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.

Archie 1000 Page Comics Jamboree


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

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: the Holidays all wrapped up in one big  book… 10/10

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, 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. 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 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 perhaps Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated) and led to a 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 smash.

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 aspiring comicbook cartoonist Chuck 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; 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 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 kids comics.

As well as forward thinking in content, the company was always quick to embrace innovations in format and Archie 1000 Page Comics Jamboree is another awesome but enjoyable paper brick of comics: pocket-digest-sized (as long as your pockets are both deep and strong), containing over 100 full-colour stories starring all the cast and characters. So fun-filled is this titanic tome that I’m again compelled to compromise my principles with a rather truncated and abbreviated review…

With so much to read in this mammoth, meaty, mirth-filled monolith it might seem that by specifically mentioning a few I’m saying some are better than others. That’s simply not so. They’re uniformly fabulous but there are only 24 hours in a day and my hands are old and increasingly feeble…

This Jamboree is especially timely as a goodly portion of the tales included here are Christmas episodes culled from the company’s wonderful archive of Seasonal classics: stories such as the epic ‘A Tree Grows in Riverdale’ and ‘The Last Resort’ by George Gladir, Stan Goldberg & Mike Esposito, ‘Santa’s Helper’ (inked by John Lowe) and Jughead’s typically unconventional reaction to ‘The Holiday Season’, illustrated by Tim Kennedy & Jim Amash.

There are surprises galore in store with vintage 1950’s tales from “the Vault” (including much spectacular and formative material from Archie’s Pals n’ Gals #4 by George Frese, Terry Szenics and Bill Vigoda plus covers reproductions in a selection entitled Archie’s Christmas Stocking

Amongst the other Christmas treats Dick Malmgren & Jon D’Agostino give us ‘Here Comes Santa Clause’ and ‘Past-Present and Future’, Fernando Ruiz & Al Nickerson uncover an ‘X-Mas Mix-Up’, Frank Doyle & Vigoda relate ‘Not Even a Moose’, whilst Goldberg & Rudy Lapick investigate ‘The Swinging Santa’, Betty & Veronica are ‘Treed’ by Sugar Plum the Christmas Fairy (Kathleen Webb, Jeff Shultz & Al Milgrom) and enjoy a ‘Label Lullaby’ thanks to Gladir, Dan DeCarlo & Lapick, after which Al Hartley & D’Agostino unleash the ‘Holiday Joy-Boy’

It’s not just a cool Yule rule though, and amongst the torrent of long tales, short stories, spoofs, parodies, ½ and single page gags, fashion pages, games, puzzles and so much more are year-round comedies, fantasies and love stories plus genre tinted tales: sci fi shockers such as ‘The Teenage Bulk and ‘Destination Riverdale’, spooky thrillers like ‘Chiller’, ‘Midnight Madness!’, ‘The Ghost of Spirit Lake’ and ‘Drawing on Experience’, captivating crime capers like ‘Monkey Seize’, ‘Four Wheels to Wickedness’ or ‘A Smashing Success’ and less-definable outrageous episodes such as ‘The Kissing Bandit’, ‘Flip-Flop’, ‘Culture Shock’, ‘Fame Game’, ‘Pie á la Mountain’ and ‘The Heavenly Body’

Moreover the school faculty and families of our stars also feature heavily. Archie’s dad relives his own musically cool days in ‘Ol’ Sax’ (Gladir, Goldberg & Lapick), and you’d be amazed at the antics of the dubious dinner lady Miss Beazley in ‘The Pies Have It’ or the long-suffering Principal Mr. Weatherbee in ‘Flight of the Bumble!’ and ‘Just One of the Boys’

There are also solo outings for Ginger Lopez in ‘Fit as a Fiddle’, Dilton in ‘Kiss and Tell’, Nancy in ‘A Cat’s Tale’ and even manic mutt Hot Dog in ‘Smart Pet Tricks’ and other stalwarts from the old gang.

