New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes


By Ian Flynn, Ben Bates, Alitha Martinez & Gary Martin (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-31-0

In the dawning days of the comic book business, just after Superman and Batman had ushered in 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, 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 but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders, beginning in November 1939 with Blue Ribbon Comics, soon followed by Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard blend of two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels and, from #2 on, costumed heroes…

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 Comics #22 featured a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed goof who clearly took his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee 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 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-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 (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, 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 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…

The heroes impressively resurfaced in the 1980s under the company’s Red Circle imprint but again failed to catch the public’s attention and 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 cruelly unsuccessful…

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

Now at last the wanderers have 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 – and followed by a traditional monthly print version that September – the first story-arc even made it to full legitimacy in this thrill-packed collection, equally welcoming to inveterate fanboys and eager newcomers alike.

The first 6 issues collected here offer grand old-fashioned Costumed Drama and modern teen-targeted Fights ‘n’ Tights action that begins with the 2-part introduction ‘From the Ashes’ by Ian Flynn, Ben Bates & Gary Martin.

Red Circle is an idyllic, storybook American town – now. That wasn’t always the case however, and as Mayor Jack Sterling hosts a party for some very old friends and their kids in ‘Reunions’, that dark past horrifically resurfaces as the festivities are cancelled due to a murderous attack by a manic super-villain.

One minute Ralph Hardy, John Dickering and wife Thelma, John and Rose Raymond, Ted Tyler and Kim Brand are watching their respective teenagers mooching about and not getting along and the next they’re all dead at the hands of alien overlord the Brain Emperor

Only late arriving Joe Higgins is left to shepherd the kids from the burning Mayoral mansion, operating under a long-practised escape plan devised by the heroic Mighty Crusaders…

Debuting way back when in Pep Comics #1, January 1940, 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 WW II. He also devised a serum which enhanced those powers, smashing spies, saboteurs, subversives and every threat to Democracy and well-being. A minor sensation, he is credited as comics’ first Patriotic Hero, predating Captain America and Quality’s Uncle Sam in “wearing the Flag”.

In the sixties he and many of his lost cohorts returned to battle crime and craziness once more…

After accomplishing the impossible and wiping out super-crime he, Steel Sterling, Jaguar, Comet, The Web, Pow-Girl, Fireball and Fly Girl happily retired from action. Unable to settle or relax, Higgins became a virtual recluse and, as Evil Never Dies, laid contingency plans with his old comrades.

Now with all his nightmares come true, he sequesters the traumatised kids in his high-tech bunker and relates the truth about the seemingly dull-and-boring dearly departed in ‘Birthrights’.

The Red Circle tragedy is covered up by Federal spooks from the Military Logistics & Jurisdiction Bureau and dubbed a freak storm on the Impact City news, but orphans Johnny Sterling, Alex Tyler, Greg Dickering, Kelly Brand, Wyatt Raymond and Hardy’s young apprentice Ivette Velez know the truth. They just can’t come to grips with it.

Once Old Man Higgins had saved them from the monster-maniac, he locked them up in his subterranean wonderland – with the full approval of the MLJ – and started talking nonsense.

He claimed their folks were the world’s greatest superheroes and expects them to take up their identities and mission. It’s crazy and totally impossible to believe, but he has all kinds of evidence and gadgets in his bunker. There’s even a mutant talking monkey named Dusty, and somehow he makes more sense than his snarky, impatient boss…

It’s too much and the kids rebel, so Higgins lets them go. All they have to do is get out of the bunker alive…

The terrifying gauntlet proves to the shell-shocked teens that they are far from average and they elect to stay. ‘Legacies part 1: Growing Pains’ then describes the mandatory training process wherein the neophytes, through determination, pre-prepared inheritances, sheer dumb luck and rash stupidity become a second generation of heroes, privy to all the secrets and responsibilities of a world hidden from most of humanity.

