most forcefully apprehended. With Joe Higgins’ costumed friends in support but out of their depth in a courtroom, the convoluted history of the three heroes bearing his codename are unpicked during ‘The Trial of the Shield’ before the uncannily sinister truth is finally exposed…

Supplemented by a plentiful cover gallery and packed with the kind of ephemera that sends old Fights ‘n’ Tights fans into paroxysms of delight, I fear this is probably a book only the wide-eyed young and dedicated aged nostalgists could handle, but it is such a perfect artefact of the superhero genre I strongly urge anyone with a hankering for masked adventure and craving Costumed Dramas to give it a long look.
NEW CRUSADERS and RED CIRCLE COMICS ® ACP, Inc. © 2013 Archie Comics Publications. All rights reserved.

Archie vs. Predator


By Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski, Jason Millet & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-805-5

For nearly three-quarters of a century Archie Andrews has epitomised good, safe, wholesome fun, but inside the staid and stable company which shepherds his adventures there has always hidden an ingenious and deviously subversive element of mischief.

Family-friendly iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci-fi thrills and genre yarns have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s cleanest-cut teens since they launched as MLJ publications in the Golden Age’s dawning.

As you probably know by now, Archie has been around since 1941, spending most of those seven-plus decades chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle his every move…

As crafted over the decades by a legion of writers and artists who’ve skilfully logged innumerable stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small-town Riverdale, these timeless tales of decent, upstanding, fun-loving kids have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always looked to modern trends with which to expand upon their archetypal brief. In times past they have strengthened and cross-fertilised their stable of stars through a variety of team-ups such as Archie Meets the Punisher, Archie Meets Glee, Archie Meets Vampirella and Archie Meets Kiss, whilst every type of fashion-fad and youth-culture sensation have invariably been accommodated into and explored within the pages of the regular titles.

That willingness to dip traditional toes in unlikely waters led in 2015 to the publishers taking a bold and potentially controversial step which paid huge dividends and created another monster sales sensation…

The genesis of this most unlikely cross-fertilisation of franchises is explained in great detail and with a tremendous sense of “how did we get away with it?” in Roberto Aguirre Sacasa’s ‘Introduction’, but just in case you’re new to the other participant in all this…

Predators are an ancient alien species of trophy-taking sporting types who have visited the hotter parts of Earth for centuries, if not millennia. They are lone hunters who can turn invisible and resort to a terrifying selection of nasty weapons. They particularly like collecting skulls and spinal columns…

Predator was first seen in the eponymous movie from 1987 and started appearing in comic book extensions and continuations published by Dark Horse with the 4-issue miniseries Predator: Concrete Jungle (June 1989 to March 1990). It was followed by 22 further self-contained outings and numerous crossover clashes ranging from Batman and Superman to Judge Dredd and Tarzan, steadily keeping the franchise alive and kicking whilst the movie iteration waxed and waned…

This spectacularly eccentric yarn pulls off the peculiar and miraculous trick of creating a hilarious and scary family-friendly teen-slasher flick which begins ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ as all the young cast regulars head to Costa Rica for Spring Break and are having the time of their lives, until Betty and Veronica have a particularly vicious spat over Archie which leads to a spooky confrontation and a curse uttered over what might be an actual voodoo dagger.

Science-whiz Dilton is occupied with his telescope watching and everybody is blissfully unaware that they’ve piqued the attention of something patient, invisible and completely alien…

When they all head home they have no conception that some of their number are already trophies on a wall…

With the youngsters back in Riverdale Archie and his companions settle back into their routine but soon realise that something has followed them when a beloved adult is decapitated in plain sight. Soon the community is cut off and they are all waiting ‘To Live and Die in a Small Town’

Convinced their meddling with the occult has brought on the killing-spree, Betty and Veronica testily consult sorcerous expert Sabrina (the Teenage Witch) but that ends in another welter of scarlet and screaming and the first sighting of the thing from the stars…

Thing get grim and crazy as the rapidly depleting posse of teens meet the Government agents tasked with covertly countering the Predators but continue to fall until Dilton rolls out the weird science and Archie dons a ‘Full Metal Varsity Jacket’

Soon the beloved cast is down to the barest essentials and the last few resistors face their final curtain in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’

After a surprisingly gripping and gory conclusion that will astonish and delight everyone an ‘Afterword’ by series Editor Brendan Wright gives more insight into the impetus and creative process behind this inspired tale, but there are still plenty of treats in store.

Scripter Alexi de Campi also got to play with others creators’ toys in a series of Bonus Crossovers, which rounded out the comics issues. Here follow quirky, perky little one and two page vignettes such as the eerily satisfying ‘Sabrina Meets Hellboy’ with art and colours by Robert Hack, lettered by Clem Robins, and the fabulously bizarre ‘Li’l Archie and his Pals meet Itty Bitty Mask’ by Art Baltazar.

Philosophical and physical depths are plumbed as ‘Jughead meets Mind MGMT’ (Matt Kindt) and the girls have fun when ‘Josie and the Pussycats meet Finder’ illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil, with colours from Jenn Manley Lee and letters from the ubiquitous de Campi.

By all accounts, when news of this project got out an army of eager professionals clamoured to get involved. The miniseries offered a wealth of covers-&-variants – some scattered about and acting as chapter-breaks by Ruiz, Koslowski, Millet, Dan, Parent, Gisèle, Maria Victoria Robado and Andrew Pepoy. The rest are gathered in a massive Variant Cover Gallery displaying varying degrees of gore, whimsy and humour from Eric Powell, Francesco Francavilla, Colleen Coover, Darick Robertson with Millet, Pepoy with Millet, Dennis Calero, Patrick Spaziante, Robert Hack with Stephen Downer, Dustin Nguyen, Kelley Jones with Michelle Madsen, Paul Pope with Shay Plummer, Faith Erin Hicks with Cris Peter, Joe Quinones, Tim Seeley, Richard P. Clark, Ruiz with Anwar Hanano, Koslowski as full illustrator and even more.

Also on view are samples of ‘Promo Art’ prepared for the comics convention circuit and a large section of Ruiz’s developmental ‘Character Studies’ plus a feature on the ‘Art Process’ from rough pencils through to finished colour pages.

But wait, there’s still more as ‘Unused Covers’ offers eight final tantalising ideas which never made it off the drawing boards of Ruiz, Pepoy, Gisèle and Faith Erin Hicks.

This book is one of those “Pitch hooks” Hollywood producer types thrive by. All you need is the three word title and a graphic acronym to know whether you’ll love this yarn.

Archie Versus Predator….

AVP.

Another Victorious Pairing.

Astounding.
Visual.
Perfection.

Archie vs. Predator © 2015 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Archie™ and © 2015 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. Predator™ and © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All guest material ™ and © 2015 its creators or copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Archie’s Favorite Christmas Comics


By many and various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-80-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For All Good Girls & Boys Who’ve Been Nice This Year 9/10

As long-term readers might recall, my good lady wife and I have a family ritual we’re not ashamed to share with you. Every Christmas we barricade the doors, draw the shutters, stockpile munchies and stoke up the radiators before settling down with a huge pile of seasonal comics from yesteryear.