With contributions from Bob Bolling, George Gladir, Bill Vigoda, Harry Lucey, Samm Schwartz, Bill Golliher, Stan Goldberg, Jim Ruth, Frank Doyle, Greg Ehrbar, Jon D’Agostino, Fernando Ruiz, Bob Smith, Joe Edwards, Bill Galvan, Angelo DeCesare, Susan Solomon, Al Milgrom, Henry Scarpelli, Al Hartley, Rich Margopoulos, Barbara Slate, Ed Berdej, Al Nickerson, Mike Esposito, Tim & Pat Kennedy, Holly G!, Greg Crosby, Chic Stone, Gene Colan, Hal Smith, Dan Parent, Jeff Shultz, Rudy Lapick, Kathleen Webb, Jim Amash, Mike Pellowski, Bob White, Doug Crane, Rich Koslowski, Craig Boldman, Rex Lindsey, Allison Flood, Dick Malmgren, a dynasty of DeCarlos and many more, this is a true gem of perfectly crafted all-ages fun.

This is another ideal book for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie’s Even Funnier Kid’s Joke Book


By various Archie Superstars (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-67-9

Your Last-Minute Christmas Dilemmas Solved: the ideal keep-‘em-quiet stocking stuffer.

As you probably know by now Archie Andrews has been around for more than seventy years: chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league Veronica Lodge whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocks and abets his romantic endeavours.

As crafted by the legion of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small town of Riverdale over the decades, these are timeless tales of the most wholesome Kids in America which have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the Company has often supplanted and expanded upon their storytelling brief with short gags, pin-ups and cartoons, jokes and puzzles and Archie’s Even Funnier Kid’s Joke Book has bundled scads of the very best of these brief diversions – starring the full capacious coterie of companions and hangers-on as well as few guest-stars – into a captivating compilation guaranteed to engross and amuse young and old alike.

Duty and sincere respect compel me to tell you that all the vignettes, cartoons, appalling puns, “guess the gag” games, crazy comebacks, silly riddles, visual extracts and “write your own caption” material re-presented in the 192 big, big pages here are the result of sheer hard work and inspiration from Bob Montana, Frank Doyle, Bill Vigoda, George Gladir, Al Hartley, Bill Golliher, Hy Eisman, Dick Malmgren, Bob Bolling, Samm Schwartz, Stan Goldberg, Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Harry Lucey, Dan DeCarlo (Senior and Junior), Jeff Shultz, Joe Edwards, Rudy Lapick, Rich Koslowski, Bob Smith, Terry Austin, Barry Grossman, Tito Pena, Joe Morciglio, Jon D’Agostino, Bill Yoshida & Jack Morelli.

Common sense then informs me that you’ll have immeasurable fun inwardly digesting all the superbly silly stuff culled from more than seven masterful decades of madcap mirth…

Spoiled Sports gets us underway by providing 26 pages of iconic and hilarious gags and strips celebrating football, baseball, golf, skiing, hockey and all those other strenuous pastimes kids enjoy, after which What’s So Funny? abstracts 50 panels so amusing that they don’t need any context – or the rest of their stories they originally came from – and all liberally augmented with marginal riddles and brainteasers…

Ever-hungry Jughead plays a big part in chapter 3 as Food For Thought gathers 22 pages worth of nosh-themed material, whilst the accumulated and unsavoury staff of Riverdale High looms large in the 24 page Faculty Funnies chapter which uproariously follows, before Mixed Nuts offers 28 sides of crazy situations and mad laughter starring just about everybody and their friends…

Archie always played well at and pulled out all the stops for Christmas issues and here Holiday Hijinks repeats some the best festive moments in a bumper section which too soon swiftly segues into an appreciation of the eternal struggle for romantic bliss in Rabid Rivals or Love and War

This stunning collection of gags and good times then ends with a tumult of audience participation as Say What? offers 23 pages of classic strips and pin-ups with all the word balloons emptied for you to fill in with your own brilliant bon mots and sassy comebacks…

Hilarious, absorbing and way more fun than a Christmas cracker, Archie’s Even Funnier Kid’s Joke Book is an addictively enticing treat no family should be without…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie Comics Spectacular – It’s a Date


By Archie Superstars (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-70-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Another amazing example of pure comicbook magic… 9/10

Since comicbooks were invented in 1933, Superheroes have become the genre most closely associated with the four-colour format. Nevertheless other forms of sequentially illustrated fiction have held their own periodically and the one which has maintained a unique position over the years (although almost completely abandoned by most publishers and picked up by television) is the teen-comedy genre begun by and still synonymous with a ginger-headed freckled lad named Archie Andrews.

