Dear Mr. Silver Age,
Archie Andrews sure had a lot of problems dealing with girlfriends, rivals, teachers, and parents, resulting in all sorts of teen-age high jinks. But did he ever have any real adventures?
Forest Hills, N.Y.
Mr. Silver Age says: He sure did, Pete. On rare occasions, they bubbled up in the regular titles, especially to show Veronica’s softer side. But, for real slam-bang action-adventure thrills, you had to turn to Life with Archie. There, he faced much more elaborate teen troubles as well as travelogues, spy intrigue, science-fiction tales, monster thrillers, and even super-hero adventures.
Actually, this was old hat for Arch by his teen years, since he often faced danger (and foiled the original Doctor Doom) in The Adventures of Little Archie. But the redhead and his teenage pals shifted into full adventuring mode with Life with Archie #1 (Sep 58) and they continued in that vein for most issues through its end with #286 (Jul 91). So they must have been doing something right. Today, the title has been revived in an appropriate way, following the legendary “What If?” adventures of Archie’s marriage to either Betty or Veronica.
That first issue set the format, featuring one long story typically split into four chapters. That tale featured a school field trip to The United Nations, while #2 featured a trip to Washington, D.C. In both cases, the cover didn’t spotlight this adventurous approach, a technique that came and went through the decades. Usually, the cover showcased the rousing adventure inside, even as the story lengths cut back and issues offered more variety. (Most of these early tales were written by Sy Reit, with art by Bob White.)
Things officially became adventurous with #3 (Jul 60), announced by a cover featuring Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica shipwrecked on a desert island and coming upon a footprint in the sand. That issue began the use of the “Archie Adventure Series” bug in the left-hand corner, although it only lasted through #17 (Nov 62) before reverting to the usual “Archie Series” tag.
The first two issues’ travelogues were one of a number of categories of recurring adventure styles. The travel adventures often took the same format as the popular Dennis the Menace travelogues, throwing in sightseeing, factual info, and high jinks. In #4 (Sep 60), for instance, Fred Andrews was tricked into taking the entire gang along on a trip Out West. (Mary conveniently was off to visit her Aunt Martha.) They marveled at Monument Valley and The Grand Canyon, met Native Americans, and wound up on a Hollywood set.
In #22 (Aug 63), though, their school trip to Paris with Miss Grundy took a more dramatic turn, when Jughead was kidnapped and Archie had to rescue him. A soupçon of danger also spiced up the gang’s trip to the New York World’s Fair in #31 (Nov 64), during one portion of which Archie and Reggie had to save the girls from a crazed mini-taxi driver.
Speaking of #31, let me say that my collecting life was eased considerably when LwA finally added numbers to its cover months with #30 (Oct 64). Apparently, the editors decided that 30 issues were enough to build LwA’s “veteran” credibility. Ah, for the days when low-numbered comics were considered risky investments of our hard-earned 12¢!
The gang didn’t always leave town to have a crazy adventure. In #10 (Sep 61), it helped stage a Civil War reenactment that was nearly undone by a saboteur. In #14 (May 62), Archie stumbled over a briefcase filled with $1 million on the sidewalk. He turned in the money to the police and then started dreaming of how he’d spend it — and spent parts of it for a swimming pool, houseboy, etc. Things turned dicey when someone showed up to claim the cash. Hilarity and a good lesson for the kids ensued.
Then, in #17 (Nov 62), Jughead won the school spelling bee, vaulting him into contention for the state title — just before he had an appendicitis attack. The operation didn’t go well, leaving the spelling title — not to mention Juggie’s life — in jeopardy. (Obviously, he got better.)
In #27 (May 64), Betty and Veronica just happened to be working at the hospital as candy-stripers, when an unnamed man was brought in with a concussion and went into a coma. Things heated up, when mysterious strangers started casing “Patient X’s” room. That led the gang to discover there was an art thief in town ready to strike.