There’s a few older DC’s, loads of Disney’s and some British annuals, but the vast preponderance is Archie Comics. From the earliest days this too-often neglected comics institution has quite literally “owned Christmas” with a gloriously funny, charming, nostalgically sentimental barrage of cannily-crafted stories capturing the spirit of the season through a range of comicbooks running from Archie to Veronica, Betty to Sabrina and Jughead to Santa himself…

For most of us, when we say comicbooks people’s thoughts turn to buff men and women in garish tights hitting each other, bending lampposts and lobbing trees or cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed at an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans – and indeed that has been the norm of late.

Throughout the years though, other forms and genres have waxed and waned but one that has held its ground over the years – although almost completely migrated to television these days – is the genre of teen-comedy begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped, homely (at first just plain ugly) kid named Archie Andrews.

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following-up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the common blend of funny-book costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips, although Pep did make a little history with its first lead feature The Shield, who was the American industry’s first superhero to be clad in the flag (see America’s 1st Patriotic Hero: The Shield)

After initially revelling in the benefits of the Fights ‘N’ Tights game, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (MLJ, duh!) spotted a gap in their blossoming market and in December 1941 the costumed cavorters and two-fisted adventurers were gently nudged aside – just a fraction at first – by a wholesome, improbable and far-from-imposing new hero; an unremarkable (except, perhaps, for his teeth) teenager who would have ordinary adventures just like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Almost certainly inspired by the hugely popular Andy Hardy movies, Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. Their precocious new notion premiered in Pep #22: a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde girl next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely pretty Betty Cooper. The boy’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in the first story as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. It was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946 the kids were in charge, so MLJ became Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age to become, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies. The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating best bud Jughead Jones and scurrilous rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with the readership but was infinitely fresh…

Archie’s success, like Superman’s, forced a change in content at every other publisher (except perhaps Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated) and led to a multi-media brand which encompasses TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar – from the animated TV cartoon – became a global pop smash. Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

That Andrews boy is good-hearted, impetuous and lacking common sense, Betty his sensible, pretty girl next door who loves the ginger goof, and Veronica is rich, exotic and glamorous: only settling for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, is utterly unable to choose who or what he wants…

The unconventional, food-crazy Jughead is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for seven decades of funnybook magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

This eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily, genial giant jock Big Moose and aspiring comicbook cartoonist Chuck amongst many others) growing into an American institution and part of the nation’s cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly re-imagining its core archetypes; seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance. Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and, over the decades, the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner always both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom have contributed to a wide and appealingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle when openly gay Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream Kids’ comics.

One of the most effective tools in the company’s arsenal has been the never-failing appeal of the seasons and holiday traditions. In Riverdale it was always sunny enough to surf at the beach in summer and it always snowed at Christmas…

The Festive Season has never failed to produce great comics stories. DC especially have since their earliest days perennially embraced the magic of the holiday with a decades-long succession of stunning and sentimental Batman thrillers – as well as many other heroic team-ups incorporating Santa, Rudolph and all the rest.

Archie too started early and kept on producing year-end classics. The stories became so popular and eagerly anticipated that in 1954 the company created a specific title – Archie’s Christmas Stocking – to cater to the demand, even as it kept the winter months of its other periodicals stuffed with assorted tales of elves and snow and fine fellow-feeling…

This splendidly appealing, cheap-&-cheerful full-colour pocket-digest (as long as your pockets are both deep and strong), gathers and re-presents a superb selection of cool Yule extravaganzas of ancient and relatively recent vintages which begins, after jolly, informative Introduction ‘Christmas in Riverdale!’ from Paul Castiglia, with a selection from ‘The Early Years’.

It naturally kicks off with ‘Archie Andrews’ Christmas Story’ by Montana (from Jackpot Comics #7 1942) wherein our hapless boy wonder is even more obvious than usual and ends up with a surfeit of the same present from everybody he cares about. His antics to offload the unwanted extras lead to a painful comeuppance…

Also from 1942 and Montana, ‘The Case of the Missing Mistletoe’ debuted Archie #1, and found Archie and Jughead at loggerheads after unknowingly taking identical twins to a party whilst a few unchanging years later ‘Christmas Cheers’ (Pep Comics #46, 1944, by Harry Sahle, Ed Goggin & Ginger) saw the red-headed fool in deep trouble after losing his diligently deliberated present list – and all his savings…

The next two tales originate from Archie Giant Series #5, 1958, and are both by Dan DeCarlo, Rudy Lapick & Vincent DeCarlo, beginning with ‘Generous to a Fault’ wherein Betty and Veronica convince all the boys in town to elect the most “giving” among them from over the last year and instigate a major riot, whilst ‘Seasonal Smooch’ sees Reggie abusing mistletoe privileges with agonising consequences…

The theme of ‘Christmas Trees and Decorations’ opens with ‘A Christmas Tale’ (Life With Archie #33, 1965 by Frank Doyle, Bob White & Marty Epp) as arch-rivals Andrews and Mantle try to establish the manly pecking order by competing to cut down the best tree before ‘ ‘Tis the Season for Extreme Decorating’ (Betty & Veronica Spectacular #80 2007, by Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski, Barry Grossman & Jack Morelli) finds the distaff competitors succumbing to another bout of insane one-upmanship over who can spruce up and illuminate a home best…

When loaded Mr. Lodge hires ‘Tree Experts’ (Veronica #191, 2009 by Mike Pellowski, Parent, Jim Amash, Grossman & Morelli) to trim the Mansion’s huge pine, Archie’s wistful nostalgia produces a sentimental change of heart before ‘Price Clubbed’ (Archie Digest #248, 2008, Pellowski, Randy Elliott & Bob Smith) finds him and his own dad spending special time obtaining their tree. The chapter concludes with Betty & Veronica one-pager ‘Snow Flakes’ featuring some punishingly accurate satirical snowmen…

‘Gifts and Giving’ opens with a ‘Holiday Rush’ (Holiday Fun Digest #11 2006 from Pellowski, Tim Kennedy, Koslowski, Grossman & Morelli) as Betty and Veronica bemoan the early advent of Xmas overload, ‘Gift Exchange’ (Betty & Veronica #87 1965, Doyle, Dan & Vincent DeCarlo) then deals with the repercussions of the little rich girl giving her friends away – as presents – and ‘Christmas Misgivings’ (Veronica #60 1997, Barbara Slate, Jeff Shultz, Rudy Lapick, Grossman & Bill Yoshida) sees her friends reactions after they all sneak a peek in Ronnie’s shopping bags and reach all the wrong conclusions about who’s getting what…