He began his rise to glory when second-string publisher MLJ added a strip based on the Andy Hardy matinee movies to the line-up of costumed mystery men they’d created after Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1938.

In 1939 MLJ launched Blue Ribbon Comics, Top-Notch and Pep Comics filled with the now mandatory blend of masked heroes, two-fisted adventurers strips and one-off gags. Pep actually made a little history with its lead feature The Shield – the USA’s first superhero draped in the American flag – but generally MLJ were followers not innovators.

That changed at the end of 1941 when Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (MLJ, geddit?) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. In December their Fights ‘n’ Tights pantheon was extended to include a wholesome, hometown hero: an “average teen” whose invitingly human-scaled adventures might happen to any of the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick heavily emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced the gap-toothed, red-headed goof, already showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Goldwater had developed the concept of a boyish everyman, and left writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana alone to fill in the details and make it all work it work.

And it did. So effective and all-pervasive was the impact and reassuring message which the new kid offered to the boys “over there” and those scared folk left behind on the Home Front that Archie and his familiar, beloved, secure milieu immortalised in Riverdale and its inhabitants gang represented, that one might consider them the most effective Patriotic Propaganda weapon in comics history…

It all started with an innocuous 6-pager introducing Archie, cute girl-next-door Betty Cooper, the boy’s quirky best friend and confidante Forsythe P. “Jughead” Jones and the small-town utopia they lived in.

The premise was an instant hit and in 1942 Archie graduated to his own title. Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and began the inexorable transformation of the company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Landmark Phenomenon (after Superman).

By May 1946 the kids had taken over. MLJ became Archie Comics, benching its costumed heroes years before the Golden Age ended and becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies. This overwhelming success, just like the Man of Steel’s, compelled a change in the content of every other publisher’s titles and was the genesis of a multi-media industry which included toys, games, merchandise, newspaper strips, TV shows, movies, pop-songs and even a chain of restaurants.

Why does it work? Archie is a splendidly ordinary, good-hearted kid, not too smart, a bit impulsive and unthinking and generally lacking common sense – just like we were – whilst Betty – pretty, sensible, capable and devoted is the quintessential Girl Next Door, with everything that entails.

She loves the ridiculous redhead but is also best friends with her own great rival. Ronnie is spoiled, exotic, quixotic and glamorous but seemingly only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around… except she might actually love him too…

Archie just can’t decide who or what he wants. Even with these two alluring archetypes always around he still gets distracted every time a pretty new girl sashays past…

This engaging and never-tawdry eternal triangle has been the solid basis of more than seventy years of charmingly raucous, gently preposterous, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending comedy, encompassing everything from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, as the kids and an ever-increasing cast of friends grew into an American institution.

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad, perfectly in tone with and mirroring the growth of teen culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the denizens of Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up American.

The unconventional Jughead is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, generally providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful and mischievous catalyst of events in his own right. There’s even a likeably reprehensible Tybalt analogue in the cocky crafty shape of Reggie Mantle – who first popped up to cause mischief in Jackpot Comics #5 (Spring 1942) – to act as spur, foil and rival and keep the tension ticking over.

This beguiling triangle (plus annexe and outhouse) has been the rock-solid foundation for decades of comics magic and even though the concept is perpetually self-renewing, Archie has thrived by constantly reinventing and refining these core characters, adapting them to the changing world outside the bright, flimsy pages and shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, sport, gadgets and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix with the editors tastefully confronting a number of social issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years.

Most importantly, the quotidian supporting cast – from affable jock Moose to plain Jane Big Ethel or boy genius Dilton Doily, School Principal Mr. Weatherbee or Ronnie’s irascible dad – is always expanding, with constant addition of new characters such as African-American aspiring cartoonist Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie & Maria and a host of others.

There are frequent new additions in the opposition too, like spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom, all contributing to the wide and surprisingly broad-minded scenario.

