Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy


By Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-58-7 (TPB)

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were merely one of many publishers to jump on the mystery-man bandwagon, generating their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily-clad crusaders.

In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, and swiftly followed up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the era’s standard mix of masked champions, clean-cut, two-fisted adventurers, genre prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming yet crowded market. In December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, heaving he-man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far less imposing hero; an ordinary teenager having everyday adventures just like the readership, laden with companionable laughs, good times and budding romance.

Goldwater developed the youthful everyman protagonist concept, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with making it all work. Inspired by and referencing the successful 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 desperate to impress the pretty blonde girl next door.

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

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

By 1946, the kids were in charge and MLJ officially reinvented itself as Archie Comics, retiring the majority 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 Jughead to assist or deter and scurrilous love-rat rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with fans, but was somehow infinitely fresh and engaging…

Like Superman, Archie’s success forced a change in content at every other US publisher (except Gilberton’s dryly po-faced Classics Illustrated), creating a culture-shifting multi-media brand encompassing TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and – in the swinging sixties – a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar (taken 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 just waiting for the comeback hit…

The perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, thrilling, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas expressing everything from surreal wit to frantic, frenetic 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 so many others): growing into a national institution and part of America’s cultural landscape.

The feature thrives by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly, seamlessly adapting to a 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 comedy 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 Clayton and his girlfriend Nancy Woods, fashion-diva Ginger Lopez, Hispanic couple Frankie Valdez and Maria Rodriguez, student film-maker Raj Patel and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a wide, refreshingly diverse and broad-minded scenario.

In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle – for decades a seemingly insurmountable one for kids comicbooks – when openly gay student Kevin Keller joined the gang: becoming 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 Keller debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010), a charming, good-looking and exceedingly-together young man who utterly bowled over the rich go-getter. Ronnie was totally smitten with him, but Kevin was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with Jughead

When he finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became Keller’s best buddy as they had so much in common – stylish clothes, shopping and cute guys…

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

Trade paperback & digital compilation Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy collects issues #5-8 of his groundbreaking solo title and opens with an effusive Introduction from actor, author and rights activist George Takei, in anticipation of his walk-on part in the opening chapter here.

Sacrificing chronological order for star attraction, ‘By George!’ comes from Kevin Keller #6 (January 2013) wherein a class project about inspirational heroes leads to the kids invading a local comic convention headlined by the Star Trek star, after which Mr. Takei surprises all concerned by returning the favour at Riverdale High. If only Kevin wasn’t so distracted by the return of old flame Brian and the promise of new romance…

Eponymous tale ‘Drive Me Crazy!’ (Kevin Keller #5 December 2012) then targets the next milestone in a young man’s life as the affable pedestrian finally gains independence with the arrival of his first car. It is, in fact, an old jeep belonging to his dad (a retired army colonel) and the fun really hits high gear after Moose and Dilton offer to spruce it up and make it roadworthy in their own inimitable manner… just in time to play havoc with Kevin’s date with old pal Todd.

Back on track for #7 (March, 2013), ‘Decisions, decisions!’ finds Kevin dating aggressive bad boy Devon: a student determined to keep his status as a macho hetero male. Patience, love and understanding only go so far though, and when Kevin convinces Devon to finally come out, the misunderstood lout faces repercussions from his family and friends that Kevin never anticipated…

Piling on the pressure, an old secret admirer who remained anonymous chooses this moment to identify himself to the ever-popular Mr. Keller…

Everything boils over in concluding episode ‘Play by the Rules!’ (Kevin Keller #8, June 2013) when Veronica cons Kevin into starring in her self-penned stage drama Teenagers: The Musical! His proximity to former secret admirer Pauldrives Devon to jealousy and stalking, but thankfully in the unavoidable denouement, the only real casualty is Ronnie’s atrocity of a show…

Following the compelling comics is an ‘Official Kevin Keller Bonus Features’ section offering ‘Kevin, Betty and Veronica Fashions’, to supplement a cover gallery that includes modern cartoon masterpieces, remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century all-star and variant covers spoofing Star Trek and Superman.

Drive Me Crazy is superbly diverse, hilariously welcoming and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Afterlife with Archie


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

For nearly 80 years 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, Archie has been around since 1941, spending most of those years chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge, whilst best friend Jughead Jonesalternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle 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 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 the publishers took an extraordinarily bold and controversial step which paid huge dividends, creating the biggest sales sensation in the company’s history… thus far.

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 scribe Roberto 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 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, 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 a 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 – available in paperback and digital editions – also comes with an unholy host of extras, beginning with the story behind the phenomenon in ‘Covers from the Darkside’ which discusses 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 5-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.

Life with Kevin


By Dan Parent, J. Bone & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68255-940-6 (TPB)

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin Keller debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010): a charming, good-looking and exceedingly together lad who seemingly disrupted the eternal cartoon triangle of Archie Andrews, Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper. Keller utterly bowled over the rich go-getter and she was totally smitten with him, although he was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with the boys… especially JugheadJones

The new kid was a much-travelled, journalism-obsessed “Army Brat”, who in short order was elected Class President, made loads of friends and came out as Riverdale High School’s first openly gay student. When Kevin finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became his best buddy: after all they had a lot in common – stylish clothes, shopping and good-looking guys…

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

In recent years the company has created related strands for their iconic characters to explore other realities. Archie has married both Betty and Ronnie, been assassinated, faced supernatural horrors of every kind and even entered the 21stcentury. These parallel lives projects have proved immensely popular and so have quite sensibly been extended to include the other inhabitants of Riverdale…

In 2017, a 5-issue miniseries by Parent, inker J. Bone and letterer Jack Morelli focused on Kevin after finishing at Riverdale and graduating from college. Trade paperback & eBook compilation Life with Kevin – delivered in a limited but superbly effective palette of black, white and blue – follows his career as he moves to New York City and joins a major metropolitan news outlet…

Referencing TV sitcoms such as 30 Rock or Rhoda, and subtitled ‘Kevin in the City’ the fun begins in ‘You’re Gonna Make it After All! (Maybe)’ as young Keller moves into a grim apartment, meets his interesting neighbours and makes an unforgettable impression on his new boss at station NYC-TV.