Kelly is dispatched by Dusty (or Dr. Uruk Ak’ahk to give him his proper title) to a trans-dimensional space station operated by veteran Crusader Bob Phantom to pick up the alien gimmicks which will make her the new Fly Girl, whilst timid low-esteem-plagued Ivette is given the magical Jaguar Helmet of Ai Apaec, discovered by her boss Ralph Hardy and intended for her alone. However no-one realised it would put her into deadly contact with and at the mercy of a terrifying, possessive, savage lost god…

Puny Wyatt is as smart as his parents The Web and Pow-Girl ever were but has none of their physical gifts. A high-tech combat suit handles the muscle, speed and agility deficit, and the psionic power he’s hidden since infancy more than makes up for his lack of combat experience.

The real problems come with the three alpha-males. Impetuous and rebellious, Alex and Greg hastily misuse the serums intended to duplicate the pyrokinetic and lethal light-wielding power of Fireball and the Comet – nearly dying in the process – whilst Johnny just can’t bring himself to submit his perfect Jock’s body to the nasty nano-surgical procedure that will make him a second Steel  Sterling…

As ‘Legacies part 2: Inheritance’ (illustrated by new regular penciller Alitha Martinez) opens only Fly Girl is willing – or indeed able – to embrace her destiny, but fate takes charge as the implacable Brain Emperor strikes again, just as a poignant message from his departed dad inspires Johnny Sterling to take up the metallic mantle of a champion.

The Brain Emperor strikes in ‘Trial by Fire part 1’ raiding the penitentiary holding the original Crusaders’ greatest foes and causing a deadly ‘Jailbreak’ forcing the junior heroes and their aged tutor into action far too soon. Nevertheless, the kids do alright and the Cerebral Conqueror has made a crucial error: the prison held not only an army of vicious super-freaks but also three rogue heroes in special isolation.

The Black Hood, Hangman and Deadly Force are a remorseless Riot Squad just itching to get their merciless hands on more criminal scum ‘Caught in the Flames’

As the alien Emperor gathers selected villains for his next enterprise, the New Crusaders’ blistering trial by fire proves to be an education for all, but not every hero survives…

To Be Continued…

Full of vim and vigour, this no-nonsense superhero saga is a slick and smart return to tried-and-true comicbook bombast and action which manages to feel brand-new whilst somehow still remaining faithful to all of the many iterations and re-imaginings of the assorted superheroes – even the two produced in conjunction with DC Comics.

This delightful exercise in recapturing the straightforward excitement of a genre also includes such special features as a variant cover gallery by Bates, Mike Norton, Ryan Jampole & Matt Helms, ChrisCross & Thomas Mason, Sanford Greene, Rich Buckler, Francesco Francavilla and Fiona Staples plus bonus featurette ‘Dusty’s Files’ on ‘The Pitch’, ‘The Cast’, ‘The Braintrust’ (creators Ian Flynn & Ben Bates), ‘The Legacy’, ‘The Villains’ and ‘The Future’.

Fast, fulfilling and fun, New Crusaders might just be Archie’s long-awaited superhero “one that didn’t get away”…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications. All rights reserved. NEW CRUSADERS and RED CIRCLE COMICS ® ACP, Inc.

The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats: Archie & Friends All Stars Series volume 8


By Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-61-0

MLJ were a publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman with their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders, beginning in November 1939 with Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly followed by Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels.

After a few years Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. In December 1941 the costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips were nudged aside by a far less imposing hero, an “average teen” who would have ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee 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 six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ introduced goofy Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the 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 non-anthology 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 (Superman being the first).

By 1946 the kids had taken over, so the company 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 the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, a chain of restaurants and in the swinging sixties a pop hit as “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.

With such a successful format, naturally the company tried to add supplemental stars to their four-colour firmament, Wilbur Wilkins (1994), Suzie (1945), Ginger (1951) and Seymour, My Son (1963), with varying degrees of success. However another 1963 debut did catch and hold the readers attention. Her name was Josie and she was created by Dan DeCarlo as a veritable female clone of Archie.

With issue #45 (1967) the titian-haired ingénue and her best friend Melody formed a band and the title was changed to Josie and the Pussycats. Fame, stardom, a TV cartoon series, a major motion picture and two soundtrack albums later the band were only occasional visitors in the Archie universe until someone had a cunning idea…

Most of her supporting cast was introduced in the first issue, including best friend Pepper, boyfriend Albert… and Melody. Spoiled rich kids Alex and Alexandra Cabot soon joined the cast and the book changed its name with issue #45, and that it remained until the final issue in 1982.