Not all of their Riverdale adventures were as dramatic. In #28 (Jul 64), the Lodges were visited by “The Riverdale Hillbillies,” aka second cousin Clem and his family. They bore a striking resemblance to a certain TV hillbilly family, including a Jethro-like son to wow the girls — plus two little girls as the young’uns.
A handful of early issues featured elaborate versions of traditional Riverdale mayhem. In #15 (Jul 62), Archie was forbidden to attend the annual prom, so he had Veronica concoct a cousin “Marmaduke Shlepp” so Archiekins could attend. Then, Principal Weatherbee relented on his punishment and told Archie to bring Marmaduke so they could meet this sophisticated cousin. Slapstick and farce ensued through four chapters.
At the other end of the spectrum, the stories sometimes pushed into the fantastical. In #12 (Jan 62), the gang investigated an old mine shaft and were captured by little green elf-like Rock People living in a large underground city. The gang helped them combat the Tyrannosaurus rex that terrorized them. Yep, that’s what I said.
They similarly went into The Twilight Zone in the next issue, unlucky #13 (Mar 62), when a vacation at the Lodges’ mountain retreat (unchaperoned, I note) became a horror movie, as a mysterious creature terrorized the gang. Wearing a space helmet with antennas and waving his four arms, the ape-like creature devoured anything metallic and yelled, “Geeko!” at every opportunity. The story was notable for being one of the few early tales drawn by Archie mainstay Samm Schwartz.
Gears shifted in #29 (Aug 64), showing a bit of what was to come later. Behind a cover that had nothing to do with the story inside (Archie writing a mysterious exposé for the school newspaper), our redheaded pal judged a beauty contest in which four girls expected him to name them the winner — but the story had only two parts. It was followed by two gag strips to round things out.
That led into a series of issues in the #30s with shorter adventures backed by gag strips or a second adventure. Apparently, “novel-length” stories were becoming hard to sustain. Three short stories were featured in #38 (Jun 65), but at least the cover featured Archie and Jughead menaced by a grizzly bear near another of those Lodge mountain retreats that never looked the same twice.
Issue #41 (Sep 65) pulled out all the stops, featuring six adventures around the world, all spotlighted on the cover. That was the grand finale for adventures with any semblance of basis in reality (at least, Riverdale reality), as #42 (Oct 65) introduced a new concept: Archie as Pureheart the Powerful! It jumped right into Archie, as Pureheart, battling The Ice Cube to recover millions of dollars stolen from Mr. Lodge.
That first two-part adventure turned out to be Archie’s dream, but, when Pureheart returned in another two-parter in #44 (Dec 65), there was no indication that his battle with the evil Bloodshot Eye was anything more than life with Archie. Two adventures later, in #46 (Feb 66), we learned about Archie’s ability to draw on the PH (Pure Heart) Factor, which gave him typical super-powers of flying, strength, and invulnerability. Conveniently, when he changed back to Archie, a fog made everyone forget his adventures.
Pureheart was soon joined by Jughead (as Captain Hero) and Betty (as Superteen). They joined forces in #50 (Jun 66) as The United Three, possibly the worst super-team name ever. Arch and Jug even snagged a few solo issues of their own titles under those names, while Superteen appeared in her Betty & Me title. Reggie put in a few appearances as Evilheart in his own Reggie & Me series after being introduced in LwA #48 (Apr 66).
Battling it out with Pureheart and his super-pals for Life supremacy was another new hero: The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.! Based on the popular Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series, the hero did not have initials that stood for anything, unlike U.N.C.L.E. (although in recent times, it’s said to stand for “Really Impressive Vast Enterprise for Routing Dangerous Adversaries, Louts, Etc.”).
While Pureheart strained our credulity attempting to fit Archie’s super-doing into his teenage Riverdale life, Archie’s career as a secret agent of Protect Our Planet (P.O.P.) battling the evil agents from C.R.U.S.H. was just a straight-on satire, with the gang (initially Archie and Jughead but soon joined by Betty) turning an average day at school or with Pop Tate into an adventure with danger and intrigue.