Sadly, his views on what constitutes journalism don’t match hers in the cutthroat era of click-bait and Twitterstorms. Even more tragically, the fact that the camera loves and viewers adore him means Kevin might be forced into becoming a useless, vapid Screen Celeb himself…

The day ends perfectly when Veronica shows up. On Kevin’s advice, his BFF talked back to daddy and now she’s disinherited, broke and homeless…

‘Room for Change’ resumes a short while later with Kevin finding his love life and dating days seriously curtailed by roommate Ronnie, who, unsurprisingly, cannot hold on to any job she finds and whose efforts to help inevitably go badly awry…

After building a profile on a dating app and then accidentally outing himself on live TV – a strict policy no-no at NYC-TV- Kevin’s life gets even crazier. In ‘I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can!’ his boss Babs is ordered to exploit her camera-shy protégé onscreen as much as legally possible. This leads to Ronnie accidentally endangering the mental health of a shy young gay student Kevin is helping through some difficult times…

The gathering storm breaks on social media in ‘Past Tense!’ with Bab’s ruthless attempt to capitalise on the personal crisis for ratings compelling Kevin to make a world-changing decision, but only after a chaotic comedy of errors devastates the station’s schedules…

The story pauses for now with ‘Moving Forward!’ as the progression of roommate dramas, two-timing bad boyfriends, family health scares and career calamities lead to Kevin taking charge of his life and making the future he wants and deserves…

A charming, feel-good comedy romp, Kevin in the City reads like a pilot for a TV series, packed with tension and hilarity whilst delivering the kind of joyous, life-affirming frolics modern folk enjoy. It also succeeds in being about the characters themselves and the situations they endure, not the inconsequential logistics of who they fancy…

Augmenting the saga is a cover gallery by Parent, and a few bonus stories, all taken from Your Pal Archie #1, and set in modern-day Riverdale.

The madness begins with ‘The Road Worrier’ courtesy of scripter/inker Ty Templeton, penciller Dan Parent, colourist Andre Szymanowicz and letterer Morelli. Here high schoolers Betty, Ronnie, Archie and Jughead plan out their summer holidays before an ordeal of shocking terror is unleashed as that Andrews boy attempts to teach Juggie how to drive…

The main event and compelling cliffhanger comes with ‘A Night at the Opera’ as Ronnie gives Archie the brush-off for a sophisticated sophomore. Once again driven astray by Jughead, Archie then buys a lotto ticket that will change his life forever…

Of course, you’ll have to buy that graphic novel to see what happens next, but at least Life with Kevin is a complete experience, at once hilarious, enthralling and magically inclusive for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
™ & © 2017 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie Comics Presents… The Complete Cosmo, the Merry Martian


By Sy Reit, Bob White & Terry Szenics, with Tom DeFalco, Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Ian Flynn, Jeff Schultz, Tracy Yardley & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68255-895-9(TPB)

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

After a few years, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. From December 1941 the masked champions and rugged he-men were gradually but insistently nudged aside by a far less imposing paragon: an “average teen” enjoying ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a young everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. The slapstick teen travails of Archie Andrews, girl-next-door Betty Cooper, Archie’s unconventional best friend/confidante Jughead Jones and filthy rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge in scenic small-town utopia Riverdale were the components of the comic book industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (Superman and superheroes being the first).

By 1946, the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family comedies.

Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies and a chain of restaurants. In the swinging sixties pop hit Sugar, Sugar (a tune from their first animated television show) became a global smash. Wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since. 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.

Throughout that meteoric rise, however, the company never left all its eggs in one basket. Its superhero line periodically resurfaces and reboots and their forays into all-ages supernatural thrillers and straightforward adult-themed horror comics are always worth reading. Archie Comics also periodically sought to repeat the success of its original humour breakthrough with titles such as Katy Keene, Wilbur, Super Duck, Pat the Brat, That Wilkin Boy and many others. Each attempt took inspiration from the tone of the times…

In 1958, the world was abuzz with science, science fiction and the accelerating space race, and the time seemed right for an amusing series about a bold but affable explorer from the Red Planet. The result was Cosmo the Merry Martian by Sy Reit, Bob White & Terry Szenics.

Seymour Victory Reit (1918-2001) was an accomplished humourist, children’s author, historian, cartoonist and animator. His many clients and employers included Mad Magazine and his greatest claim to fame now is co-creating – with Joe Oriolo – Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Comics veteran Robert “Bob” White (1928-2005) was an Archie mainstay until the mid-1960s when he was apparently summarily fired for daring to moonlight (on Tower Comics’ Tippy Teen). He had a keen eye for sight gags, a deft line in monster-design and a slick accessible style as seen in this years-ahead-of-its-time gently satirical comedy sci fi series… Often, that term is mere hyperbole, but it’s true here, as Cosmo the Merry Martian was revived in 2014, and has been with us ever since…

Running between September 1958 and October 1959, the series began with ‘Destination Earth!’ as all Mars watches spacer Cosmo and his extremely reluctant co-pilot Orbi blast off on the first flight to another planet. Ship designer Professor Thimk is anxious, and Cosmo’s girlfriend Astra is still trying to finagle her way onto the ship with the astronauts…

Eventually however the ship blasts off, exploiting the close proximity of the worlds to cut travel time. They are only 2000 miles from their destination when a meteor punctures the fuel tanks and forces them to crash land on Luna…

‘Moon Merriment’ then manifests as the explorers are rescued by bizarre, fractious, pun-obsessed but scientifically advanced moon people called Oogs. After much fuss and kerfuffle they ferry Cosmo and Orbi to their intended destination just in time to take in and disastrously disrupt a baseball game. As confusion reigns, the ‘Planet Playmates!’ hastily return to Luna…