One other fact about Archie’s publisher’s is that they certainly know how to create different publishing events that capture the attention of the general public – as anybody who saw the 1994 Archie Meets the Punisher inter-company crossover will attest…

The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats collects a storyline from 2009-2010 wherein ‘It Starts with a Kiss!’ as the two clean-living bands are signed to tour together, and our red-headed star and the Pussycats’ African-American bassist Valerie are drawn irresistibly together.

After a stolen kiss during a late-night song-writing session the attraction grows stronger in ‘More Than Words’ as hapless Archie tries to concentrate on his daily life – and Betty and Veronica – but can’t get Val off his mind. Moreover, the normally “sensible one” in Josie’s band is similarly distracted…

Luckily for all the tour soon ends and the girls are bound for Europe and a series of solo gigs, but the tearful farewell proves the attraction has grown into something far more serious. All the while the Pussycat’s rat-bag manager Alex Cabot has been trying to scotch the situation and now goes into overdrive in his scheming.

The 2-part ‘Love Smackdown!’ follows the separated and lovelorn Archie and Valerie as distance, daily drudgery, temptation and Alex all operate to keep them apart. After a misunderstanding leaves the couple acrimoniously separated forever events a new combined tour seems destined to rekindle the fire – but do Betty and Veronica want Archie for themselves or do they want him to be happy…?

Moreover, what’s the deal with Valerie’s old flame Declan McCord? He says he’s just a fill-in musician, but does the charismatic Celtic pop-star have plans to win Valerie back for himself…?

Star-crossed love and nigh-torrid melodrama combine with classic Riverdale slapstick in this delightful young romance that shows a burgeoning slice of maturity in the world’s favourite teenager (and don’t quibble: Justin Bieber has a limited shelf-life but Archie has been a teen heartthrob for seven decades) and the tale ends on a fascinating and intriguing open note…

This snazzy tome also has some impressive extra features including writer Dan Parent’s ‘Liner Notes’, full background and histories for The Archies and Josie and the Pussycats, and ‘Once More With Feeling’, 8 pages of penciller Bill Galvan’s art and unused covers reproduced before inkers Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash worked their own particular magic upon them.

All the world loves a lover, and this satisfyingly enticing down-to-earth comedy-drama is a solid example of the kind of comics there just aren’t enough of these days. Remember, “Superheroes aren’t the only fruit” – despite all the tights and stuff…

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie New Look Series Book 5: Goodbye Forever


By Melanie J. Morgan & Norm Breyfogle (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-63-4

For most of us, when we say comicbooks, people’s thoughts turn to buff men and women in garish tights hitting each other and lobbing trees or cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans – and 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 waxed and waned.

However one company has held its ground against the tide over the years – although probably better known for its spun-off television/movie franchise – is the teen-comedy genre begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped kid named Archie Andrews and the two girls he can’t choose between – Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.

Archie has thrived by constantly reinventing its core characters, 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 (the company has managed to confront a number of social issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years) and the constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck – who wants to be a cartoonist – 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.

In 2010 Archie even jumped the final hurdle for the family-entertainment medium with the introduction of Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and a clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream kids comics, but he was far from the only innovation.

In 2007 the company tried a risky experiment when they began a series of short serials in the pages of their various publications, featuring the regular cast in a far more realistically rendered manner rather than the gloriously utilitarian and trademarked loose cartoon style pioneered by Bob Montana in Pep Comics (beginning with #22 in 1941, reprinted in Archie: Best of the Forties) and honed to perfection by such unsung geniuses as Bob Bolling, Dan DeCarlo, Joe Edwards, Samm Schwartz, Bill Vigoda and the legendary Harry Lucey.

More importantly they moved away from the broad and outrageous slapstick and whimsical comedy by testing out a mildly soap-operatic sitcom flavour and social issues in tune with contemporary teens of the post MTV generation.

I thought it was a terrible idea – but I was quite wrong…

Not that there weren’t some obvious problems. Most tellingly, if you draw Archie Andrews more realistically what you get is Jimmy Olsen and it’s also really hard to see what hotties like Betty and especially billionaire’s daughter Veronica find so appealing about such a clumsy if well-meaning doofus…

Nonetheless the occasional adventures continued for a couple of years, all scripted by Melanie J. Morgan and illustrated by some of mainstream superhero comics’ most accomplished artists, including Steven Butler, Al Milgrom, Joe Staton, Tod Smith, Rich Burchett and Terry Austin.

