Currently, Archie and the gang from Riverdale have essentially done it all. Not everything mind, but they have appeared in comic books, television both live-action and animated and have even been a band with a number one hit. That seems pretty good for a kid that started out as a single feature among many others in a comic packed with superheroes.
In the beginning, he was definitely not a whole lot to look at – a gangly, red-headed teenager that was more bravado than skill and one who could not keep himself out of trouble, even from the first. Written and drawn by Bob Montana and Vic Morrow and starring alongside other strips featuring the Shield, the Hangman and Sergeant Boyle to name a few, what would begin as just an ordinary strip during the Second World War would soon turn out to be M.L.J. Magazines, Inc. biggest hit, unbeknownst to them.
How can one not enjoy the shenanigans of Archie Andrews? He is the quintessential boy next door, maybe a little more clumsy than most and definitely a bit awkward, but that is the charm of the character as he could be the everyman that any reader could associate with. He is a wholesome kid that lives in a wholesome town, is caring and kind and knows how to have fun. He goes to school, tries to do his homework, hangs out with his friends and does all the things that most normal kids do as they grow up. Factor in a strong cast of supporting players like Betty Cooper, the girl that every boy has a crush on, the rich yet beautiful brat as portrayed by Veronica Lodge, the best friend in Jughead Jones, the mortal enemy in Reggie Mantle and more including Moose, Midge, Dilton and Pop Tate and there is no limit to the number of stories that could be told. Suffice it to say, having first appeared in Pep Comics #22 which debuted in 1941 during a war that would cover the Earth and it now being 2020, there have been a lot of stories told featuring Archie and the Gang.
When M.L.J. became Archie Comics, the writing was on the wall for its superhero line and while they would fade in and out over the years, their staying power was never for very long which in itself was a bit of shame but they would continue to resurface over the years at both Archie and other publishers, namely DC, as they have continually tried bringing them back. As for Archie Andrews, he would go on to launch and star in numerous titles over the years while still appearing in Pep and Laugh with other properties spinning off into their own books like Josie and the Pussycats, Sabrina, Kevin Keller and more. As the years would pass and things would look a bit stale on the comic book front, current CEO Jon Goldwater would take the gang out of their comfort zone and start making them relevant again with a new series of comics featuring the classic teens written and drawn by some of today’s top talents to much acclaim. Furthering that, they would also venture into the horror genre with books like Afterlife with Archie, Jughead the Hunger, Vampironica and Blossoms 666. Perhaps even better depending on who is asked, the teens would be seen crossing over with characters from other publishers like Red Sonja, Vampirella, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, crossovers that would come long after the Punisher paid Riverdale a visit as well. The film industry would not be left out either with appearances from the likes of Predator and Sharknado as well as musical talents like KISS and the B52’s. With the success of the comics over the years though, they would soon expand their little corner of the universe into other mediums.
Taking over the airwaves on Saturday mornings would be a little program called The Archie Show which would feature everyone’s favourite characters come to life on the small screen. It was and still is, a very good time to be had. While there does not seem to be anything overly special about the show now, it was magical when it first appeared in the fact that everyone was able to see their favourite comic characters jump from the page to animated glory alongside fare like The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, The Herculoids, Wacky Races, Shazzan! and the Lone Ranger. Additionally, the show would feature a musical number during the episode by a band called The Archies with Archie, Reggie, Jughead, Veronica and Betty comprising the members. In real life, the band was made up of lead singer Ron Dante with backing vocals from Toni Wine, as well as Jeff Barry and Bobby Bloom. They and the show would generate one of the biggest musical hits of the year with Sugar Sugar in 1969, followed by Wilson Pickett who would cover it not only a year after its release.
Once Archie Andrews and his cohorts made it into animated form, they would continue on for a decade with a number of different shows, all of them starring the same group of teens that the public had fallen in love with from the comics. Shows like The Archie Comedy Hour, Archie’s TV Funnies, The New Archie and Sabrina Hour just to name a few, would pepper the airwaves and provide a bit of escape, but once they were over, it would be some time before the kids would return to the screen once again and that in the form of The New Archies which did not last long whatsoever. Things would move along in what could only be called the status quo for the gang, continuing their four colour comedic adventures until the year 1990 when a television movie called To Riverdale and Back Again would air in primetime.
The movie, featuring the kids all grown up with grown-up problems was a decent affair. The acting was good and the cast which included Lauren Holly among their number did a good job with the material given, but there were times when it was slightly depressing – seeing those happy-go-lucky teens not as they once were, their dreams not quite turning out as they probably thought they would, not to mention Betty and Veronica resorting to chasing Archie around again despite him having moved on was not as exciting as one would have thought. Still, it was not all bad and it was fun to see this sort of alternate future, made more for the adults than for those actually reading the books. Altogether, an interesting experiment nonetheless that would ultimately lead nowhere, especially when it came to the ratings which were less than impressive. The teens would return once again to the small screen in Archie’s Weird Mysteries some years later, but their live-action glory would not be realized until the year 2017 when Riverdale would debut on the CW and Netflix and become a bonafide hit on all accounts.
Riverdale, despite featuring the eternal teenagers that multiple generations had grown up with, would not be portrayed exactly as they were in the comics, instead representing the youth of the present with all of their foibles and a good dose of sex, mystery and horror for good measure. Archie Andrews would take the spotlight as was only proper with the rest of the gang being featured in fairly prominent roles depending on the storyline and over the course of the show, things would definitely turn out to be quite different than what most would expect, especially during that first season. It would begin with taboo and murder and just go on from there, proving that this was not going to be the comedic exploits that continued on in the monthly digests still found at grocery stores and newsstands everywhere.
It was an experiment that worked and the show is still running strong today, having been renewed for a fourth season. It has featured Archie getting together with Veronica, Betty with Jughead, serial killers, secret societies, drug dealers, gangs, prison boxing, bad dads and good dads, brainwashing, a cult and a lot of music, most of it usually from Josie and the Pussycats early on in the series and more from the cast in later seasons. Though KJ Apa, Cole Sprouse, Lili Reinhart and Camila Mendes can be called the stars of the show, they are often overshadowed by Madelaine Petsch as the oft-conniving Cheryl Blossom who manages to be a scene-stealer whenever on the screen, though despite being able to do so, everything almost always revolves around Archie. Casey Cott and Vanessa Morgan along with a few others manage to round out the younger cast members quite well, but it is also to the show’s credit that they manage to feature a number of seasoned players like Skeet Ulrich, Mädchen Amick, Mark Consuelos, Molly Ringwald, Marisol Nichols and Luke Perry who tragically passed away. If there is one thing that the show does well, it is hooking viewers in with riveting storylines and a group of actors and actresses that can deliver the material better than most. What also holds true throughout no matter the changes is the loyalty that Archie has towards his friends, the good-natured manner that comes easily to him and the respect he treats his parents with. He might have lost the clumsiness and a bit of the goofiness that is usually ascribed to him, but it is a fair trade-off for what is represented on-screen – the character that everyone knows and loves.
So whether it be television or comics or whatever medium he decides to cross over into next, Archie Andrews continues to resonate with the public. Who would have thought that all of those years ago when Montana and Morrow would bring him to life that he would still be featured so prominently in popular culture, the everyman as represented by a boy with a heart of gold. One thing that is for sure is that Archie will keep on doing so as long as he continues to change with the times which means people can expect a lot more from everyone’s favourite redhead for years to come.