‘Stamp of Approval’ (Archie Giant Series #6 1959 by Doyle, Dan DeCarlo, Lapick Sheldon Brodsky & Vincent DeCarlo) sees Betty obsessed with collecting Green Stamps to offset her regular lack of funds for presents whilst ‘Gift Exchange’ (Holiday Fun Digest #11 2006 by Pellowski, Tim Kennedy & Al Nickerson) finds Chuck and Big Moose inadvertently selecting perfect prezzies for their girlfriends by mixing up their purchases…

‘Snuggle Up’ (Betty & Veronica #244, 2009 by Parent, Shultz, Koslowski, Grossman & Morelli) then reveals how the loaded Lodge lass really feels about the hideous thing Archie got for her when left all alone…

‘Fit to be Yuletide’ (Jughead #125, by Craig Boldman, Rex Lindsey, Koslowski, Grossman & Morelli from 2000) follows snide sidekick Juggy as he goes to extraordinary lengths to find the perfect present for his arch-enemy Trula Twist after which selfish, conceited Reggie surprises everyone when they follow to see how he actually spends his holidays in ‘The Gift Horse Laugh!’ from Archie Digest #248, (2008 by Pellowski, Pat Kennedy & Ken Selig).

The next selection concentrates on ‘Playing Santa’, opening with ‘Wanted: Santa Claus’ (Archie and Me #26 from 1969, by Joe Edwards & Jon D’Agostino) wherein long-suffering School Principal Mr. Weatherbee pines for the annual dress-up role he claims to despise and ‘Santa Claws’ (Archie Digest #248, 2008 from Bill Golliher, Pat Kennedy & Amash) sees our red-headed loon deeply regretting accepting the opportunity to make extra cash by being the Santa in a pet shop.

Even more upset is the raven-haired rich girl when she inveigles the position of ‘Santa’s Little Helper’ (Veronica #176, 2007 Parent, Amash, Grossman & Teresa Davidson) to be near Archie yet ends up as elf assistant to a creepy stalker-nerd before enjoying a jumbo crop of jolly red fellows after announcing there’s a ‘Santa Shortage’ (Betty & Veronica #231, 2008 by Pellowski, Shultz & Al Milgrom) at a party for needy kids. The chapter concludes with a vivacious pin-up of ‘Veronica’s Christmas Card’

‘Santa and His Elves’ opens with ‘Playing Santa’ from Jughead & Friends Digest #35 (2010 by Pellowski, Fernando Ruiz, Milgrom, D’Agostino & Grossman) as a posse of pixies pressgang laconic young Mr. Jones into making the all-important delivery run as St. Nick is out of action, after which elfin Lisa seemingly spoils the Season of Giving with her new-fangled online ordering website to replace letters to Santa. Oddly, things work out fine anyway, as everyone gets ‘Surprise Presents’ (Archie Digest #248, 2008 by George Gladir, Shultz, Koslowski, Morelli & Grossman)…

‘Pizza and Good Cheer’ (Jughead’s Double Digest #145, 2009 from Pellowski, Ruiz, Nickerson, Morelli & Grossman) displays Jughead at his most engaging when the greedy goof wins a year’s worth of pies and hands them out to Riverdale’s destitute, unaware that the ever-watching little people have had a hand in his generous gesture…

This section then slapsticks to a sharp stop via a typically rambunctious pin-up of ‘Archie’s Christmas Card’

Jingles the Elf has been an Archie regular for decades and ‘Santa’s Sprites’ raids the archives for some of his best moments, beginning with first appearance ‘A Job for Jingles’ from Archie Giant Series #10 (1961 by Doyle, Dan DeCarlo, Lapick & Vincent DeCarlo) as the playful imp – who cannot be seen by adults – spends his day off just like any normal kid.

He resurfaced in ‘Return of Jingles’ (Archie Giant Series #20, 1963 by the same creative team) but found himself upstaged by a brace of his workbench associates who wanted to see for themselves how much fun humans have, but in ‘Season of Magic’ (Archie Giant Series #158, 1969, Doyle, White & Yoshida) Jingles met his puckish, pranksterish match when Reggie decided to teach him a lesson…

Perhaps it was in retaliation for ‘Treed’ (Archie Giant Series #150, 1968 Doyle, Al Hartley & Yoshida) wherein Jingles aided and abetted Archie in the yearly ritual of impressing Ronnie by chopping down a Christmas fir for the Lodge Mansion…

Rivalry resulted in sweet music in ‘Jingles Rocks’ (Archie & Friends #21, 2012 by Golliher, Lapick, Grossman & Yoshida) when the showy sprite tried out as lead singer in Archie’s band but had to make some radical wardrobe changes to be seen and heard by the over-21s…

Always adept at seeing issues from the female point of view, the editors soon added a feminine counterpart to Jingles; someone with the same magical powers and festive mission, but a bitter despised rival – and in a miniskirt…

‘Some Things Never Change’ (Betty & Veronica #156, 2001 by Kathleen Webb, Shultz & Henry Scarpelli) saw effusive Sugar Plum Fairy pop in for her annual visit only to find the too-cool kids already out of Christmas cheer. Her solution is carol singing…

Another year and Webb, Dan DeCarlo, Grossman & Yoshida crafted ‘Visions of a Sugar Plum’ (Betty & Veronica #108, 1997). Now it was the twinkly sprite who couldn’t catch the mood – until B & R convinced her to turn human-sized and come shopping. Everything was fine until hunky elf boyfriend Troll – the cause of her Yule blues – came to Riverdale to find her and made a lasting impression on the town’s available young ladies…

In ‘Tis the Season to be Jolly’ (Betty & Veronica #120, 1998, Webb, Dan DeCarlo, Alison Flood, Grossman & Yoshida) Sugar Plum brought flu-ridden Ronnie a stolen dose of Santa’s special pick-me-up – and the cure proved worse than the ailment – whilst in ‘She’s So Gifted’ (Veronica #191, 2009 by Parent & Amash) the fairy comforted our spoiled heiress after everybody decided to make presents and Ronnie found she had no talent for anything. At least that’s what she thought until Sugar Plum pointed out the obvious thing she’s overlooked…

Santa himself sent Sugar to sort out a depletion of seasonal cheer afflicting B & V in ‘The Gifted’ (Betty & Veronica #169, 2002 Webb, Shultz, Scarpelli, Yoshida &Grossman) whilst an all-out magic war broke out in Riverdale when ‘Holiday Watch’ (Betty & Veronica #244, 2009 by Parent, Shultz, Koslowski, Morelli & Grossman) saw the Fairy and Jingles vying for the young mortals’ attentions before ‘Jingles All the Way’ (Betty & Veronica Spectacular #86, 2009 by Parent, Koslowski, Rosario “Tito” Peña & Morelli) proves an old truism when the elfin enemies – thanks to Betty, Ronnie and Archie – are convinced to quit hissing and start kissing…