This fifth collected yarn (which was first printed in Archie’s Double Digest #200-203, July-November 2009) is drawn by the superb Norm Breyfogle and highlights the biggest disaster that ever hit the happy community of Riverdale; a drama likely to break the hearts of both Betty and Veronica. After years of making do and getting by, Archie’s dad finally gets the promotion he’s always deserved, but the glad tidings have a bitter sting.

If he accepts it means uprooting the entire family from their small town roots and relocating to the big and very different city of Martinsville…

Of course they must go and Archie’s friends and loved ones have to face the fact that within a month he will be nothing but a memory. Idyllic little Riverdale will never be the same again…

Of course it all works out in the end, but while it’s happening there’s a very impressive sense of panic, injustice and loss. If kid’s soaps and dramas were this well produced I’d read less and watch a lot more TV…

Ultimately though, the experimental tales were discontinued and the beautifully garish cartoon universe resumed, as it has for nearly seventy years. Still and all I must admit that I rather enjoyed this “alternate world” of Archie despite all my initial misgivings and since there’s so little comics material for the older kid’s market maybe the company might want to try again – just next time not with my immortal, unchanging legendary freckle-faced fool…

© 2011 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Betty and Veronica Storybook: Archie & Friends All-Stars Series volume 7


By Dan Parent, Rick Koslowski & Jim Amash (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-60-3

Archie Andrews has been around for nearly seventy years: a good-hearted lad lacking common sense and Betty Cooper the pretty, sensible girl next door, with all that entails, who loves the ginger goof. Veronica Lodge is a rich, exotic and glamorous debutante who only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Despite their rivalry, Betty and Veronica are firm friends. Archie, of course, can’t decide who or what he wants…

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones 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 (+ one) has been the foundation of decades of cartoon magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

In this collection, reprinting tales from 1995-2009, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are plunged deep into whimsy and fable as writer/artist Dan Parent reinterprets classic fairytales and popular classics like a New World Crackerjack Christmas Panto (and boy, will that reference baffle anybody not British and/or under thirty), providing wry and often outright hilarious takes on the eternal nature and magic of young love…

Dotted with funny fashion page pin-ups such as ‘Storybook Style’ and ‘Bewitching Beauties’, lovely cover reproductions and behind-the-scenes commentaries, the wild whimsy begins with ‘Betty in Wonderland’ (inked by Jim Amash) wherein the ever-helpful Miss Cooper gives up a date with Archie to babysit for a neighbour in need. Letting her imagination run wild, her bedtime reading of the Lewis Carroll classic repopulates the tale with some very familiar faces…

Especially effective are science nerd Dilton as the sagacious caterpillar and Jughead and mean Reggie as Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. However picturing Veronica as the vicious Blood-red Queen of Hearts might have been a little too close to the truth…

‘Sleeping Betty’ is another enchanting retelling as baby Princess Betty is cursed by the evil fairy Veronica to fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday. To thwart the hex the little princess was sent away to be raised in secret, but Veronica’s reach is long… Luckily there’s a red-headed prince hanging around…

‘There’s No Place Like… Riverdale’ (inked by Rich Koslowski) transports Betty and her little cat Carmel to a fantastic land over the rainbow where she lucks into some highly desirable Ruby Sneakers. To get home she needs unconventional help in the unappealing shapes of Archie the Scarecrow, Tin Man Jughead and the Cowardly Reggie, so it’s a good thing that Veronica is less a Wicked Witch and more a sorcerous spoiled brat…

The last tale in this collection is ‘Cinderellas’ (Amash inks again) as both girls find themselves helpless drudges working for an evil new mom and dreaming of a prince to whisk them away. Despite the sabotaging antics of mean stepsister Cheryl Blossom and a pretty second-rate Fairy Godmother, Cideronica and Cinderbetty overcome all odds and go to the Ball. In the slipper-sampling aftermath, thanks to some deft plotting, both girls get a happy ending…

Charming and clever, these tales are a marvellous example of why Archie has been unsurpassed in this genre; providing decades of family friendly fun and wholesome teen entertainment. Moreover, aspiring creators will also delight in the closing Sketch Book section of this collection which provides a fascinating glimpse of Parent’s original pencilled art in 9 pages culled from the preceding stories.