When the Martians decide to explore the Dark Side of the Moon in #2 (November 1958), they are drawn into ‘The Great Gillywump Hunt!’: encountering a dread beast with an undeserved reputation and very bad cold. Seeking to placate centuries of misunderstanding in ‘Sneezy Does It!’ our heroes again cadge a lift ‘Down to Earth!’ to secure a cure for that pestilential cold, but the attempt again triggers chaos on the third rock from the Sun…

Meanwhile on Mars, Thimk and Astra board a spare rocket to save Cosmo and Orbi…

The issue then finds time and space for a brace of quick complete tales: one featuring egghead alien jimmy jupiter and his hand-made robot girlfriend whilst the second sees cuboid ET Squarehead pick up a rather unique method of travel…

Cosmo the Merry Martian #3 didn’t launch until April 1959 and found the moon-marooned astronauts ‘Venus Bound!’ after Thimk’s rescue rocket arrives on Luna and delivers orders to explore the second planet. Setting out, the ship carries the quartet of Red Planeteers, a contingent of Oogs, Orbi’s dog Jojo and a subtle stowaway… the bellicose Gillywump…

Arrival on the mysterious misty planet denotes ‘Trouble for Orbi!’ in the form of a sleeping giant, until his comrades rush ‘To the Rescue!’ Eventually, cooperation and communication with the residents offset a ‘A Slap-Happy Ending!’ and the adventure ends with the voyagers rushing to meet the boss…

The interplanetary antics then conclude with mathlete jimmy jupiter finding the upside of a hit-&-run in ‘Lovely Day!’

June 1959 saw the release of issue #4 and an audience with ‘The Queen of Venus’. The gorgeous monarch sets Astra’s hackles rising and causes ‘Trouble for Cosmo!’ by declaring her intention to marry him…

His fellow explorers soon devise a way to ‘Rescue in Peace!’ culminating in another example of ‘A Slap-Happy Ending!’, but the frantic flight from Venus damages their ship and the appalled escapees find themselves shooting straight for deep space with no way to turn, stop or even decelerate…

The tense cliffhanger is slightly offset by another jimmy jupiter/Squarehead double bill featuring calculus chuckles and cubic cartoon whimsy…

‘Stand by for Saturn!’ opens #5 (August 1959), with the out-of-control Mars ship hurtling towards the planet’s rings. Happily, the collision is not fatal and the voyagers make relatively harmless planetfall before meeting the friendly vegetable inhabitants. All too soon though, the explorers fall foul of ‘The Magic Gumdrops!’ Cosmo’s reluctant co-pilot undergoes shocking transformations in ‘Pardon My Size!’, culminating in ‘A Ride for Orbi!’ to those rings and then astoundingly ‘On to Mars!’, leaving his companions to hitch a lift home with the Saturnians, whilst Squarehead closes the issue with ‘The Mirror the Merrier!’

The series was abruptly curtailed with the October 1959 release, as ‘Make Mine Mars!’ saw the Red Planet hosting a convocation of visitors from Luna and Saturn only to be imperilled by a potential world-conquering villain as ‘Meet Dr. Beatnik!’ introduces a Martian mad scientist intent on conquering Earth.

His horrified compatriots are determined to thwart his plans, resulting in ‘The Great Space Chase!’ and an outer space confrontation in ‘Fire Away!’ before a multi-world coalition finally accomplishes ‘The End of Dr. Beatnik!’ and opts to land on Earth for a friendly visit…

Fun and thrilling, packed with easily-relatable facts and astronomical data, the saga was a splendid example of family-friendly entertainment, but had failed to find sufficient readership over a year of continuous frolicsome adventure. Although it ended there, the series was fondly remembered and was revived in the space-friendly 21st century.

In Archie #655 (June 2014) Tom DeFalco, Fernando Ruiz & Rich Koslowski reintroduced a more take-charge iteration of the jolly voyager in short story ‘The Good Guys of the Galaxy!’ Here, Archie and Jughead teamed up with past characters such as Captain Sprocket, Cat-Girl, Captain Pumpernik and Super Duck in a multiversal action romp to save creation from the reality-warping threat of the Miracle Mitten…

The Martian then popped up in ‘From Mars with Love’ (Jughead & Archie Double Digest #15, October 2015, by Ruiz & Bob Smith) with a disastrous gift suggestion for Veronica’s birthday and again as a computer game in ‘Cosmo Go!’ (Archie Comics Double Digest #275 February 2017, by Dan Parent & Jim Amash).

The game version reappeared in ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ (Archie Comics Double Digest #285 February 2018 by Parent, Jeff Schultz & Amash), before the Martian finally reclaimed his own comic book series in January 2018. Cosmo #1 was crafted by Sonic the Hedgehog team Ian Flynn, Tracy Yardley & Matt Helms who reinvented the Red Rover as a space cop and leader of a team of cosmic heroes in ‘Space Aces!’

If you’re only interested in the vintage tales, you might want to pick up the cheaper Pep Digital #42 which gathers the Reit & White ‘50’s series and also includes a snippet from 2011’s Archie & Friends: Night at the Comic Shop by Alfonso Ruiz, Bill Galvan & Amash.

In the chapter ‘Comic Cosmosis’ the original Cosmo, Orbi and Jojo explosively arrive in Riverdale’s PEP Comics store at the vanguard of a wave of comics characters from alternate realms – and MLJ/Archie’s back catalogue. It’s a great teaser for the introduction of Archie’s own multiverse…

Packed with charm, elucidation and restrained action, the exploits of Cosmo offer a happy view of the Martian way that will delight fun-lovers and wonder-addicts everywhere.
© 1958-2018 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch


By Kelly Thompson, Veronica Fish, Andy Fish, Jack Morelli & various (Archie Comic Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-68255-805-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Merry Magical Mirth and Mayhem… 9/10

Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch debuted in Archie’s Mad House #22 (October 1962), created by George Gladir & Dan DeCarlo as a throwaway character in the gag anthology which was simply one more venue for comics’ undisputed kings of kids’ comedy. She soon proved popular enough to become a regular in the ever-burgeoning cast surrounding the core stars Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge and Jughead Jones.