The merriment then concludes with manga-styled ‘The Naughty Clause’ (Archie #639, 2013 by Alex Segura, Gisele, Koslowski, Digikore Studios & Morelli) as Jingles takes the entire gang to the North Pole so Santa can give Reggie a little personal attitude adjustment…

‘Once upon a Yuletide’ focuses on the odder ends of Archie history with ‘A Children’s Story’ coming from The Adventures of Little Archie #29, (Winter 1963-64 by amazing one-man band Dexter Taylor) which see the little red-headed scamp entertain a lost Santa Claus from a strange other world whilst ‘Let it Snow’ (from Archie’s Weird Mysteries #18, 2002 by Paul Castiglia, Ruiz, Koslowski, Stephanie Vozzo & Vickie Williams) introduces a quartet of seasonal superheroes to while away a quiet night of tale-telling. The fanciful feast finishes with two half-page gag-fests starring Dan DeCarlo’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch enduring a ‘Hanging Hang-Up’ and experiencing ‘Foto Fun’

A selection of ‘Winter Wonderland’ escapades starts with ‘Ski-Cart Catastrophe’ from Laugh Comics #300 (1976, by George Gladir, Sal Amendola, D’Agostino, Grossman & Yoshida) wherein the lads covert a shopping cart into an idiot-powered ski-mobile, resulting in many pains for them and pained looks from the girls after which golden greats of slapstick Frank Doyle & Harry Lucey treat us to a ‘Slay Ride’ (Archie Giant Series #5, 1958) wherein Archie and a borrowed horse make much manic mischief in the Lodge Mansion…

‘Frosty Fairy Tales’ (Betty & Veronica #120, 1998 by Pellowski, Dan DeCarlo, Grossman & Yoshida) sees Betty get the good-looking guy – but not Archie – when she and Ronnie go skiing and it all concludes with a silent romantic interlude involving ‘Snowmobile Snuggles’

‘Holiday Party Time’ shows the gang at their best and worst starting with ‘Party Time’ (Betty & Veronica Double Digest #176, 2010 by Gladir, Shultz & D’Agostino) as Ronnie refuses to give up a long planned-for ball by merging it with a charity supper after her guests all decide to help the needy…

Her soiree for the town’s pets is much less of a hit with the ‘Party Dogs’ (Betty & Veronica #222, 2007, Gladir, Shultz & Milgrom) but some ‘Give and Take’ (Archie Digest #258, 2009, Parent, Amash & Grossman) turns a pot-luck shindig into the roaring success of the season. After voracious Jughead accidentally eats all the treats intended for Riverdale Orphanage he pulls out all the stops to ensure ‘The Party’ (Betty & Veronica Digest #189, 2009, Gladir, Shultz & D’Agostino, Morelli & Grossman) is still a howling hit…

Closing out this epic tome is a hearty heaping of ‘Christmas Spirit’ beginning with ‘You’re Cooked’ (Veronica #176, 2007 by Parent, Amash, Grossman& Teresa Davidson) as Betty teaches infamous Anti-chef Ronnie how to cook something festive – and Juggy descends like a locust – whilst ‘She Needs a Little Christmas’ (Betty & Veronica #132, 1999, Webb, Dan DeCarlo, Scarpelli, Grossman & Yoshida) finds him teaching the rich miss a few things about flaunting her wealth…

Ronnie’s social credibility takes a mortal hit when the true origin of the hyper-prestigious and ultra-exclusive Lodge family Christmas confection is revealed in ‘A Couple of Fruitcakes’ from Betty & Veronica #169 (2002 by Webb, Shultz & Scarpelli) and an impromptu sing-along turns into an inclusive town event in ‘Here We Come A-Caroling’ (Holiday Fun Digest #8, 2003, by Greg Crosby, Tim Kennedy, Lapick & Yoshida) before all the graphic good will pops to a stop with a deep dip into ‘Archie’s Holiday Fun Scrapbook’ (Holiday Fun Digest #12, 2007, by Parent) offering revealing glances at the Riverdale gang over many happy years.

These are perfect stories for young and old alike, crafted by a host of Santa’s most talented Helpers, epitomising the magic of the Season and celebrating the perfect wonder of timeless children’s storytelling. What kind of Grinch could not want this book in their kids’ stocking (from where it can most easily be borrowed)?
© 2014 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Mighty Crusaders: Origin of a Super-Team


By Jerry Siegel, Paul Reinman & various (Red Circle Productions/Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-87979-414-6

If you like your superheroes grim, gritty and ultra-serious you won’t like what follows, but honestly in the final analysis it’s not Chekhov or Shakespeare, just people in tights hitting each other, so why not lighten up and have a little fun…?

In the early days of the US comicbook biz, just after Superman and Batman ushered in a new genre of storytelling, a rash of publishers jumped onto the bandwagon and made their own bids for cash and glory. Many thrived and many more didn’t, relished only as trivia by sad old duffers like me. Some few made it to an amorphous middle-ground: not forgotten, but certainly not household names either…

MLJ were one of the quickest outfits to manufacture a mystery-man pantheon, following the spectacular successes of the Man of Tomorrow and Darknight Detective with their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders.

Beginning in November 1939 (one month after a little game-changer entitled Marvel Comics #1) with Blue Ribbon Comics #1 the MLJ content comprised a standard blend of two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels before, from #2 on, costumed heroes joined the mix.

The company rapidly followed up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. …

However, after only a few years Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming market and in December 1941 nudged aside their masked heroes and action strips to make room for a far less imposing hero; an “average teen” who would have ordinary adventures like the readers, but with triumphs, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep #22 (December 1941) featured a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed goof who took his lead from the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney. Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. The 6-page tale introduced Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper and his unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones in a small-town utopia called Riverdale.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first solo-star magazine and with it began a gradual transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comicbook industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (as influential, if not so all-pervasive, as Superman)…

By 1946 the kids had taken over, and MLJ renamed itself Archie Comics; retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like Superman’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV shows, movies, and a chain of restaurants. In the swinging sixties the pop hit “Sugar, Sugar” (a tune from their animated show) became a global smash: their wholesome garage band The Archies has been a fixture of the comics ever since.

Nonetheless the company had by this stage blazed through a rather impressive legion of costumed champions – such as The Shield; America’s first patriotic superhero who predated Captain America by 13 months.

A select core of these lost titans would communally form the backbone of numerous future superhero revivals, most notably during the “High-Camp”, “Marvel Explosion”, “Batmania” frenzied mid-60’s…

Archie Comics had tentatively tried a few new characters (Lancelot Strong: The Shield, The Fly and The Jaguar) when DC began bringing back masked mystery men in the late 1950’s with a modicum of success, and used the titles to cautiously revive some of their Golden Age stable in the early 1960s.

However, it wasn’t until superheroes became a Swinging Sixties global craze, fuelled as much by Marvel’s unstoppable rise as the Batman TV sensation, that the company committed to a full return of costumed craziness, albeit by what seemed to be mere slavish imitation…

They simply couldn’t take the venture seriously though and failed – or perhaps refused – to imbue the revitalised champions with drama and integrity to match the superficial zanyness. I suspect they just didn’t want to.