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie American Series: Best of the Eighties volume 2


By Frank Doyle, George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo, Stan Goldberg & various (Archie Comics Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-58-0

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

For many years however, other forms and genres have waxed and waned, but one that has held its ground over the years – although almost now completely transferred to television – is the teen-comedy genre 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 wholeheartedly onto the superhero bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the common blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips and one-off gags. Pep made history with its lead feature The Shield, who was the industry’s first super-hero to be clad in the flag (see America’s First Patriotic Hero: The Shield).

Even while profiting from the Fights ‘N’ Tights crowd Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market and in December 1941 the action strips were supplemented by a wholesome ordinary hero; an “average teen” who had ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick heavily emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a wholesome youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. It all started with an innocuous six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ which introduced boy-goofball Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the small-town utopia of Riverdale.

It was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had graduated to its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and began the slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Phenomenon (Superman being the first).

By May 1946 the kids had taken over, and the company 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 the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, pop-songs and even a chain of restaurants.

Those costumed cut-ups have returned on occasion (see High Camp Superheroes), but the company now seems content to license them to DC whilst they concentrate on what they do uniquely best.

Archie is a good-hearted lad lacking common sense, Betty the pretty, sensible girl next door, with all that entails, who loves the ginger goof. Veronica Lodge is rich, exotic and glamorous and only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, can’t decide who or what he wants…

This family-friendly eternal triangle has been the basis of seventy years of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending comedy encompassing everything from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, as the kids and an increasing cast of friends grew into an American institution. Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones 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 decades of comics magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Archie has thrived by constantly reinventing its core characters, 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 (the company has managed to confront a number of social issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years) and the constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck – who wants to be a cartoonist – 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. In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle with Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and a clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream kids comics.

This second 1980s compendium collects a few further gems from the Era of Excess: Big Hair, make-up for Men, synth-pop music, Fashion Victims and Fad madness all playing heavily to the crowd and playing very funnily indeed. After an introduction from Glenn Scarpelli, (son of comic artist Henry and himself a recovering child-star of an Eighties sit-com) the merriment commences with ‘Health Nuts’ (from Betty & Veronica #302, February 1981) by Frank Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Rudy Lapick wherein spoiled Veronica pops into the new ultra-swish Health Club to be stylish, but receives a rather destabilising shock after which ‘A Zest for the West’ (Pep #374, June 1981, George Gladir, Stan Goldberg & Bill Yoshida) finds school principal Mr. Weatherbee railing in vain against the inexorable tide of cowboy fashions following America’s rediscovery of all things Country and Western…

Video games and especially Mall Games Arcades began seducing kids at this time and ‘Test Zest’ (Betty & Veronica #312, December 1981 by Gladir & Dan DeCarlo Jr.) found Archie ignoring both his dream-dates for the bleeping boxes. However, where Ronnie spits and pouts, Betty found a way to turn the situation to her advantage, whilst Jughead proved that old-fashioned cunning beats speed, coordination and practise every time in ‘Game Acclaim’ from Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #162 (January 1983 by Gladir, Goldberg & Rudy Lapick).

Another modern mainstay just beginning to proliferate was computers and Mr. Weatherbee made a grave mistake in ‘Input and Output’ (Archie & Me #140, August 1983, Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Jimmy DeCarlo) when he let that Andrews boy program the school’s first ever bit of kit…

Stories regularly spoofed popular movies, TV shows and bands and in ‘Scheme Scamp’ (Archie #327, January 1984, by Gladir & DeCarlo Jr.) our hero and scurvy rich-kid rival Reggie battled long and hard to secure an interview for the school paper with hot girl band “the Ga-Ga’s” (don’t make me feel even older by having to explain the pun…)

