A look at Archie in the 2010s

Archie is probably the comic publisher that’s changed the most during the 2010s. Below, I’ll look at some of the ways the Riverdale gang’s changed, for better or worse.

Highlights

Life With Archie #16
Art by Fernando Ruiz.
  • The “Archie Marries Betty/Veronica” storyline (late 2009-mid 2010).
  • Kevin Keller, Archie’s first openly gay character, debuts (2010).
  • Archie became the first major publisher to offer digital comics the same day as print ones (2011).
  • The adult version of Kevin Keller married Clay Walker in “Life With Archie” #16 (2012). (A sign how much has changed in this decade: my original post noted Riverdale was in a state with legalized same-sex marriage. Such became legal nationwide in 2015.)
  • “Afterlife With Archie,” a mature readers-only horror title, launched (2013).
  • Archie Andrews died in the final storyline in the future-set title “Life With Archie” (2014).
  • “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” another mature readers-only horror title, launched (2014).
  • Archie rebooted its entire line, including starting over its flagship title with a new #1 (2015).
  • Archie made a few attempts to relaunch its “Red Circle” superhero line (mid-2010s).
  • Archie’s ill-fated attempt to use Kickstarter to raise funds, which drew heavy criticism and was eventually ended (2015).
  • Jughead’s acknowledged as asexual (2016).
  • Archie cancels its long-running Sonic the Hedgehog titles (2016), with the license for Sonic shifting to IDW.
  • Archie starts publishing digest reprint titles featuring Marvel superheroes (2017).
  • Archie’s ongoing single-issue titles are all cancelled save for the flagship “Archie” title, which switched to a miniseries format (late 2010s).

Comics

Kevin Keller #1
Art by Dan Parent.

As I said above, Archie at the dawn of 2020 is very different from where it was at the start of 2010.

In 2010, Archie had just changed ownership; with it came a desire to start modernizing its line. The first major sign was the “Archie Marries Veronica”/”Archie Marries Betty” storyline from late 2009 to mid-2010. The biggest early change, however, was the debut in 2010 of Kevin Keller, an openly gay character. This saw a large amount of news in mainstream media, since Archie was perceived as having a conservative reputation.

It’s subverting said reputation and trying to modernize things that seemed to define Archie in the 2010s. The company tried out many ideas:

  • Graphic novels starring modernized versions of characters like Jinx.
  • Crossovers ranging from Barack Obama and Sarah Palin to KISS to the Predator (twice!).
  • “Life With Archie,” a series following up on the “Archie Marries” storyline by showing the gang’s soap opera-ish lives as adults.
  • The aforementioned horror titles.

The biggest comics change might be in 2015, when Archie took a cue from DC Comics in 2015 and launched an unprecedented-for-them linewide reboot of their titles. “Archie” relaunched in 2015 with modernized artwork, characterizations, and storytelling. Recurring storylines were set up; Archie, Betty, and Veronica’s behavior started to be a bit more realistic; Moose started acting like a more normal guy (versus the traditional version’s creepy controlling treatment of his girlfriend); and Jughead was openly acknowledged as asexual for the first time.

Unlike DC’s bridge-burning approach to its reboots, Archie kept the traditional versions of its characters around in the digests. As the second half of the decade wore on, however, it seems like Archie’s focus shifted more toward serving older readers, outside of the digests.

Another focus change came by the final part of the 2010s: Archie basically cancelled its ongoing single-issue comics save for the flagship “Archie” title, while shifting “Archie” to (basically) a series of ongoing miniseries. Even the numbering was altered to emphasize the storyline parts (“Part 1 of 5”) over the legacy numbering. Said miniseries, of course, are easily collected in trade paperback form.

Pros and cons

Archie #635
“Archie” #635 (September 2012). Art by Gisele Lagace.

On the plus side, I’d say Archie’s changes overall are for the better. We’ve gotten some interesting and entertaining stories featuring Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Kevin, and company.

Granted, Archie had to evolve out of necessity business-wise. Looking back at late 2009 (10 years ago), it felt like Archie was mostly coasting on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” sitcom reruns and the licensed “Sonic the Hedgehog” titles (the Blue Blur was outselling the Riverdale line). Additionally, some aspects of the characters were becoming increasingly dated (again, see Moose).

Finally, the rise in kids’ comics (Raina Telgemeier, “Dog Man,” etc.) in the 2010s meant Archie was no longer the de facto (or even a primary) choice for kids’ comics anymore. Readers had other choices for kid-friendly comics; many of these also did Archie’s tropes (relationship drama, goofy teenage antics, etc.) just as well. (It might explain some of Archie’s shift toward appealing to older readers.)

On the down side, Archie’s much-promoted horror line saw very heavy delays between issues. There’s also the shift to attracting older readers possibly coming at the expense of its traditional younger readers (outside of the digests). “The Blossom twins compete to become the new Antichrist” certainly attracted attention, but it’s definitely not the most kid-friendly plotline.

Going into the 2020s, Archie’s current emphasis on various miniseries collected as trade paperbacks might work well for them. For one, trades are a more general public-friendly comic format than singles. It also acknowledges the direct market’s emphasis on floppies isn’t the future for the comics industry.

I do wonder if the current boom in kids’ comics will impact Archie in the 2020s, given the broader range of choices now available for readers. That said, Archie also announced plans to publish original graphic novels for kids featuring the Riverdale gang. If those take off, that should also help Archie going into the 2020s.

Television

Archie bounced back in a big way on TV in the 2010s. At the start of the decade, the 90s/00s “Sabrina” cartoons and sitcom were the company’s only real presence. Granted, the decade did see a new, short-lived “Sabrina” cartoon (“Secrets of a Teenage Witch”) air.

I would’ve figured that Archie licensing a kid-friendly sitcom to the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon would be a way to get back on TV. That said, I suspect Archie’s traditional elements (love triangles, trouble with teachers, etc.) were easy for those outlets to mimic (without paying for licensing), given the various live-action kid sitcoms.

As such, Archie instead opted for appealing to teenage and young adult viewers, similar to the path their comics took. “Riverdale” debuted on the CW network in 2017 as a “darker and edgier” take on the Archie gang. It’s since become a popular series, with a dedicated fan base. (Some have criticized the show making Jughead explicitly heterosexual/not asexual, however.) The show’s even getting a spin-off starring Katy Keene.

On the heels of that success, Archie launched on Netflix a new horror-based “Sabrina” series, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” That show’s also been successful for the streaming service.

Going into the 2020s, Archie seems to have revitalized its presence on TV, after years of proposals that didn’t go anywhere.

Conclusion

Overall, Archie seems to be in a stronger spot than it was in the 2000s, between a revitalized comic line and its successful TV series. Going into the 2020s, I’d like to see them push more into original young adult/kid-friendly graphic novels.

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