As harmless adventures for the younger audience the efforts of their “Radio Comics” imprint manifested a manic excitement and uniquely explosive charisma of their own, with the hyperbolic scripting of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel touching just the right note at exactly the right moment for a generation of kids…

It all began when The Fly (originally created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby) was renamed Fly-Man to milk the growing camp craze and began incorporating mini-revivals of forgotten heroes such as Shield, Comet and Black Hood in his highly imitative pages.

With the addition of already-well-established sidekick Fly-Girl, an oddly engaging, viable team was formed and for a couple of truly crazy years the company proceeded to rollout their entire defunct pantheon for an exotic effusion of multicoloured mayhem before fading back into obscurity…

Here, then, is a deliciously indulgent slice of sheer backward-looking bluster and bravado from 2003 when the House of Wholesome Fun compiled a selection of Silver Age appearances into a brace of slim – and still mostly overlooked – compilations.

The Mighty Crusaders: Origin of a Super-Team collects the three tenuous team-ups from Fly-Man #31-33 (May- July 1965) plus the first issue of spin-off Mighty Crusaders (November 1965) which finally launched the extremely quarrelsome champions as an official squad of evil eradicators…

The wacky wonderment begins with a history lesson and loving appreciation in a ‘Foreword by Michael Uslan and Robert Klein’ before those first eccentric inklings of a new sensation are re-revealed in Fly-Man #31.

As previously stated, Jerry Siegel provided baroquely bizarre, verbally florid scripts, deftly parodying contemporary storytelling memes of both Marvel and National/DC: plenty of pace, lots of fighting, a whirlwind of characters and increasingly outrageous expository dialogue.

The artist was veteran illustrator Paul Reinman who had been drawing comics since the dawning moments of the Golden Age. His credits included Green Lantern, Sargon the Sorcerer, Atom, Starman and Wildcat.

He drew The Whizzer, Sub-Mariner and Human Torch at Timely and for MLJ he produced strips in Blue Ribbon Comics, Hangman, Jackpot, Shield-Wizard, Top-Notch and Zip Comics on such early stars as Black Hood, the Hangman and the Wizard. He even found time to illustrate the Tarzan syndicated newspaper comic strip.

Reinman excelled at short genre tales for Atlas in the 1950s and became a key inker for Jack Kirby on the Hulk, Avengers and X-Men as the King irrevocably reshaped the nature of comics storytelling in the early 1960s.

Here he used all that Fights ‘n’ Tights experience to depict ‘The Fly-Man’s Partners in Peril’ as criminal mastermind The Spider (nee Spider Spry) broke out of jail to attack his old enemy, only to have all his cunning traps spoiled by alien-equipped tech-master The Comet and, in second chapter ‘Battle of the Super-Heroes’, by The Shield and man of mystery Black Hood (whose irrepressible sidekick at this time was a miraculous robotic horse dubbed “Nightmare”)…

Caustically christening his foes The Mighty Crusaders, the villain attempted to ensnare them all in ‘The Wicked Web of the Wily Spider!’ but ultimately failed in his plot. The story ended with the heroes hotly debating whether they should formally amalgamate and swearing that whatever occurred they would never call themselves by the name The Spider had coined…

Two months later they were back in Fly-Man #32 to battle an incredible psionic dictator from long-sunken Atlantis. With Fly-Girl adding glamour but unable to quell the boys’ argumentative natures, the still un-designated team clashed with the many monstrous manifestations of ‘Eterno the Tyrant’ before confronting the time-tossed terror and banishing him to trans-dimensional doom…

One final try-out appeared in Fly-Man #33 (September 1965) as boisterous bickering boiled over into outright internecine warfare between ‘Fly-Man’s Treacherous Team-Mates’, all ably assisted by the evil efforts of vile villain The Destructor.

The sort-of team had been recently joined by two further veteran heroes climbing back into the superhero saddle, but both The Hangman and The Wizard subsequently succumbed to rapacious greed as the Fly Guys gathered billions in confiscated loot; trying to steal the ill-gotten gains for themselves…

Finally in November 1965 Mighty Crusaders #1 premiered (by Siegel & Reinman with a little inking assistance from Joe Giella or perhaps Frank Giacoia?).

‘The Mighty Crusaders vs. the Brain Emperor’ saw the heroes bowing to the inevitable after a team of incredible aliens attacked at the bilious bidding of an extraterrestrial megamind who could enslave the most determined of individuals with the slightest wrinkling of his see-through brow. However the mental myrmidon was no match for the teamwork of Earth’s most experienced crime-crushers…

Also included in this captivating chronicle is a splendidly strange cover gallery by Reinman.

The heroes all but vanished in 1967 but impressively resurfaced in the 1980s (albeit as a straight dramatic iteration) under the company’s Red Circle imprint but again failed to catch a big enough share of the reading public’s attention.

Archie let them lie fallow – except for occasional revivals and intermittent guest-shots in regular Archie titles – until 1991, when the company licensed its heroes to superhero specialists DC Comics for a magically fun, all-ages iteration (and where’s that star-studded trade paperback collection, huh?!).

Impact Comics was a vibrant, engaging and fun all-ages rethink that really should have been a huge hit but was again incomprehensibly unsuccessful…

When the line folded in 1993 the characters returned to limbo until the company called for one more collaborative crack at the big time in 2008, briefly incorporating Mighty Crusaders & Co into DC’s own maturely angst-ridden and stridently dark continuity – with the usual overwhelming lack of success.

In 2012 Archie began reinventing their superhero credentials with a series of online adventures under the aegis of a revived Red Circle subdivision, beginning with a second generation of The Mighty Crusaders (reinforced by traditional monthly print versions six months later) and latterly The Fox: new costumed capers emphasising fun and action which were equally welcoming to inveterate fanboys and eager newcomers alike, so there’s still hope for the crazy gang to make good…

Jerry Siegel’s irreverent, anarchic pastiche of Marvel Comics’ house-style, utilising Archie’s aged pantheon of superheroes is one of the daftest and most entertaining moments of superhero history, and the sentiment and style of these tales has become the basis of much of modern kids animation, from Powerpuff Girls to Batman: Brave and the Bold to Despicable Me. That tells me these yarns urgently need to be reissued because at last the world is finally ready for them…

Weird, wild and utterly over the top! This is the perfect book for jaded veterans or wide-eyed neophytes in love with the very concept of costumed heroes…
© 1965, 2003 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Fox: Freak Magnet


By Dean Haspiel, Mark Waid, JM DeMatteis, Mike Cavallaro, Terry Austin & various (Red Circle Comics/Archie)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-93-8

In the early days of the US comicbook biz, just after Superman and Batman had ushered in a new genre of storytelling, a rash of publishers jumped onto the bandwagon and made their own bids for cash and glory.