The initial story in #45 (Jan 66) was pure parody, with Archie indicating his name was Bonaparte (a jab at star U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo). In their return in #47 (Mar 66), they regained their real names (turned into initials for no explained reason), and Reggie and Veronica were planned as agents of C.R.U.S.H.
Fortunately, that was rethought, and their likenesses were redrawn to more generic-looking bad guys in that issue. (That info comes courtesy of the Grand Comic Book Database (www.comics.org), which was a big help in pulling together this overview.) Soon, Reggie and Ronnie joined R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. as secret agents masquerading as high-school students, too.
Once the super-gang broke off into their own titles (albeit short-lived ones), Life with Archie focused on the gang’s secret-agent lives for a healthy run through #61 (May 67). It maintained a super-hero connection, though, since the agents usually faced villains in fancy costumes who had super-powers or a high-tech weapon that would have made Pureheart proud. So much for being “secret” agents.
But, despite the series still going strong, #61 also introduced a new concept in its back-up tale: The Archies, a madcap rock band! The trio (Archie, Reggie, and Juggie) followed in the footsteps of The Beatles and, more directly, The Monkees. They engaged in a farcical, surreal adventure in the course of which they helped Mr. Lodge retrieve a stolen gun that made things vanish. Ostrich-riding, silly costumes, and mop-top-like mayhem ensued.
The Archies and their wacky adventures took over the lead position, while the secret agents continued in the back-up slot, exchanging super-hero-style bad-guy “secret” agents for surreal adventures similar to The Archies’ style. The Archies went on to bigger and better things in other titles (not to mention Top 10 songs and cartoons), at which point Betty and Veronica joined the band.
Their departure gave LwA the opening to return to its traditional adventurous ways, but it usually reduced those adventures to the cover story in, at most, two parts in a three-story format. Toward the end of 1967, the title dropped the adventure concept altogether and featured the more typical gag covers and stories of other Archie titles.
These continued for several years, although they occasionally added a little extra. In #100 (Aug 70), for instance: Behind a gag cover on Formula One-style racing cars, were three stories set at the racetrack, including an 11-page adventure in which The Archies help a racer overcome a competitor’s dirty tricks.
The stories also began to feature more current events, such as in #110 (Jun 71), which presented one story on Vietnam veterans and another on battling pollution. Some of the stories used public-service themes, such as “The Sound of Silence” in #119 (Mar 72), which featured Archie helping a deaf girl learn to read lips and letting readers know that deaf people can live normal lives if given the chance.
Adventures of various lengths and styles, from haunted houses to kidnappings to outer-space wackiness, continued through the rest of the title’s history. They often were mixed with gag stories or additional adventures (some featuring newcomer Cheryl Blossom), but the adventures continued through the final issue, #296 (Jul 91).
By that point, the adventure stories had spread out. The early 1990s titles included such short-lived options as Archie 3000, Explorers of the Unknown, Jughead’s Time Police, Dilton’s Strange Science, Jughead’s Diner, and Faculty Funnies.
It only made sense, then, that editors would revive LwA when they wanted to introduce ongoing stories featuring the continuation of the popular features in which Archie married Betty or Veronica. The stories have been highly entertaining, if only for the surprisingly grim outlook that pervaded the first long-form story through the first two years — until things were sorted out and a new tale began.
They continue today with interesting suggestions for how the lives of many of the supporting cast will go. The similarities between the two sides imply that the characters were destined for one singular fate, which seems implausible at best (and makes it more complicated to keep each universe straight).
But Life with Archie was always the home for implausible, if not surreal, adventures of our favorite typical teen. The new title carries on that tradition in grand style, injecting such topics as gay marriage, cancer, quirky dating pairs, job difficulties, and the problems of finding a direction after school. It makes for fun reading for new and lapsed Archie readers alike, as we get to see, after all these years, the next stage in life with Archie.
Known to fans worldwide as “Mr. Silver Age,” Craig Shutt has waxed nostalgic about comics of old in CBG since 1992. Send comments and suggestions to email@example.com.
“Ask Mr. Silver Age” is © 2012 Craig Shutt