After ‘Krazy Knits’ a pin-up of the Boys of Riverdale modelling chunky sweaters by Dan Decarlo Jr., ‘Cable Caboodle’ (Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #171, September 1984, Gladir & Goldberg) described the joys and pitfalls of the cable TV revolution, and the subsequent ‘A Flair for Wear’ from Everything’s Archie #116, March 1985 by Gladir & Goldberg, found occasional bubblegum pop-stars The Archies (remember the global hit “Sugar, Sugar” in 1969 – well that was technically them) making their first promotional video…

Still focusing on the music scene the Archies support King of Pop Jackie Maxon (think about it: he has sparkly clothes and weird pets) and end up trying to keep his diary out of the hands of sleazy reporters in ‘The Book’ (Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #100, April 1985, Gladir, Goldberg & Lapick) whilst ‘Fashion Frolic’ (Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #176, July 1985, Gladir, Hy Eisman & Jon D’Agostino) saw Mr. Weatherbee trying to quell the outrageous clothes the kids in the cliques were wearing to class.

‘Dimrider’ (Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #102, August 1985) by Ed Berdej, Dan & James DeCarlo lambasted action blockbusters with chilling accuracy whilst ‘Delightful Dilemma’ (Archie Giant Series #550, August 1985 by Gladir, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & James DeCarlo) returned to the basics of Betty and Veronica duelling over their oblivious “Archie-kins”.

‘Rock ‘n’ Rassle’ from Everything’s Archie #120 (November 1985, Gladir, Goldberg & Sal Trapani) referenced the revitalised, ultra-glamourised “sport” of televised wrestling and Punk hit Riverdale High hard in ‘Out of the Ordinary’ (Archie #354, January 1988 by Nate Butler, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & Jim DeCarlo) when our feckless star fell for leather-studded bad-girl Tina, leading to a startling new look for the freckle-faced fool…

Movie madness once more inspired mockery and mirth in ‘Robo-Teen’ (Laugh #13, April 1989, Gladir, Rex Lindsey & D’Agostino) as Archie suffered a tragic ski-boarding mishap before ‘Shlock Rock’ (Everything’s Archie #143, June 1989 by Gladir, Goldberg & Lapick) wraps up the reminiscent drollery with a barbed satire on the budding MTV generation.

These are some of the most effective and impressive stories from that brutal, bizarre decade, and by always concentrating on fashions, fads, and the eternal divide between rebellious teens and fun-thwarting adults achieves a kind of timeless permanence. Then is still now, due in large part to the overwhelming power of good writing and brilliant art, which will always captivate any audience of any age.

This is gentle fun and charming nostalgic delight for all ages so what are you waiting for? It’s not like it costs “Loadsamoney!”

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie & Friends All-Stars: Christmas Stocking


By Dan Parent & various (Archie Comics Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-57-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for all the Good little girls and Boys who deserve something extra-special this year 8/10

My good lady wife and I have a peculiar ritual that I’m not ashamed to share with you. Every Christmas we lock the doors, draw the shutters and stoke up the radiators before settling down with a huge pile of seasonal comics from yesteryear. There’s a few DC’s, a bunch of Disneys and some British annuals, but the huge preponderance is Archie Comics. From the 1950s onwards this seldom-mentioned comics institution has quite literally “owned Christmas” with a gloriously funny, charming, nostalgically sentimental barrage of perfect stories capturing the spirit of the season throughout 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 and lobbing trees or cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans – and indeed that has been the prolific 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 – is the teen-comedy genre 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 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 some history with its lead feature The Shield, who was the industry’s first super-hero to be clad in the flag (see America’s 1st Patriotic Hero: The Shield)

After initially profiting from the Fights ‘N’ Tights crowd Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) were quick to spot a gap in their blossoming market. In December 1941 the costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips were supplemented by a wholesome ordinary hero, an “average teen” who would have ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a wholesome youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. It all started with an innocuous six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ which introduced boy-goofball Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the small-town utopia of Riverdale.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had graduated to its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Phenomenon (Superman being the first).

By May 1946 the kids had taken over, so the company 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 the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, pop-songs and even a chain of restaurants.

Those costumed cut-ups have returned on occasion (see High Camp Superheroes), but the company now seems content to simply license them to DC whilst they concentrate on what they do uniquely best.