Many thrived and many more didn’t, relished only as trivia by sad old blokes like me. Some few made it to an amorphous middle-ground: not forgotten, but certainly not household names either…

MLJ were one of the quickest outfits to pump out a mystery-man pantheon, following the spectacular successes of the Man of Tomorrow and Darknight Detective with their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders.

Beginning in November 1939 (one month after a little game-changer entitled Marvel Comics #1) with Blue Ribbon Comics #1: content comprising the standard blend of two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels and, from #2 on, costumed heroes. They rapidly followed up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. …

However, after only a few years Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming market and in December 1941 nudged aside their masked heroes and action strips to make room for a far less imposing hero; an “average teen” who would have ordinary adventures like the readers, but with triumphs, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep #22 (December 1941) featured a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed goof who took his lead from the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney. Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. The 6-page tale introduced Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper and his unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones in a small-town utopia called Riverdale.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first solo-star magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comicbook industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (as influential, if not so all-pervasive, as Superman)…

By 1946 the kids had taken over, and MLJ renamed itself Archie Comics; retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like Superman’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV shows, movies, and a chain of restaurants. In the swinging sixties the pop hit “Sugar, Sugar” (a tune from their animated show) became a global smash: their wholesome garage band The Archies has been a fixture of the comics ever since.

Nonetheless the company had by this stage blazed through a rather impressive legion of costumed champions (such as The Shield – America’s first patriotic superhero – predating Captain America by 13 months) who would form the backbone of numerous future superhero revivals, most notably during the High-Camp/Marvel Explosion/Batman TV show-frenzied mid-60’s…

The heroes impressively resurfaced in the 1980s under the company’s Red Circle imprint but again failed to catch enough public’s attention. Archie let them lie fallow – except for occasional revivals and intermittent guest-shots in regular Archie titles – until 1991, when the company licensed its heroes to superhero specialists DC for a magically fun, all-ages iteration (and where’s that star-studded trade paperback collection, huh?!).

Impact Comics was a vibrant, engaging and fun all-ages rethink that really should have been a huge hit but was again incomprehensibly unsuccessful…

When the line folded in 1993 the characters returned to limbo until the company had one more crack at them in 2008, briefly incorporating the Mighty Crusaders & Co into DC’s own maturely angst-ridden and stridently dark continuity – with the usual overwhelming lack of success.

In 2012 the company began reinventing their superhero credentials with a series of online adventures under the aegis of a revived Red Circle subdivision, beginning with The Mighty Crusaders (reinforced by traditional monthly print versions six months later): new costumed capers emphasising fun and action which were equally welcoming to inveterate fanboys and eager newcomers alike…

One of the company’s most tantalising and oddly appealing Golden Age second stringers was a notional Batman knockoff dubbed The Fox. Debuting in Blue Ribbon #4 (June 1940), ambitious, go-getting young photojournalist Paul Patton initially dressed up as a costumed crusader to get exclusive scoops before properly catching the hero-bug.

The strip was scripted by Joe Blair and drawn by Irwin Hasen (who apparently later recycled the timelessly elegant costume design for DC/All American’s Wildcat in January 1942’s Sensation Comics #1), running until #22 – March 1943 – after which the dark detective vanished until revived as a walk-on in Mighty Crusaders #4 (April 1966).

He was particularly well-served during a subsequent 1980s revival when visual narrative genius Alex Toth illustrated many of his new adventures and now the character – or rather his son – has been singled out for solo stardom in the most recent electronic Red Circle incarnation.

This superbly riotous collection collects the first story-arc and a few cool on-line extras which were published in 2013 as the sublimely witty and engaging action-romp The Fox: Freak Magnet #1-5.

As seen in the recent New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes, this Earth’s masked heroes were generally enjoying a well-deserved retirement in the idyllic little city of Red Circle, until they were tracked down and murdered by old foe The Brain Emperor.

Only elderly Joe Higgins was left to save their kids and heirs: shepherding them through a long-practised escape plan devised by the heroic Mighty Crusaders to safety and the eventual attainment of their true potentials as heroes in their own right…

Higgins was a lucky choice: the world’s first masked superman and a trusty Shield against all evil and injustice…

At first, all that has very little to do with Paul Patton Jr., who has voluntarily followed in his own father’s footsteps both as a photojournalist and masked mystery man for the same venal reasons only to discover that both jobs come at an inescapable price…

In his case trouble and insanity always finds him, so he might as well be dressed and ready for the occasions…

Following a Foreword by Mike Allred, the further adventures of The Fox – as imagined by plotter/artist Dean Haspiel and scripter Mark Waid – begin with ‘Freak Magnet part 1: Public Face’ as the reluctant the hero accidentally exposes the shady secret of the world’s most beautiful social media tycoon whilst on a cushy photo assignment.

The magnificent Lucy Fur seems to have everything going for her, but the Fox’s infallible gift for stumbling into unfortunate situations soon “outs” the beautiful siren as manic monster Madame Satan

No sooner has the Roguish Reynard despatched her than he is accosted by an extradimensional princess in distress and desperately requiring a few good men in ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’

The frantic Queen of Diamonds has already shanghaied a number of Earth’s greatest champions, sending them to save her beloved husband from the wicked Druid who has transformed him into a ravening monster. Now, however, short of power – and viable options – she has finally arrived at the merely human but extraordinarily lucky Patton…

Given no chance to refuse, the fed-up Fox is soon questing through a bizarre world, enduring horrific hallucinations (including his not-so-understanding wife Mae who infrequently suits-up as the sultry She-Fox) and a succession of marauding man-things. After he defeats a particularly big beast it reverts to the battered form of missing pulp hero Bob Phantom

That issue also began a back up serial by JM DeMatteis, Mike Cavallaro & Terry Austin.

‘Shield: The Face of Hate part 1 – A Very Cold War’ finds aged but still vital Joe Higgins in a bar recounting one of his WWII exploits…

Debuting way back when in Pep Comics #1, Higgins was an FBI scientist who devised a suit which gave him enhanced strength, speed and durability, battling the USA’s enemies as The Shield in the days before America entered WWII. He also devised a serum which enhanced those powers, smashing spies, saboteurs, subversives and every threat to Democracy and decency.

This particular old soldier’s yarn concerns a 1944 mission in Antarctica to crush an Axis super-weapon but which found him facing not just a legion of monsters but also his Nazi and Japanese counterparts Master Race and Hachiman

Chapter three of Freak Magnet resumed with Haspiel & Waid’s lucky lad wandering through ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ like a lycra-draped Indiana Jones in Dante’s Inferno; en route defeating and curing mutated monster Inferno, the Flame Breather before rescuing gun-toting vigilante The Marvel from a macabre torture chamber.

