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Offbeat 01 August 2014

I came back to Archie comics a few weeks ago when a disturbing piece of news from The Guardian, of all places, told me that Archie was murdered.

I make assumptions about people who regularly read this column, typically that you are smarter, older, better looking, and so on. I also assume that you have a fair amount of exposure to pop culture and can bend your mind around the impact that it has on human thought, even if it is just the brain-dimming phenomena of ‘YOLO’, ‘epic fail’ videos and selfies, or whatever the meme of the week is.
Flattery aside, for this column I will make the assumptions that you are older, and riff on pop culture for a bit, because I really am struggling not to freak about the ten-year old who had a suicide vest strapped to her chest. I need my mind to head off in another direction.
When I was about eleven, one year older than what is apparently the right age for girls to declare jihad and strap on explosives, my window on the world of bigger boys and girls, was Archie comics. I tried to use them to analyse relationships and understand the bigger kids in my world.
Unfortunately the comics were slightly sanitised so nothing really gelled in reality. It might have helped if I was less maladjusted and more lucid, but I still have good memories of those things in spite of the fact that they were blatantly untrue, and there was more reality for me in the Stephen King novels that showed up when I was twelve.

To be fair, Jughead stuck with me, the outsider and an admirably big eater, which I was, and still sometimes am, so I didn’t walk away from the comics without some enrichment. I am glad though, that I never managed to find the silly hat he wore.
I came back to Archie comics a few weeks ago, when a disturbing piece of news from The Guardian, of all places, told me that Archie was murdered.
In a nutshell, Archie gets shot when he throws himself in front of a stalker to protect his friend, a gay senator who has introduced gun control legislation. If you are thinking that might be Senator Lodge, you are way off course, but full marks for a disturbingly twisted mind, and perhaps we should do beer sometime.
I scratched around Amazon for the Kindle comic versions but got sidetracked by ‘Afterlife with Archie’. That story line shows Riverdale and the Archie characters under attack by zombies. Just in case you are wondering, Jughead becomes a zombie. So does the school principal, Mr Weatherbee, and the teacher, Mrs Grundy. Moose and Midge also get infected. Reggie, by the way, is still an egocentric human prick, well worth preserving for subsidiary dramatic tension.
The series fearlessly reflects the zeitgeist of pop culture. Archie wrestles with the fact that he put an end to his zombie father to protect his mother. In case you are wondering, it involves a baseball bat and the usual vulnerable zombie body part.
More exploration, of  story lines in the Archie-comic universe, shows grown-up Archie married alternatively to Betty and Veronica. My best guess is that they are alternating story lines, and possibly don’t feature divorce, though I won’t bet real money on that.
Another interesting phenomenon is the way that the stories now feature social media and particularly Twitter. It surprised me. None of them ever had mobile devices before. I shouldn’t be amazed, obviously, but I was, and I enjoyed that reference.
The thing that strikes me is that Archie is a noble, ‘everyman’ character. He has to navigate personal issues and dilemmas. The evolution is that he has to navigate social issues as well, such as gun control and rainbow genders. The beauty of the thing is that, in the comics milieu, Archie rises above the need for superpowers. Although much has been said about the vérité of Marvel and DC characterisation of superhero personalities, Archie, in my estimation, rises above that by being normal. As much as I wanted a guide from Archie then, I want a guide now. In a reality which encompasses a ten year old girl wearing a suicide vest, perhaps Archie can find a way to save her, and me, if only from grim reality.  I have a lot of reading to do, and more comics to buy.

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