In 2010 Archie even jumped the final social repressive hurdle when Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and clear-headed advocate, joined the cast, capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Of course the major component of the company’s success has always been the superbly enticing artwork and charming, funny stories by a small army of creative superstars, and this digest-sized spectacular gathers a treasure trove of their very best efforts into a romantically-themed collection which teasingly opens with ‘The Big Decision’ by Barbara Slate, Tim Kennedy & Jon D’Agostino, wherein the red-headed rascal finally chooses his eventual life-mate… for about three seconds…

Betty & Veronica then star in ‘Foot Sore’ (George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & Jimmy DeCarlo) as the girlish slaves to fashion lose out to primitive male obduracy after which ‘Root of All Evil’ by Frank Doyle and the astounding Harry Lucey finds Archie desperate to prove Ronnie’s money means nothing to him…

In ‘Muscle Main Man’ (Jim Pellowski, Dan Parent &Jim Amash) the Lodges find that inept Archie is not the worst boyfriend Veronica might pick, whilst in ‘Suspicion’ (Jim Ruth, Chic Stone & D’Agostino) the green-eyed monster drives our hero to make an especially big fool of himself before ‘Inflation Elation’ (Gladir, Bob Bolling & Bob Smith) sees Betty turn the boy’s pennypinching ways to her advantage…

Betty & Veronica take the spotlight in ‘Three’s A Crowd’ (Kathleen Webb, Parent & Rich Koslowski) when one of them horns in on the other’s date night, whilst in ‘Match Play’ (Gladir, Jeff Shultz & Al Milgrom) a computer-dating service proves no help when faced with Ronnie’s picky criteria…

The Lodge lass’s callous nature deposits her at the base of ‘The Infernal Triangle’ (Frank Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Vince DeCarlo) when she tries to meddle with Betty’s love-life after which Ronnie finds a new beau in ‘By George!’ (Dan DeCarlo & Rudy Lapick). although they soon make-up – sort of – enough to try the dubious tactic of a ‘Dress Down Date’ (Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Lapick) on cash-poor Betty…

Webb, Bolling & Lapick then detail Ronnie’s very temporary bout of maturity (i.e. sharing) in ‘Growing Pains’, after which ‘Well Placed Point’ – a fifties classic by Bill Vigoda – sees Archie give in to a challenge from Reggie which inevitably draws the wrath of Ronnie down upon his dim ginger head and ‘Chivalrous Chumps’ (John Albano, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & James DeCarlo) finds both laddish rivals’ heads simultaneously turned by some new girls in town…

A formal event allows Reg an opportunity to palm Arch off with a Magician’s rigged tuxedo in ‘Borrowed Trouble’ by Pellowski, Bolling & Smith, after which ‘Fun Daze Together’ (Webb, Doug Crane & Lapick) provides a rare chance for Betty to get her guy, before a garbled phone message taken by Archie’s dad leads to a happy outcome for someone in ‘Dial a Date’ (by Gladir & Stone).

‘Happy Days’ (Ruth & Stone) finds Archie and Betty frantically trying to save their old trysting tree whilst 2-part saga ‘The Search!’ (Parent & Amash) has Ronnie’s parents foolishly attempting to find far more suitable boyfriends – and living to regret it…

Lesser lights Big Moose and Midge star in ‘Don’t Be a Sport’ (Pellowski & Kennedy), learning to their surprise just what really keeps them together, whilst Chuck and Nancy almost split up in ‘Bowl Brummel’ (Gladir, Bolling & Lapick) after his slovenly attires enflame her ire…

To their bemused sorrow, Archie & the entire gang become embroiled in boy genius Dilton’s ‘Rate-a-Mate’ (Parent & Koslowski) romance program before arrogant self-proclaimed gift to women Reggie tries his slickest moves on the wrong woman in ‘The Lawbreaker’ (Dick Malmgren) and the whole amorous kit and caboodle then culminates and closes with a brace of half-page howlers as ‘Betty in Up to Dates!’ and ‘Archie in Auto Know Better’ both reveal the pervasive appeal of Riverdale’s richest debutante…

Mesmerising, breathtaking graphic wonderment, fun-fuelled family entertainment and enticing pop art masterpieces; these comic confections always capture the joyous spirit of intoxicating youthful vitality which changed the comic industry forever and comprise an essential example of artistic excellence no lover of narrative art should miss.

© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Betty and Veronica’s Princess Storybook – Archie and Friends All-Stars volume 21


By Dan Parent, Jeff Schultz, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-71-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Charming stories for kids of all ages… 8/10

Archie Andrews has been around for more than seventy years: a good-hearted lad lacking in common sense whilst Betty Cooper, the pretty, sensible girl next door – with all that entails – waits ardently nearby, loving the great 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 basis for decades of funnybook magic and the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of youth culture since before there even was such a thing, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of utopian Riverdale a benchmark for childhood development and a visual barometer of growing up.

In this collection, reprinting stories from 2013, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are again plunged deep into whimsy and fable as writer Dan Parent tweaks and reinvents more classic fairytales like a New World Yonderland or venerable Christmas Panto (and boy, will those references bewilder the un-British and/or under thirties out there), providing sharp, smart and frequently uproarious spoofs on the eternal nature and magic of young love…

Augmented with informative, history-packed text features on the original prose stories, incisive creator commentary and a cover-&-variants gallery by Parent, Jill Thompson, Renee De Liz, Alitha Martinez, Gisele & Stephanie Buscema as well as a Foreword and Afterword by the scripter, this bright and breezy, full-colour chronicle begins with ‘The Story of the Rapunzels’ before ‘Bad Hair Daze’ takes the much-told tale into strange new territory.

Here a devoted childless couple is “blessed” with a happy event after promising a witch their firstborn, but the crone can only lay claim to one of the twins girls that result… Choosing blonde Betty and rejecting raven-tressed Veronica, the hag isolates the golden child in a tall tower for years, but completely underestimates the power of sibling love – and rivalry – when Ronnie finds her sister and Prince Archie finds them both…

Next is ‘Betty and the Beast’, wherein sorceress Veronica curses haughty Prince Archibald to a life of hideous isolation after he refuses to go steady with her. The lonely, angry, repentant monstrosity only begins to change without and within after dutiful daughter Betty moves in to save her doddery old dad from the monster’s ill-tempered predations…

The tale is further complicated when vain Lothario Reginald sets out to rescue poor Betty but finds the seductive sorceress more to his taste…

‘Snow White and the Riverdale Dwarves’ once more casts Ronnie as the villain (with potential home-wrecker Cheryl Blossom as her snippy magic mirror), jealous of Betty’s buxom beauty and determined to commit appalling deeds to remain the “hottest in the land”…

Thankfully a bizarre bunch of diminutive forest dwellers are ready to take the golden girl in and aid the rather ineffectual Prince Archibald in saving the day and getting the girl…

The next classic revision stars our girls as ‘The Little Mermaids’ who both sacrifice their tails and beautiful voices for a chance to spend three mute days in the surface world trying to win the love of a certain ginger royal scion.

The determined rivals hadn’t reckoned on Cheryl the Sea Witch cheating on the compact of course, but the surprise twist in this tale comes from Archie’s final choice and the girls’ prompt reaction…

Closing this enormously entertaining second showing of an irresistible idea is the outrageously amusing ‘Reggiestiltskin’ with Ronnie and Betty BFFs until that annoying Prince Archie sees and wants them both.

Sadly they both desire him too, which enchantress Princess Cheryl can’t allow. She wants the kingdom and will even marry the idiot Prince to get it and so employs wily gold-hungry goblin trickster Reggiestiltskin to get the girls out of the way.

However, even cunning witch-queens can underestimate the conniving nature of gold-grabbing goblins…

Co-starring all the adorable supporting characters we know and love (Jughead as Betty’s sharp-tongued fish-pal Forsythe is a sight once seen, never forgotten), these smartly beguiling skits are a marvellous example of just why Archie has been unsurpassed in this genre for generations: providing decades of family-friendly fun and wholesome teen entertainment…

And they were all read and re-read happily ever after…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Art of Archie: the Covers


By various, edited by Victor Gorelick & Craig Yoe (Archie Books)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-79-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A perfect celebration of the magic of comicbooks… 10/10

For most of us, comics mean buff men and women in capes and tights hitting each other, lobbing trees about, or stark, nihilistic genre thrillers aimed at an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans – and indeed that has been the prolific norm for nearly twenty years.