By 1969 the junior conjurer had grown popular enough to win her own animated Filmation TV series (just like Archie and Josie and the Pussycats), concomitantly graduating to a lead feature in Archie’s TV Laugh Out before finally winning her own title in 1971.

The first volume ran 77 issues from 1971 to 1983 and, when a hugely successful live action TV series launched in 1996, an adapted comicbook iteration followed in 1997. That version folded in 1999 after a further 32 issues.

A third volume – simply entitled Sabrina – was based on TV show Sabrina the Animated Series. This ran for 37 issues from 2000 to 2002 before a back-to-basics reboot saw the comicbook revert to Sabrina the Teenage Witch with #38.

A creature of seemingly infinite variation and variety, the mystic maid continued in this vein until 2004 and issue #57 wherein, capitalising on the global popularity of Japanese comics amongst primarily female readers, the company boldly switched format and transformed the series into a manga-style high school comedy-romance in the classic Shōjo manner.

A more recent version abandoned whimsy altogether and depicted Sabrina as a vile and seductive force of evil (for which see Chilling Adventures of Sabrina).

The link between comics and screen are constantly self-reinforcing, carefully blending elements of all the previous print and TV versions in to whatever comes next. That’s certainly happened again now, as the recent TV renaissance of Riverdale has sparked a fresh, edgier small-screen debut (also entitled Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) and another comic book revision for the mystic Miss Spellman…

Collecting in trade paperback and digital formats issues #1-5 of the 2019 iteration of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, plus a special preview bonus comic team up, this vivid and engaging reinterpretation by Kelly Thompson, Veronica Fish, Andy Fish, and letterer Jack Morelli finds anxious Sabrina Spellman moving to the happy hamlet of Greendale, just a forest’s distance from Riverdale.

No one likes to be the new kid in High School, but Sabrina has a lot to be worried about. A half-human witch, she’s been abruptly bundled off to the boonies by her formidable arcane aunts Zelda and Hilda for reasons she can’t understand and just knows something big and scary is lurking around her…

Having rapidly-developing sorcerous abilities doesn’t stop her making an instant enemy in apex Mean Girl Radka and a true connection with hapless victim/new bestie Jessa Chiang …or falling foul of the sports coach and the principal on her first day.

Still, there’s also lots of romantic potential in cute scholarly Harvey Kinkle and motorbike-riding bad boy Ren Ransom. The rivals are soon making life even more confusing and frustrating for Sabrina as she strives to solve the enigma of why she’s been banished to this old, witch-haunted town.

However, the main problem to settling in seems to be non-educational. A pervasive aura of menace around the woods at the edge of town soon turns into a horde of mythological monsters all bent on dragging her off or enacting the young sorceress’ doom. The worst of it is that thanks to her gifts, Sabrina soon learns that the marauding horrors are all apparently built by magic and science from the bodies of her friends and classmates…

As the perils increase exponentially, the puissant aunts also fall prey to the mysterious force behind the eldritch events, and before long it’s only Sabrina and her talking cat Salem left to deal with the threat that’s wiped out the most powerful witches of the era…

Packed with wit and both sorts of charm, this is a fast-paced, clever and vastly amusing teen comedy thriller that also offers a wealth of bonus material, beginning with an Introduction by author Kelly Thompson (Jem and The Holograms;A-Force; Captain Marvel & The Carol Corps; Heart In A Box; The Girl Who Would Be King), a fulsome Character Sketch Gallery from Veronica Fish (Spider-Woman; Silk; Archie; Pirates of Mars) and a vast and wonderful variant cover Gallery by Fish, Stephanie Buscema, Adam Hughes, Victor Ibanez, Sandra Lanz, Paulina Ganucheau, Jenn St-Onge, Audrey Mok and Gary Erskine.

Wrapping up the thrills and chills with a tantalising teaser, this unmissable treat concludes with a bonus comic yarn as Nick Spencer, Sandy Jarrell, Matt Helms & letterer Jack Morelli introduce Archie and Sabrina: an engrossing team-up wherein the Riverdale Romeo and Teenage Witch begin a romantic tryst by tricking all their friends and the boy’s previous paramours – Betty, Veronica and Cheryl Blossom – into completely the wrong idea about who’s doing what to who…

That’s all slated to unfold and conclude in a graphic novel in 2020…

Epic, enticing and always enchanting, the adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch are always sheer timeless delight that no true fan will ever grow out of…
© 1962-1972, 2017 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie Horror Presents Chilling Adventures in Sorcery


By Harry Doyle, Gray Morrow, Marvin Channing, Don Glut, Steve Skeates, Mary Skrenes, Carol Seuling, Phil Seuling, Larry Hama, Bob Holland, Stan Goldberg, Vicente Alcazar, Dick Giordano, Carlos Pino, Dan DeCarlo, Howard Chaykin, Alex Toth, Bruce Jones, Ed Davis, Frank Thorne & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-62738-990-7 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shockingly Wicked Chronicle of Chills… 9/10

For nearly 8 decades Archie Comics have epitomised good, safe, wholesome, fun but the company has always been a surprisingly subversive one. Family friendly – and not – iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci fi thrills and genre yarns have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s cleanest-cut teens.

As you probably know by now, the eponymous Archie has been around since 1941, but the publisher has other wholesome stars – such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch or Josie and the Pussycats – in their stable, almost as well known… and just as prone to radical reinterpretation.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always looked to modern trends with which to expand upon their archetypal storytelling brief. The contemporary revival in horror across all media has thus resulted in a few supernatural sidebar titles such as Afterlife with Archie and Jughead: The Hunger.