Archie is a well-meaning boy but lacks common sense. Betty is the pretty, sensible girl next door, with all that entails, and she loves Archie. Veronica is rich, exotic and glamorous; she only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him, though. Archie, typically, can’t decide who or what he wants…

This family-friendly eternal triangle has been the basis of nearly seventy years of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending comedy encompassing everything from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, as the kids and an increasing cast of friends grew into an American institution. So pervasive is the imagery that it’s a part of Americana itself. Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the battalion of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones 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 (+ one) has the foundation of decades of comics magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

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

Archie Comics has always looked to new formats for their material and this volume is the sixth in a line of albums blending old with new and capitalising on the growing popularity of graphic novels. This sparkling volume collects some of the best Christmas stories of recent years as well as an all-original Yule adventure which delightfully shows the overwhelming power of good writing and brilliant art to captivate an audience of any age.

Beginning with ‘Have Yourself a Cheryl Little Christmas’, this volume sees the gang head off en masse for a winter break, not knowing that Queen of Mean Cheryl Blossom is intending to spoil all their fun. Luckily the ever-vigilant Santa knows who’s going to be naughty or nice and dispatches his top agent Jingles the Elf (an Archie regular for decades) to foil her plans…

‘The Night Before Christmas’ adapts the perennial 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” attributed to Clement Clarke Moore into a handy introduction to the Riverdale stars before culminating in a clever and heart-warming family moment for Archie and his long-suffering parents, whilst Jughead’s family take centre-stage in the mini-miracle ‘Playing Santa’.

The stresses of having two girlfriends finally overcomes Archie in ‘A Not-So-Cool Yule’ whilst Veronica’s hard-pressed dad once more gets the short end of the stick in ‘Santa Cause’ before the rivals Betty & Veronica succumb to another bout of insane competition in ‘Tis the Season For… Extreme Decorating’.

That darned elf returns in ‘Jingles All the Way’ trying to pry Archie out from under Betty & Veronica’s shapely thumbs, but faces unexpected opposition from that pixie hottie Sugar Plum the Yule Fairy, and we get a glimpse of the kids’ earliest experiences when Betty digs out her diary for a delightful trip ‘Down Memory Lane’ after which this sparkling comic bauble concludes with another tale based on that inescapable ode in ‘The Nite Before X-Mas!’

These are perfect stories for young and old alike, crafted by those talented Santa’s Helpers Dan Parent, Greg Crosby, Mike Pellowski & George Gladir, and polished up by the artistic talents of Parent, Stan Goldberg, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski, Bob Smith, Al Milgrom, John Lowe, Jack Morelli, Vickie Williams, Jon D’Agostino, Tito Peña, Barry Grossman and Digikore Studios.

These stories epitomise the magic of the Season and celebrate the perfect wonder of timeless children’s storytelling: What kind of Grinch could not want this book in their stocking?

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Shield

AMERICA’S 1ST PATRIOTIC HERO

The Shield

By Irving Norvick, Harry Shorten & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN 1-879794-08-X

In the dawning days of the comic book business, just after Superman and Batman had ushered in 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, remembered only as trivia by sad blokes like me. Some few made it to an amorphous middle-ground: Not forgotten, but certainly not household names either…

The Shield was an FBI scientist named Joe Higgins who wore a suit which gave him enhanced strength, speed and durability, which he used to battle America’s enemies in the days before the USA entered World War II. Latterly he also devised a Shield Formula that increased his powers. Beginning with the first issue of Pep Comics (January 1940) he battled spies, saboteurs, subversive organisations and every threat to American security and well-being, and was a minor sensation. He is credited with being the industry’s very first Patriotic Hero, predating Marvel’s iconic Captain America in the “wearing the Flag” field.

Collected here in this Golden-Age fan-boy’s dream are the lead stories from Pep Comics #1-5 and the three adventures from the spin-off Shield-Wizard Comics #1 (Summer 1940). Raw, primitive and a little juvenile perhaps, but these are still unadorned, glorious romps from the industry’s exuberant, uncomplicated dawning days: Plain-and-simple fun-packed thrills from the gravely under-appreciated Irving Novick, Harry Shorten and others whose names are now lost to history.

Despite not being to everyone’s taste these guilty pleasures are worth a look for any dyed-in-the-woollen-tights super-hero freak and a rapturous tribute to a less complicated time.

© 1940, 2002 Archie Publications In. All Rights Reserved.