Archie: 1941 #1
Writers: Mark Waid & Brian Augustyn
Artist: Peter Krause
Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters: Jack Morelli
Cover artists: Krause (regular)/Sanya Anwar, Francesco Francavilla, Dave Johnson & Aaron Lopresti (variants)
Editors: Mike Pellerito & Victor Gorelick
Publisher: Archie Comics
Price: $3.99 US
I was thrilled to see both Mark Waid’s and Brian Augustyn’s names in the credits for this new limited series, the latest in Archie’s efforts to offer new and more thoughtful spins on its iconic teen characters. Waid and Augustyn have always worked well together; Augustyn was Waid’s editor on the Flash run that initially cemented the writer’s reputation in the medium, and they’ve paired in the past as co-writers, to great effect. Augustyn has been largely invisible in the industry in recent years, so it’s a pleasure to see him back. He and Waid bring the same strength to this latest collaboration as they have in the past. Their more realistic examination of Archie Andrews on the cusp of adulthood during a tumultuous and uncertain time in American history really resonates, but while the characterization work here is impeccable, I nevertheless felt a little uncomfortable with it. A truly melancholy and lost Archie just didn’t feel quite right, as the writers face the burden the character’s long history and ingrained presence in pop-culture consciousness.
Summer 1941 has arrived, as Archie Andrews and his pals graduate high school, eager to burst into the world as adults — at least most are. Archie feels rudderless, unsure of what to do next, what he wants to do or be, and weighing heavily on his mind at the same time is the chaos and suffering overseas in a war that threatens to draw in America.
Krause has been a frequent artistic collaborator of Waid’s in recent years, and this is another successful endeavour for the creators. His simple but realistic style suits the tone of the story incredibly well, but despite his more realistic bent, it’s still easy to recognize these iconic characters, which are usually rendered in a much more cartoony fashion. Krause does an excellent job of capturing the era, notably when it comes to the depiction of the clothing. I was reminded of the styles of such artists as Stuart Immonen, Jackson Guice and Chris Samnee at times as I read this comic.
Easily the most powerful element of the issue is the strained relationship between Archie and his father. Friction between father and an adolescent son is almost a universal experience, and Waid and Augustyn handle it incredibly well. Archie’s dad might come off as too harsh, but it’s easy to imagine his irritation stems from concern at seeing a young man full of potential wandering listlessly through life in the wake of graduation. Still, one empathizes and relates to Archie here, and when he finally has a confrontation with his father, it’s in a typical, clumsy, just as he’s always been shown over the decades. Furthermore, Archie’s preoccupation with the coming war rings incredibly true, and his concern and focus on those events belies a strength of character.
The characterization overall was quite well done, and I was particularly appreciative of how the writers handle Reggie Mantle. I’ve never understood why Archie’s bully has also been depicted as one of his closest friends as well, and Waid and Augustyn toss that dynamic out the window. The only real disappointment from a character perspective was the writers’ depiction of the women, Betty and Veronica. Betty seems far too meek here and Veronica too superficial. One could argue it’s consistent with past portrayals of the characters, but one of the points of this reimagining of Archie and the gang is clearly to show them as real people. Betty and Veronica seem a bit one-dimensional here, but given the writers’ past efforts, I’m confident greater depth will be revealed as the series progresses.
I think it’s clear I feel the creators have done an exceptional job here of fleshing out Archie and his friends, and that the depiction of people trapped in a limbo between childhood and adulthood really hits the mark, despite the fact the story is set in a time completely unlike what we experience today. But a barrier of sorts kept me from feeling completely taken and pleased with this reading experience, and that’s the sullen tone in a property that I and so many others associate with innocence and fun. Archie Comics has brought edge and maturity to these characters before, such as the alternate storylines of Archie’s married lives or with Afterlife with Archie. But those “imaginary” stories featured the same iconic house style or such an impossible concept, respectively, that they didn’t detract from the core appeal of the characters. This depiction of a depressed and isolated Archie was so convincing, it didn’t really feel like Archie. It almost felt wrong, but that’s not to impugn the writers’ craft here. In fact, it’s a testament to it and more about dear and powerfully familiar these characters are in our culture. 7/10