Unfortunately, once released, the Scourge of Gangland was a little traumatised and could no longer tell friend from foe…

Meanwhile back in World War II, ‘The Face of Hate part 2 – The Enemy of My Enemy’ (DeMatteis, Cavallaro & Austin) saw the sworn enemies’ three-way battle spiral into berserker rage until a grotesque horror jumped all three of them…

In the Diamond Dimension, whilst Inferno tackled a maddened Marvel, The Fox had to face the Queen’s ensorcelled husband in ‘The Voodoo You Do’ (Haspiel & Waid) until the nigh-omnipotent Druid took a personal hand. Happily at that moment the more-or-less dutiful wives appeared, the power of love and engagement rings having allowed the Queen and Mae to cross the dimensional divide and tip the scales.

With the Druid blasted to chunks Patton thought the madness had subsided for awhile… until the Diamond Ruler blasted the Earthlings home and he arrived alone in the Antarctic, dumped into another insanely dangerous situation…

‘Shield: The Face of Hate part 3 – A Mind of Shattered Glass’ (DeMatteis, Cavallaro & Austin) saw the hate-filled human foes swallow their feelings to unite in combat against an incredible predatory horror which had grown from a fragment of a far greater being destroyed in antiquity and scattered throughout the universe.

This entity fed on hate and planned to transform Earth into a world of monsters, but just as it completed its evolution into a new, much more malign and menacing Druid, a black clad, long-eared and annoyingly familiar figure materialised…

The time-tossed twin sagas combine for the epic conclusion ‘Freak Magnet: Future’s End’ (by DeMatteis & Haspiel) as Fox, Shield, Hachiman and Master Race strive together to save humanity and find themselves forever changed by the cosmic experience…

A fulsome ‘Afterword by Dean Haspiel’ is followed by one more comics treat as the effulgent everyman crafts a delicious and hilariously thrilling short yarn starring Paul Patten Jr. and explains his choice of cameras in ‘Epilogue: A Picture Lasts Forever’

This delightful exercise in reviving the fun-filled excitement of comics that don’t think they’re Shakespeare or Orwell also includes such extra inducements as a vast (23!) covers-&-variants gallery by Haspiel, Darwyn Cooke, Fiona Staples, Mike Norton, Allen Passalaqua, Paul Pope, Mike & Laura Allred, David Mack, Howard Chaykin, Jesus Aburto, Mike Cavallaro & Alex Toth as well as a fact-packed ‘Special Feature’ section revealing some of The Fox Files’.

Beginning with the lowdown on the cagy crusaders in ‘Origin of the Freak Magnet’ and ‘She-Fox: The Vivacious Vixen’ there is even room for bonus featurette ‘Red Circle Heroes: Extra Pulp’, offering character insights and publication histories on ‘Bob Phantom’, ‘Inferno’ and ‘The Marvel’.

And best yet, there’s a great big tantalising “To Be Continued…” page…

Full of vim and vigour, this phenomenal Will Eisner-inspired romp provides no-nonsense, outrageously emphatic superhero hijinks drenched in slick, smart, tried-&-true comicbook bombast and action which manages to feel brand-new whilst simultaneously remaining faithful to all the past iterations and re-imaginings of the assorted superheroes.

Fast, fulfilling and immediately addictive, The Fox might just be Archie’s long-awaited superhero superstar…

If you yearn for the uncomplicated fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights furore of your youth – whenever that was – this is a book you must not miss.
THE FOX ™ and RED CIRCLE COMICS ® ACP, Inc. The individual characters; names and likenesses are the exclusive trademarks of Archie Comics Publications, Inc. © 2014 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Afterlife With Archie Book 1


By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61988-908-8

For nearly three quarters of a century Archie Andrews has epitomised good, safe, wholesome fun but the company has always been a deviously subversive one.

Family friendly iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci fi thrills and genre yarns have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s clean-cut teens.

As you probably know by now, Archie has been around since 1941, spending most of those seventy-plus years chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle his every move…

As crafted over the decades by a legion of writers and artists who’ve skilfully created the stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small town of Riverdale, these timeless tales of decent, upstanding, fun-loving kids have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always looked to modern trends with which to expand upon their archetypal storytelling brief. In times past they have cross-fertilised their stable of stars through such unlikely team-ups as Archie Meets the Punisher, Archie Meets Glee, Archie Meets Vampirella or Archie Meets Kiss, whilst every type of fashion fad and youth culture sensation have invariably been accommodated into and explored within the pages of the regular titles.

In 2013 however the publishers took a bold and controversial step which paid huge dividends and created the biggest sales sensation in the company’s history.

It all began with a variant cover for Life With Archie #23 with illustrator Francesco Francavilla (Black Beetle, Zorro, Detective Comics, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy etc.) providing a moody spoof EC zombie graveyard scene. The variant was a sensation and cognitive cogs began to turn at the editorial offices…

When playwright, TV scripter and comicbook scribeRoberto Aguirre-Sacasa- whose many successes include Say You Love Satan, The Mystery Plays, 4: Marvel Knights Fantastic Four, Nightcrawler, Big Love, Sensational Spider-Man and Glee amongst others – got involved, it wasn’t long before a strange new enterprise was hatched.

Archie Comics is no stranger to horror titles. In the 1970s the company created the sub-imprint Red Circle for anthology terror tales during a supernatural boom time, before converting the line to superhero features as the decade progressed.

They even had a resident star-sorceress in Sabrina the Teenage Witch

However, whereas that venture was decidedly a newsstand project, the proposed 21st century endeavour took the company into uncharted waters.

When it was released, the 5-issue miniseries Afterlife With Archie was available solely through Direct Sales outlets and the first title in the company’s history to carry a parental advisory; “Rated Teen +”…

The sinister saga was an outright sensation, selling hugely and garnering phenomenal critical approval from sources as far-ranging as Salon, Fangoria, The Plain Dealer and NPR (National Public Radio) as well as all the usual comics review pundits. Each issue spawned further printings in a desperate race to keep up with demand…

I’m not going to dwell much on the plot, but suffice to say it doesn’t stray far from the time-honoured scenaria of the best sort of teen horror movies – minus the gratuitous sex and oafish dependence on guns – but it does hone all those tropes and memes to a superbly gripping point by inflicting them upon a beloved and intimately understood cast we all think we know…

It all starts one dark and ghastly midnight with Jughead hammering on the door of Sabrina’s house. A hit-and-run driver has killed the boy’s beloved pet Hot Dog and he needs her to bring him back…

Even with the arcane aid of her spooky eldritch elders the attempt fails, compelling the deeply moved Sabrina to try a spell she knows she should not and engendering for herself a most hideous punishment…

The next day, school starts out pretty much normal. Everyone is hyped about the upcoming Halloween Dance, although loud, obnoxious Reggie seems painfully preoccupied with some guilty secret and Juggie is absent…

Concerned, Archie stops in for a visit to find his friend in a bad way. The always voracious boy is weak and sickly and his arm is infected from a nasty bite. Hot Dog just sits far back in the dark under the house, growling and snarling…

That night at the Gym the party is in full swing with kids tricked out in all their innocent gory glory. As usual tensions are high between Betty and Veronica, Dilton and Chuck are furiously debating the merits of their favourite scary movies and Devil-May-Care Reggie is still acting strange…

Things take a dark turn once Jughead appears. His costume is amazing, like a scarecrow Zombie King. As yet nobody knows he’s already eaten one of the chaperones…

The shocking scenes soon start, and lifelong friends begin falling thick and fast. With no choice but to accept the impossible, Archie leads the stunned, surviving students to the fortress-like Lodge Mansion, with the inexorably growing army of infectious dead closely following…

With danger all around, tensions lead to many revelations, as years of suppressed feelings are finally exposed like raw nerves.