Moreover, in times past the publisher have cross-fertilised their pantheon through such unlikely team-ups as Archie Meets the Punisher, Archie Vs Sharknado and Archie Vs Predator, whilst every type of fashion fad and youth culture sensation has invariably been accommodated into and explored within the pages of the regular titles.

Following-up the stunning success of aforementioned zombie apocalypse Afterlife with Archie, they took another boldly controversial step: radically reinventing their saccharine-TV teen witch in astoundingly sophisticated Chilling Adventures of Sabrina after playwright, screenwriter and comics scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (whose many hits include The Mystery Plays, 4: Marvel Knights Fantastic Four, Stephen King’s The Stand and Afterlife with Archie amongst others) pitched the idea to re-imagine the saucy sorceress in terms of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.

Archie Comics was no stranger to such material. In the 1970s the company created sub-imprint Red Circle for anthology terror tales during a previous supernatural boom time, before gradually converting the line to superhero features as the decade progressed and the fad faded. They even had resident witch-girl Sabrina narrating Chilling Tales of Sorcery for the first two issues…

The title dropped subhead “…As Told by Sabrina” for #3, and with #6 (April 1974) became Red Circle Sorcery until folding in February 1975’s issue #11.

In a great example of circularity, the newly-wicked 21st century Sabrina features snippets from the ‘70’s anthology, sparking this edgy compilation of many of those lost classics in a spiffy monochrome collection, available in paperback and digital formats.

Following a fervent Introduction by letterer and fright-fan Jack Morelli, the vintage terrors open with Chilling Tales of Sorcery …as Told by Sabrina #1 (September 1972): a rather standard anthology of short thrillers with twist-endings, little different from those churned out by DC, Gold Key or Charlton at the time and crafted by Archie’s on-staff comedy creators.

‘Behold the Beast’ by Frank Doyle & Stan Goldberg, revealed the fate of a lonely and misunderstood deformed lad, after which ‘The Boy Who Cried Vampire’ (Doyle & Dan DeCarlo) deals out ironic justice to a pesky kid and ‘Assignment in Fear’ (Doyle & DeCarlo) sees a teacher with a secret sort out a class bully in horrific style.

Anonymous prose yarn ‘A Real Hot Talent’ gets under the skin of a juvenile firestarter after which Doyle & DeCarlo return to exhibit ‘Quick Justice’ in an art gallery before Doyle & Goldberg reveal how ‘Curiosity Kills’ in a story of an accursed inheritance.

Issue #2 opens with Doyle & Goldberg’s ‘The Ultimate Cure’ wherein a waiting bride’s tragic misapprehension destroys her man and her sanity, and text tale ‘Look Upon Your Legacy’ warns of the dangers of an over-active imagination. Pictorial perils resume with ‘Sonny’s World’ (Doyle & Dan DeCarlo) with a little brat learning how to make all reality his plaything after which ‘The Measure of a Monster’ Doyle & Goldberg) sees mad science unleash a colossal creature and (almost) find a safe conclusion and the same creators outline the fate of a jewel-obsessed lass succumbs to ‘The Cameo’s Curse’

A massive shift in style and tone began with issue #3 (October 1973) as writer/artist Gray Morrow came aboard, personally crafting or supervising far more mature fare that seemed closer to Warren’s adult horror magazines than contemporary newsstand fare such as House of Mystery, Ghostly Haunts or Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery.

Dwight Graydon “Gray” Morrow was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1934 and studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. After serving in the army he moved to New York City in 1955 and began a steady career contributing strips, covers and illustrations to Cracked, Classics Illustrated, Atlas Comics (pre-Marvel), numerous children’s books and pulps such as Galaxy.

A master of graphic realism, his art and stories graced a vast array of comics titles, magazines such as Space: 1999 and alternative vehicles such as Wally Wood’s Witzend. He freelanced for dozens of companies (he co-created DC’s El Diablo and Marvel’s Man-Thing, and revamped Archie’s Black Hood into a gritty urban avenger during his tenure at Red Circle), as well as drawing the newspaper iterations of Tarzan and Buck Rogers. He won numerous awards – including three Hugos – over a long and extremely wide-reaching artistic life. He died in 2001.

His influence on the title was instantaneous. With the imprint renamed Red Circle Comics for the third (almost all-Morrow) issue, the new chief introduced a growing band of fresh writers and master artists, as the title unleashed a wave of terror tales that owed much to movies and TV of the period.

It began with ‘…Cat’ (written, drawn & lettered by Morrow) wherein a ruthless, misogynistic society burglar targets the wrong gem-bedecked senorita and lives to regret it forever.

Following prose thriller ‘A Stab in the Dark’ – exposing a plot to murder by witchcraft – a thematic diversion into EC-tinged science fiction finds a time traveller accidentally become an evolutionary ‘Missing Link!’ whilst a bereaved man investigates the death of a sister and discovers that a new ‘Immortality Factor’ is anything but.

An embezzler then pays the price for his betrayal in ‘Haunted Gallery’ before the issue closes with fact-page ‘Essays into the Supernatural’: a featurette by Phil Seuling & Morrow exploring timeless rituals of magic and the use of ‘Familiars’

Due to his prestige and sheer artistic quality, Morrow could call upon a lot of high-end associates to fill pages and #4 (December 1973) introduced an internationally famous master of mood as Spaniard Vicente Alcazar (Jonah Hex, Commando Picture Library, Star Trek, Space: 1999) began his association by writing and illustrating ‘Suicide… Maybe’: a saga of Faustian tragedy wherein a lifelong failure makes a fool’s bargain and discovers politics is the Devil’s playground…

Text vignette ‘Loophole’ also explores such contracts before Don Glut & Dick Giordano highlight the ‘Horripilate Host’ whose TV show excesses lead to infernal doom, after which Morrow adds a sinister tweak to the legend of Midas when a greedy creep gains the legendary ‘Golden Touch!’