However, over the decades since comicbooks were invented in 1933, other forms of sequential illustrated fiction genres have held their own. One that has maintained a unique position 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 outfit which 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 accepted blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips and one-off gags. Pep made history with its lead feature The Shield – the industry’s first superhero clad in the American flag – but generally MLJ were followers not innovators.

That all changed at the end of 1941. Even while profiting from the Fights ‘N’ Tights phalanx, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market and in December the action strips were joined by a wholesome, ordinary hero; an “average teen” who had invitingly human-scaled adventures that might happen to 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 youthful everyman, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

So effective and all-pervasive was the impact and comforting message the new kid offered to the boys “over there” and those left behind on the Home Front that Archie Andrews and the wholesome image of familiar, beloved, secure Americana he and the Riverdale gang represented, one could consider them the greatest and most effective Patriotic/Propaganda weapon in comics history…

It all started with an innocuous 6-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ which introduced the future star and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Forsythe P.JugheadJones also debuted in that first story as did the small-town utopia they lived in.

The premise was an instant hit and in 1942 the feature graduated to its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and began an inexorable 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, retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age, MLJ renamed itself Archie Comics, becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies. This overwhelming success, like the Man of Tomorrow’s, forced a change in the content of every other publisher’s titles and led to a multi-media industry including a newspaper strip, TV, movies, pop-songs and even a chain of restaurants.

Intermittently the costumed cut-ups have returned on occasion but Archie Comics now seems content to specialise in what they do uniquely best.

The eponymous high-schooler is a good-hearted lad lacking common sense and Betty – pretty, sensible, devoted girl next door, with all that entails – loves the ridiculous redhead. Ronnie is spoiled, 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 never-tawdry eternal triangle has been the basis of seventy years of charmingly raucous, gently preposterous, 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, perfectly in tone with and mirroring the growth of teen culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the archetypal characters of Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up American.

Archie’s unconventional best friend 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. There’s even a likeably reprehensible Tybalt figure in the crafty form of Reggie Mantle – who first popped up to cause mischief in Jackpot Comics #5 (Spring 1942).

This beguiling triangle (plus annexe and outhouse) has been the rock-solid foundation for decades of comics magic. …And the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Archie has thrived by constantly reinventing its core characters, seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside the 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 with the editors tastefully confronting a number of social issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years.

The cast is always growing and the constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck – an aspiring cartoonist – his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie & Maria and a host of others like spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contribute to a wide and refreshingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie even jumped the final social repressive hurdle when Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and clear-headed advocate, joined the cast, capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

A major component of the company’s success has been the superbly enticing artwork and especially the unmistakable impact afforded via the assorted titles’ captivating covers. This spectacular compilation (a companion to 2010s Betty & Veronica collection) traces the history and evolution of the wholesome phenomenon through many incredible examples from every decade. Augmented by scads of original art, fine art and commercial recreations, printer’s proofs and a host of other rare examples and graphic surprises no fan of the medium could possibly resist, this huge hardback (312 x 235mm) re-presents hundreds of funny, charming, gloriously intriguing and occasionally controversial images plus background and biographies on the many talented artists responsible for creating them.

Moreover, also included are many original artworks – gleaned from the private collections of fans – scripts, sketches, gag-roughs, production ephemera from the art-to-finished-cover process, plus an extensive, educational introductory commentary section stuffed with fascinating reminiscences and behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

The picture parade begins with some thoughts from the brains behind the fun as ‘It’s a Gift’ by current Publisher/Co-CEO Jon Goldwater, ‘You Can Judge a Book by its Cover!’ – Editor-in-Chief/Co-President Victor Gorelick – and ‘On the Covers’ from cartoonist and Comics Historian Craig Yoe take us to the 1940s where ‘In the Beginning…’ details the story of Archie with relevant covers and the first of a recurring feature highlighting how later generations of artists have recycled and reinterpreted classic designs.

‘A Matchless Cover’ leads into the first Artist Profile – ‘Bob Montana’ – and a wealth of cracking Golden Age images in ‘Who’s on First!’ before chapters on specific themes and motifs commence with a celebration of beach scenes with ‘In the Swim’ after which artist ‘Bill Vigoda’ steps out from behind his easel and into the spotlight.

