Archie Andrews Killed Defending Gay Rights? Didn’t See That Coming

It wasn’t the first time DC comics killed off Superman, but on May, 6, 1966, the League of Assassins, having practiced killing a Superman android, bumped off the real big guy with kryptonite radio waves. I was a college student, already veering from the DC universe into Marvel’s story lines, but, hey, they knocked off Superman? We all experience losses along the way, some truly grievous and some only slightly jarring. Yes, Batman dies eleven times in the multiverses of DC comicdom, but he’s just a guy, right? Acrobatic, wealthy, tech savvy, increasingly dark as the years go by, but human. DC has killed Superman several times since then, and a friend advised me that he had been slain by magic even before the assassins developed their devastating ray gun, and Batman just keeps getting darker.

Despite the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks along the way, I was limping along with reasonable equanimity into my golden years when Archie Andrews was gunned down, shot in Pop Tate’s Chocklit Shop, the totemic gathering place where Jughead claimed his role as the hero’s insatiable and single-minded pal, fending off the amorous advanced of Ethel Muggs, where Reggie Mantle hatched scheme after machiavellian scheme in an attempt to push Archie from his pedestal as Riverdale’s favored suitor, where Betty in her blonde sweetness and Veronica in her privileged self-satisfaction ducked Reggie and tossed themselves at Archie, where Moose Mason endlessly suspected Midge Klump of seducing the male population of Riverdale, where Moose’s unlikely best friend, the brainy Dilton Doily, showed off his newest invention, where Miss Grundy and Principal Weatherbee tracked down a truant Archie and Coach Kleats dragged a protesting Moose back to the gridiron.

Archie dead on the floor of Pop Tate’s Choklit Shop!

A classic icebreaker asks a new acquaintance — “Marvel or DC”? Even more than cat/dog, Pepsi/Coke, Matrix Keanu/Bill andTed Keanu, the question indicates a particular sensibility; affiliation to a particular brand of comic reveals voluntary immersion in worlds beyond worlds.

My answer? Archie.

I suppose I spent as much, at ten cents a pop, on other comics, but I was much more comfortable in Archie’s company than in Bruce Wayne’s or Clark Kent’s. Let’s see — intermittently clueless, academically disengaged, professional evader of household responsibilities, mediocre athlete, foolishly and immediately the willing pawn of any attractive female in town? Did I dentify with the character? Close enough for me. I understood, no, felt, the antipathy to Archie as expressed by Hiram Lodge, multi-billionaire father of the almost inaccesible Veronica. Of course he shuddered when Archie arrived at the mansion, perpetually capable of destroying Ming vases or an original Van Gogh with one fumbling, bumbling, slip on an equally priceless Persian carpet. Would Bruce set fire to the drapes? I think not. Would Clark scheme to force Professor Flutesnoot to cancel a chemistry test? Heaven forfend.

Had I embarrassed myself on a daily basis from the age of ten until … ?

To press the point, one could determine an aesthetic and moral compass by asking a reader to choose between Metropolis and Gotham, a joyless exercise from my point of view. Riverdale? Right up my alley. The three locations offered little in the way of ethnic or cultural diversity, and I would have been a curiosity in any of the three, but until the very end, murder rarely came to Riverdale. I am vaguely aware of unfortunate portrayals of Asians as the dining choices in Riverdale seem to come down to Pop Tate’s or the stereotypically garish Chinese Restaurant. I recall lighthearted romping at pool parties with an “Oriental” theme, and “foreign” students on exchange were always good for a laugh. I was culturally comatose, however, and found the entire population of Riverdale generous, warm hearted, and sincere.

Unfortunately, Archie’s drooling appreciation of the girls in his quasi-harem extended only to three primary attributes -they were blondes, brunettes, or redheads. Again, limited range in circumstance as well in that Betty Cooper (blonde) was from a serenly middle class household, Veronica Lodge (brunette) was heiress to the Lodge fortune and fashionista extraordinaire, and Cheryl Blossom (redhead) was tucked in the exclusive Pembroke neighborhood looking down on the “townies” at Riverdale High. Jughead’s first love was the hamburger/fries/milkshake special at the Choklit Shop, but he tolerated the slavish adoration of “Big” Ethel Muggs, bucktoothed, gawky, and drab. Not much room for ordinary girls.

I could buy three comic books and two candy bars on my allowance of forty cents, or, on rare occasions spring for Archie’s Double Digest or the Betty and Veronica Jumbo Digest, each of which cost a quarter. Miserly caution usually won out, although during the holiday season, all bets were off. Released well before Christmas, Archie’s Christmas Stocking, Betty and Veronica’s Christmas Spectacular, and Archie’s Christmas Spectacular were irresistible; I didn’t even blink when Archie’s Christmas Love In jumped to 35 cents.

And then, I went off to school, forgot about Riverdale, went to college and hung out (not literally) with Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and Daredevil, settled down somewhat and turned to Esquire and Sports Illustrated. The days passed and I soon found myself conferring with Santa, identifying the gifts I hoped my three kids would find in their stockings. I had been surprised to find that Archie and the gang still trotted out fat compendia as Thanksgiving approached, now in more compact digests stacked at the check-out counter of the grocery store, just about the right size to be stuffed at the top of a well curated stocking. To this day, I am not sure that the kids actually read any of the chunky magazines, but I found them a comforting reminder of simpler times. I didn’t eat their Haloween candy without permission, but the digests were often just lying next to the couch on the floor, almost covered with wrapping paper. How could I resist?

Until the world darkened, until Archie’s shuffling off the mortal coil, until Riverdale’s seamy underbelly was brought to television, until Sabrina made a pact with Satan, things in Riverdale hadn’t changed very much. Was I living in a fool’s paradise, expecting a frazzled but loyal Fred Andrews father figure to step into my life? Did I picture myself one of the carefree teens sipping sodas while Pops gamely tried to keep up with Jughead’s demand for more burgers? Sure, and of the many misplaced and illogical loyalties I would hold, fondness for Archie and the gang was by far the least unfortunate.

Rest in peace, Archie Andrews; you have been spared the tumult of partisan politics and the privations of a pandemic. Riverdale remembers you fondly. The High School has been renamed in your honor. With your untimely death, however, the world will always wonder how you would have finally answered the question: Betty or Veronica?

I’m the author of four novels and America’s Best Kept College Secrets, a retired teacher of the humanities, eclectic reader, and prisoner of popular culture.