The power of a Hebrew Golem deals poetic justice to a modern oppressor in ‘A Thousand Pounds of Clay’ by Glut & Alcazar before the issue ends with another fictive factoid as ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ finds Morrow exploring truths and fictions of ‘The Witch’

Cover-dated February 1974, #5 opens with a vivid pastiche of Arabian adventure courtesy of writers Morrow and Larry Hama. Limned by Alcazar ‘The Two Thieves of Baghdad’ exposes the fatal flaw of overconfidence before the all Alcazar ‘Esme’ details the fate of a hit-&-run victim whose vision is horrifically enhanced by her accident.

Morrow brings his lifelong affinity for baroque, barbaric science fantasy to the creepy epic ‘Barometer Falling…’ after which Alcazar’s ‘The Choker is Wild’ reveals the shocking history of blood-drinking sovereign Queen Maleena and the ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ featurette – by Seuling & Morrow – catalogues the totemic value of ‘Dragons’.

Red Circle Sorcery #6 (April) opens with ‘Warrior’s Dream’ by Steve Skeates, Mary Skrenes & Morrow as a lusty barbarian finally pays the price for all that wenching and, following an ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ page detailing legends of ‘The Werewolf’ (by Marvin Channing & Morrow), sees a conjuring upstart destroyed by a sagacious warlock in ‘Out of Practice’ by Seuling & Ed Davis.

British comics stalwart Carlos Pino was Alcazar’s studio partner for years (often collaborating as “CarVic”) and here he solos in Channing’s tale of vengeance-by-witchcraft ‘Death Goes to a Sales Convention!’, before Carol Seuling & Howard Chaykin go full medieval in epic saga of demonic manipulation and feline vengeance ‘The Patience of a Cat’

Futuristic sensory-inundation tech is the driving force in T. Casey Brennan’s extended prose mystery ‘Black Fog’ – illustrated by Morrow – after which Channing & Alcazar serve out just deserts to a serial womaniser in ‘Face of Love – Face of Death’ to close the issue.

Red Circle Sorcery #7 commences with ‘A Twist in Time’ by Skeates & Pino as an ancient wizard is drawn into Fate’s plan to punish a modern-day murderer after which Channing & Morrow explore legends of ‘The Dibbuk’ in another gripping ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ featurette before Channing & Alcazar memorably reveal the dangers of owing ‘The Knife of Jack the Ripper’

Channing scripts a rare but welcome artistic foray for Bruce Jones as ‘The Rivals’ follows two kids from mid-western poverty to dizzying heights and their grim, witchcraft assisted ends after which Brennan & Alcazar showcase the frustrating fate of ‘The Benefactor’ nobody will listen to…

Closing the chronological portion, ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ then offers a featurette by Morrow detailing ‘Possession and Exorcism’ which happily leads not to the end, but rather a selection of Bonus Stories from later issues.

From #9 (October 1974) comes ‘…If I Were King’ by Channing & the magnificent Alex Toth, wherein a meek nobody gets his greatest wish fulfilled – with the usual regrets – before #8 (August 1974) offers a compelling ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ featurette by Channing & Frank Thorne, detailing the tricks of pesky ‘Poltergeists’ and closure via illustrated calligraphic ode ‘The Spectre’ by Bob Holland & Morrow.

The company’s recent resurgence on TV and in the comics has seen a variety of alternate iterations of the timeless pantheons and this no-frills massively monochrome trade paperback (or digital download) is a perfect complement to those aforementioned horror-tinged titles.

Please don’t be put off by the black-&-white reproduction here: these tales are crafted by masters of line art and tonal values and their efforts actually benefit from the subtraction of the cheap colour used in the original releases. These are superb voyages into the bizarre unknown that no lover of dark fiction should miss.
© 2017 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie’s Weird Mysteries


By Paul Castiglia, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-74-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Family Friendly Seasonal Fear Fest… 8/10

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

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

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a young everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

In six pages, eponymously entitled ‘Archie’ introduced goofy Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story, as did the scenic small-town utopia Riverdale.

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

By 1946 the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family comedies.

Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies and a chain of restaurants. In the swinging sixties pop hit “Sugar, Sugar” (a tune from their first animated television show) became a global smash. Wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since.

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.

At the end of the last century, one of those fads was for savvy band of teens to fight Vampires and Demons in a small town…

It led to Archie’s Weird Mysteries: a French/American animated TV co-production with the regular cast encountering all manner of bizarre phenomena, creatures and situations after Archie starts writing a school newspaper column on mysteries and cryptozoology.

That small screen enterprise led to a comic book iteration mostly created by Paul Castiglia, Fernando Ruiz & Rich Koslowski – backed up by letterer Vickie Williams and colourists Rick Taylor Stephanie Vozzo – with parody and contemporary satire leading the thematic charge …although the company also used the broad church the series presented to reintroduce a number of those early MLJ super-doers; sadly, not included in this all-strange phenomena compilation…

In this splendidly entertaining paperback and digital collection, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are plunged deep into terror territory as Archie’s Weird Mysteries #2 (March 2000) reveals how the gang are targeted by a spooky movie monster in ‘Shriek’.

The deft – and suitably daft in appropriate places – spoof of film franchise Scream is followed here by a delightful and arch tribute to the incomparable Scooby-Doo phenomenon as ‘A Familiar Old Haunt’ (#6 July) sees Archie signing up for “Bo and Gus’s Paranormal Investigation Camp” with Jughead, Betty and Veronica joining him in a borrowed panel van. Even Jughead’s faithful mutt Hot Dog tags along. The freak du jour is a bizarre vegetable horror, but it’s no match for a bunch of pesky kids….