Although safe within the palatial citadel, the grieving Andrews boy needs to get out and discover what has happened to his parents and the rest of the town. As yet nobody is aware that one of the cowering kids is already carrying the unstoppable necromantic taint of the grave…

Bold, uncompromising, suspenseful, powerfully shocking and genuinely scary, this yarn is also astoundingly moving (there’s nobody more sentimental than a comicbook geek, but I’m not ashamed to admit that twice during this tale I teared up and had to reach for the tissues) as it takes a cast as familiar as your own family and puts them through hell and into damnation.

Literally nobody is safe and by the end of this first story-arc – comics fan or not – you will be gobsmacked and hungry for more.

Happily there is a Book 2…

This grim graphic grimoire also comes with an unholy host of extras beginning with the story behind the phenomenon in ‘Covers from the Darkside’ which talks about the genesis of the project, a full gallery of the 22 covers, variants and subsequent reprint covers by Francavilla, Tin Seeley, Andrew Pepoy, Tito Peña, Robert Hack and Jason Millet and is rounded off with ‘Sketches of the Dead’ which reproduces Francavilla’s glorious pencil layouts for much of the entire five chapter saga…

Dark gripping fun and one of the very best comicbook horror stories ever created, Afterlife With Archie is a brilliant experience no Funnybook Fan or Fear Aficionado should miss.

© 2014 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale


By Dan Parent & Rich Koslowski (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-23-5

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were one of many publishers to jump on the “mystery-man” bandwagon, concocting their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard mix of masked champions, two-fisted adventurers, prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) saw a gap in the blossoming but crowded market and in December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, He-Man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far from imposing hero; an ordinary teenager who would have ordinary adventures just like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Goldwater developed the concept of a youthful everyman protagonist and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work and, inspired by the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney, their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely pretty Betty Cooper. The boy’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in the first story as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. The little tale was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own title. Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began a slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946 the kids were in charge, so MLJ became Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies. The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating best bud Jughead and scurrilous rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with the readership but was infinitely fresh…

Archie’s success, like Superman’s, forced a change in content at every other publisher (except Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated) and created a culture-shifting multi-media brand which encompassed TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and, in the swinging sixties, a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar – from the animated TV cartoon – became a global summer smash hit.

Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

Archie is good-hearted, impetuous and lacking common sense, Betty his sensible, pretty girl next door who loves the ginger goof, and Veronica is rich, exotic and glamorous: only settling for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, is utterly unable to choose who or what he wants…

The unconventional, food-crazy Jughead is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for seven decades of funnybook magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

This perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily, genial giant jock Big Moose and occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst many others), growing into an American institution and part of the American cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly and seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and over the decades the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom contribute to a wide and refreshingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle when openly gay Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010), a charming, good looking and exceeding together lad who utterly bowled over the rich go-getter. She was totally smitten with him whilst he was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with Jughead…

When Kevin finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became his best buddy: after all they had a lot of common – stylish clothes, shopping and boys…

Immensely popular from the outset (Veronica #202 was the first comicbook in the company’s long history to go into a second printing), Kevin struck a chord with the readership and soon guest shots evolved into a miniseries before the new kid on the block inevitably won his own ongoing title.

Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale collects the first four issues of the groundbreaking solo monthly and opens with handy text feature ‘Kevin Keller: Catch up with the Characters’ reintroducing the bonny lad, his dad (retired army colonel) Thomas, mum Kathy and sisters Denise and Patty.

The feature also brings newcomers up to speed on recent history before the mirth and merriment begins with ‘There’s a First Time for Everything’ from issue #1 wherein the much-travelled Army Brat finally begins settling in at Riverdale High.

In short order he is elected Class President, has his first commercial writing published and reveals a shocking secret…

For all his accomplishments Kevin has never gone on a date, and when a certain someone asks him out he turns to Betty for some confidence-boosting advice. He isn’t a complete neophyte and has had a date before, but due to his catastrophic nervousness it turned into a complete disaster…

Unfortunately Reggie overhears their huddled conversation and the self-proclaimed romance expert elects to give Kevin the benefit of his vast experience…

The exuberant preparations turns into a catalogue of horror and as more well-meaning friends get involved it looks certain that Kevin will repeat that horrific experience. Happily a few stabilising words from love-hating Jughead and an eventful morning with the remarkably understanding Colonel Keller soon restore some necessary calm and equilibrium…

The next tale moves from straight slapstick to heartwarming empathy as Class President Kevin is asked to organise a prom in ‘May I Have this Dance?’ and discovers that he has a secret admirer. Once Veronica finds out it’s not a secret for long…

As the seventies-themed fashion disaster begins to take shape, further furtive communications reveal that the clandestine wooer is someone still not fully at ease with his gender orientation, forcing Kevin to be at his most understanding and forgiving…

Contentious themes and prejudices are tackled in ‘Stranded in Paradise’ when the summer vacation begins and Kevin gets a job as a lifeguard.

The beach is the time-honoured hangout of the Riverdale kids, but when spoiled princess Cheryl Blossom and her rich Pembroke School cronies invade the space, sparks soon fly. The grubby “Townies” are challenged to a surfing contest for possession of the sands with Kevin star competitor for the home team, but he has completely underestimated the vicious tactics of loathsome homophobe Sloan

The comics portion of this tome concludes with an international epic set at the 2012 London Olympics. ‘Games People Play’ sees Colonel Keller – who has dual British and American citizenship – invited to be a torchbearer.

Having spent four years in England, Kevin is delighted to be going back for a visit and reconnecting with old pal Brian. He doesn’t even mind when shopping-crazy Veronica inveigles an invite to join the family.

However when nominated runner Dad falls foul of London’s Underground at a crucial moment, Kevin is ready and more-or-less willing to step in for what appears to be the unluckiest and most dangerous section of the entire torch route…

Following a moving and appreciative ‘Afterword’ by Dan Parent there’s also a splendid section of ‘Official Kevin Keller Bonus Features’ including ‘Retro Fashion’ pages, ‘Kevin’s Prom Style’, ‘Kevin’s Summer Style with B & V’, ‘Kevin Keller & Friends Style’ and a triptych of ‘Unreleased Promotional Sketches’.

With a cover gallery that includes modern cartoon masterpieces and remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century star, this is an superb, hilarious and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…

© 2012 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.