‘Déjà Vu All Over Again’ further explores the recapitulation of certain cover ideas before ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll!’ examines decades of pop music and “guest” stars such as the Beatles, whilst ‘Archie’s Mechanically Inclined’ examines a short-lived dalliance with an early form of home DIY magazines. The life of veteran illustrator ‘Al Fagaly’ leads into a selection of ‘Fan Faves’ ancient and modern and the biography of ‘Harry Sahle’ then segues neatly into a selection of cheerleading covers in ‘Let’s Hear It for The Boy!’

It wasn’t long after the birth of modern pop music that the Riverdale gang formed their own band and ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, The Archies!’ focuses on those ever-evolving musical prodigies with scenes from the Swinging Sixties to the turbulent Rap-ridden 21st century after which the history of artist ‘Joe Edwards’ leads into a barrage of smoochy snogging scenes in ‘XOXOXO!’

Always a keen follower of fads and fashions the Archie crowd embraced many popular trends and ‘Monster Bash!’ concentrates on kids’ love of horror and recurring periods of supernatural thrills after which a bio of ‘Dan Parent’ leads unerringly to more ‘Celebrity Spotting!’ with covers featuring the likes of George (Sulu) Takei, Michael Jackson, Simon Cowell, J-Lo, Kiss, the casts of Glee and Twilight, and even President Barack Obama all eagerly appearing amongst so very many others.

‘Art for Archie’s Sake’ dwells on the myriad expressions of junior painting and sculpture and, after the life story of the sublimely gifted ‘Harry Lucey’, ‘The Time Archie was Pinked Out!’ details the thinking behind the signature logo colour schemes used during the company’s pre-computer days.

‘Life with Archie’s a Beach!’ takes another look at the rise of teenage sand and surf culture through the medium of beautifully rendered, scantily clad girls, whilst after the lowdown on writer/artist ‘Fernando Ruiz’, ‘Dance! Dance! Dance!’ follows those crazy kids from Jitterbug to Frug, Twisting through Disco and ever onwards…

‘The Happiest of Holidays’ highlights the horde of magical Christmas covers Archie, Betty and Ronnie have starred on whilst ‘Rhyme Time’ reveals the odd tradition of poetry spouting sessions that have been used to get fans interested and keep them amused.

A history of the inimitable ‘Samm Schwartz’ precedes a look at classroom moments in ‘Readin’ Writin’ an’ Archie’ – with a separate section on organised games entitled ‘Good Sports!’ – after which the life of legendary artist ‘Dan DeCarlo’ neatly leads to another selection of fad-based fun as ‘That’s Just Super!’ recalls the Sixties costumed hero craze as well as a few other forays into Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy…

‘Let’s Get this Party Started’ features covers with strips rather than single images and is followed by a biography of ‘Bob Bolling’ before ‘A Little Goes a Long Way!’ concentrates on the assorted iterations of pre-teen Little Archie comics. This is then capped by the eye-popping enigma of teen taste as visualised in the many outfits du jour revealing ‘A Passion for Fashion’

‘Come as You Aren’t!’ is devoted to the theme of fancy dress parties after which the modern appetite for variant covers is celebrated in ‘Alternate Realities’ (with stunning examples from Fiona Staples, Tim Seeley and Walter Simonson amongst others) all wrapped up by the gen on artistic mainstay ‘Bob White’.

The entire kit and caboodle then happily concludes with an assortment of surreal, mindblowing covers that defy categorisation or explanation in ‘And Now, For Something Completely Different’, proving that comics are still the only true home of untrammelled imagination: featuring scenes that literally have to be seen to be believed…

Mesmerising, breathtaking graphic wonderment, fun-fuelled family entertainment and enticing pop art masterpieces; these unforgettable cartoon confections truly express the joyous spirit of intoxicating youthful vitality which changed the comic industry forever and comprise an essential example of artistic excellence no lover of narrative art should miss.

Spanning the entire history of American comicbooks and featuring vintage images, landmark material and up-to-the-minute modern masterpieces, this is a terrific tome for anybody interested in the history of comics, eternally evergreen light laughs and the acceptable happy face of the American Dream.
™ & © 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.