Archie’s Weird Mysteries #10 (July) found a fashion for many beards and chest hair at Riverdale High. However, hirsute attractiveness and rampant testosterone can’t explain why girls and boys are all going follicle crazy until Archie uncovers a ‘Bigfoot on Campus’

At the height of competitive sports season school principal Mr. Weatherbee is kidnapped by aliens who need his (sadly non-existent) baseball expertise to beat a band of bullying space jocks in ‘U.F.O. Uh-oh!’ (#7 August) after which ‘The Scarlet Chronicles’ (AWM #10 July) introduces vampire hunter Scarlet Helsing to readers who might have missed her starring role in the TV show. As seen in the brace of cartoon episodes reprised here, the beautiful young warrior was drawn to Riverdale and allied with the town’s reclusive paranormal expert Dr. Beaumont to battle the assembling forces of darkness…

New ground is broken with issue #12 (April 2001) as ‘The Return of Scarlet’ sees the slayer suborned by a cabal of bloodsuckers and set upon Beaumont and Archie. Naturally, Betty is ready to lead the gang in their counterattack…

Complimenting the chronicles is a lighthearted cartoon ‘Guide to Fighting Vampires’ from issue #15 (September 2001) wherein Scarlet lists a number of methods for defeating the Darkness before this fun-filled fear fest concludes with behind-the-scenes text feature ‘Scarlet’s Guide to Archie’s Weird Mysteries’; interviewing Castiglia and Ruiz on their role in the TV iteration and how the comic book spun out of it.

Co-starring all the crucial supporting characters we know and love, these smartly beguiling skits are a prime example of just why Archie has been unassailable for generations: providing decades of family-friendly fun and wholesome teen entertainment – complete with goblins, ghosts and ghouls as required…
© 2011 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie & Friends All-Stars: Christmas Stocking


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

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Unmissable Tradition… 8/10

My good lady wife and I have a peculiar ritual that I’m not ashamed to share with you. Every Christmas we lock the doors, draw the shutters and stoke up the radiators before settling down with a huge pile of seasonal comics from yesteryear. There’s a few DC’s, a bunch of Disneys and some British annuals, but the biggest bunch is Archie Comics (although we have graduated to graphic novel compilations and even digital collections).

From the 1950s onwards, The Archie team have made Yule time a brighter warmer, dafter time with a gloriously funny, charming, nostalgically sentimental barrage of top-notch stories capturing the spirit of the season throughout a range of comicbooks running from Archie to Veronica, Betty to Sabrina and Jughead to Santa himself…

For most of us, when we say comicbooks people’s thoughts turn to buff men and women in garish tights hitting each other and lobbing trees or cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans – and indeed that has been the prolific norm of late. If you don’t count the barrage of licensed titles championing the other pillars of Christmas: toys game and cartoons…

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

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following with Top-Notch (see what I did earlier?) and Pep Comics. Content comprised the common blend of funny-book costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips, although Pep did make some history with its lead feature The Shield, who was the industry’s first super-hero to be clad in the flag.

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

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a wholesome youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

It began with an innocuous six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ which introduced boy-goofball Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the small-town utopia of Riverdale.

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

By May 1946 the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, pop-songs and even a chain of restaurants.

Those costumed cut-ups have returned on occasion, but the company now seems content to concentrate on what they do uniquely best.

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

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

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (+ one) has formed the foundation of decades of comics magic. Moreover, the concept is eternally self-renewing…

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

This volume (available in paperback and digital formats) was the sixth in a line of albums blending old with new and capitalising on the growing popularity of graphic novels. It gathers some of the best Christmas stories of recent years as well as an all-original Yule adventure which delightfully shows the overwhelming power of good writing and brilliant art to captivate an audience of any age.

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

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

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

That darned elf returns in ‘Jingles All the Way’ trying to pry Archie out from under Betty & Veronica’s shapely well-manicured (Ronnie’s at least) thumbs, but faces unexpected opposition from pixie hottie Sugar Plum the Yule Fairy, and we get a glimpse of the kids’ earliest experiences when Betty digs out her diary for a delightful trip ‘Down Memory Lane’.

This sparkling comic bauble concludes with another tale based on that inescapable ode in ‘The Nite Before X-Mas!’

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

These stories epitomise the magic of the Season and celebrate the perfect wonder of timeless children’s storytelling: What kind of Grinch could not want this book in their stocking?
© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie & Friends All Stars volume 5: Archie’s Haunted House


By Fernando Ruiz, Batton Lash, Dan Parent, George Gladir, Stan Goldberg, Mark McKenna, Henry Scarpelli, Rich Koslowski, & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-52-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Family Friendly Fear Fest 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 (with significant additions over the years) 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 paperback and digital collection, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are again plunged deep into whimsy and fable as writers Fernando Ruiz, Batton Lash, Dan Parent & George Gladir delve into the Dark Side for a selection of spooky spoofs and all-ages arcane adventure…

The weird wonders begin with Ruiz & Mark McKenna’s ‘…Clothes Make the Monster’ (Archie & Friends #135, September 2009) as the gang opt for a Halloween costume party at Riverdale High only to fall foul of a sinister sorceress whose bewitched outfits transform the kids into the monsters they’re dressed as…

Thankfully resident genius Dilton Doily has a plan and an unsuspected talent…

An extended gothic extravaganza that ran across a host of titles follows. The epic and episodic ‘…This Old House…’ was devised by Lash, Stan Goldberg & Henry Scarpelli) and opened in World of Archie #17, December 1995, with succeeding chapters erupting in Archie #442 (December 1995), Betty and Veronica #95 and Archie’s Pal Jughead Comics #93, both out for January 1996.

When Reggie vandalises a ramshackle, condemned property it sparks heated debate amongst the gang, all of whom have sentimental memories of the old pile from their younger days.

With the city council being urged to finally pull it down the teens are divided between demolition and declaring it a local landmark…

The politicking ensues in ‘House of Riverdale! Part 1’ even as Archie is plagued by nightmares of the dilapidated dwelling’s old occupants. Second chapter ‘Thou Protest Too Much…’ finds the gang on a picket line preserving the building until Veronica’s dad delivers the good news. The place has been saved for posterity. It turns out that it might not be good news, though, as in a nearby town Sabrina (the Teenaged Witch) pores over ancient records of the original inhabitants and readies herself to intervene…

The tension increases in ‘House of Riverdale! Part 3’ as Betty also does a little digging and connects the seemingly-benevolent name Father Riverdale to a nasty piece of work named Leander van Dermeulen whose 19th century crusade against progress resulted in a magic cult, a police shootout and a dying curse…

Fourth chapter ‘Worn Out Welcome’ finds the terrified Archie reversing his position and petitioning the council to tear down the house before the curse can be reactivated – with the expected reaction from the adults. Betty meanwhile, sneaks into the house to find some of her friends already there and totally ensorcelled…

‘House of Riverdale! Part 5’ sees Archie call on trusted comrade Jughead for help only to lose him to the dire domicile before everything comes to a head in ‘Fall of the House of Riverdale!’ As the malign ghost of van Dermeulen meets his match in ultra-nonconformist Juggy, unlikely hero Archie takes drastic action to save the day in the estate’s ghastly grounds…

With the main event concluded, lighter fare follows as B&V discover ‘An Axe to Grind’ (Betty and Veronica Spectacular #85, November 2008) with Dan Parent & Rich Koslowski revealing how the boys’ plans to crash a girls-only Halloween party go appallingly awry…

The same issue also provides a gallery of faux movie posters ‘Riverdale Style’, fashions and tips for ‘The Ultimate Halloween Bash!’ plus recipes and treats for all ‘Archie Zombies’ before the spooky shenanigans conclude with Gladir, Ruiz & Koslowski’s ‘For Monsters Only!’

First seen in Tales from Riverdale Digest #30 (December 2008) this sly shocker finds Archie and Jughead in full vampire ensemble but stumbling into a sinister soiree for actual devils, demons and creatures of the night…

Co-starring all the adorable supporting characters we know and love, 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 – complete with goblins, ghosts and ghouls as required…
© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

America’s 1st Patriotic Comic Book Hero – The Shield


By Irving Novick, Harry Shorten & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-87979-408-5

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

The Shield was an FBI scientist named Joe Higgins who wore a suit which gave him enhanced strength, speed and durability. These advantages he used to battle America’s enemies in the days before the USA entered World War II. Latterly he also devised a Shield Formula that increased his powers.

Beginning with the first issue of Pep Comics (January 1940) he battled spies, saboteurs, subversive organisations and every threat to American security and well-being and was a minor sensation. He is credited with being the industry’s very first Patriotic Hero, predating Marvel’s iconic Captain America in the “wearing the Flag” field.

Collected here in this Golden-Age fan-boy’s dream (available as a trade paperback and in digital formats) are the lead stories from monthly Pep Comics #1-5 (January – May 1940) plus the three solo adventures from the hastily assembled spin-off Shield-Wizard Comics #1 (Summer 1940).

Following a Foreword from Robert M. Overstreet and context-providing Introduction from Paul Castiglia the wonderment opens with FBI agent and Joe Higgins smashing a Stokonian spy and sabotage ring in his mystery man identity of The Shield ‘G-Man Extraordinary’. Only his boss J. Edgar Hoover knows his dark secret and of the incredible scientific process that has made the young daredevil a veritable human powerhouse.

In Pep #2, as American oil tankers begin vanishing at sea, The Shield hunts down the ray-gun-wielding villains responsible and delivers punishing justice whilst in #3 mini parachute mines cause devastating destruction in US waters until the patriotic paragon discovers the undersea base of brilliant science-maniac Count Zongarr and deals out more all-American retribution…

There’s a whiff of prescience or plain military/authorial foresight to the blistering tale from Pep #4 (May 1940) when devious, diabolical Mosconians perpetrate a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Warned by a clairvoyant vision from new mystery man The Wizard Higgins hurtles to Hawaii to scotch the plot, and when fists and fury aren’t quite enough the Shield turns an exploding volcano on the murdering backstabbers!

With mission accomplished, Higgins takes an ocean liner home in issue #5 only to have the ship attacked by vengeful Mosconians. After thwarting the sinister ambushers and battling his way back, Joe arrives back in the USA just in time to thwart a tank column attack on Congress!

The blistering pace and sheer bravura of the Patriotic Paragon’s adventures made him an early hit and he soon found a second venue for his crusade in Shield-Wizard Comics. The shared titled launched in June 1940 and opened with an expanded origin for the red, white and blue blockbuster. In 1916 his father was a scientist and officer in US Army Intelligence.

Whilst working on a formula to make men superhuman, Tom Higgins was attacked by enemy agents and he lost his life when they blew up a fleet of ammunition barges. To make matters worse, the agent was posthumously blamed for the disaster…

Joe grew up with the shame but swore to complete his father’s work and clear his name…

By achieving the first – and gaining super-powers – Joe lured out spy master Hans Fritz (who had framed his dad) and accomplished the most crucial component of his crusade: exonerating Tom Higgins. Then, with his dad’s old partner J. Edgar as part of the secret, the son joined the FBI and began his work on America’s behalf…

Shield-Wizard #1 contained three complete exploits of the Star-Spangled Centurion with the second introducing Joe to his new partner Ju Ju Watson: a doughty veteran dedicated to completing the young operative’s training. Together they investigate a steel mill infiltrated by crooks holding the owner hostage and aiming to purloin the payroll…

Young Higgin’s next case involves grisly murder as corpses are found concealed in a floating garbage scow and the trail leads back to vice racketeer Lou Zefke whose ongoing trial is stalling for lack of witnesses. With only the slimmest of leads but plenty of enthusiasm, The Shield steps in and cleans up the mess…

Raw, primitive and a little juvenile perhaps, these are still unadorned, glorious romps from the industry’s exuberant, uncomplicated dawning days: Plain-and-simple fun-packed thrills from the gravely under-appreciated Irving Novick, Harry Shorten and others whose names are now lost to history.

Despite not being to everyone’s taste these guilty pleasures are worth a look for any dyed-in-the-woollen-tights superhero freak and comprise a rapturous tribute to a less complicated time with simpler solutions to complex problems.
© 1940, 2002 Archie Publications In. All Rights Reserved.