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Archie Andrews (1941-2014) R.I.P.
by Jim Longworth
Those of us who have lost a loved one are not prone to mourn mundane things like the cancellation of our favorite TV show, or the play-off loss of our favorite team. Still, any abrupt change to the underpinnings of our little corner of the universe can serve to exacerbate our sensitivity over real life losses. For example, the death of my Mom came on the heels of the razing of my elementary school which used to stand just up the street from our old house. Taken separately, the building demolition would have seemed unimportant, but taken in tandem with my Mother's passing, it took on a different significance. The fact is we become easily attached to and sentimental over inanimate objects because they represent direct or collateral symbols of order and stability in our lives. And that brings me to comic books, and to the characters who appear in them.
For many of us, comic books were the first thing we read on our own for pleasure. They are something WE selected, something we purchased with our own money. Thus, those comics became part of the fabric of our childhood. The guys in my old neighborhood played sports together, fought together, played army together, and every Thursday, we rode our bikes down to Andrews Pharmacy and bought comic books together. Each of us had our favorites. One guy was all about Superman, another loved the Avengers. I collected The Flash for pure escapism, Dennis the Menace because he was my alter ego, and Archie, because I wanted to know what high school kids were like, and to see if Betty and Veronica would ever have a wardrobe malfunction.
Archie and his pals took me to Christmas parties, proms, ball games, and even to the 1964 World's Fair. Archie comics were my pop culture preparatory school, and even as I got older, I loved the fact that Archie never aged. His creators, Vic Bloom and Bob Montana, knew that the key to a successful comic book character was to make him endearing and enduring, by having him reside in a kind of Neverland where he couldn't grow old or die. Apparently the current publisher and co-CEO of Archie comics, Jon Goldwater, didn't get the memo on that template, because for the past several years, he has turned Riverdale into a socio political laboratory of the worst kind.
Not only did Goldwater allow Archie and company to mature, he even let some of them get married. That includes a storyline where Archie tied the knot, and another where his gay pal Kevin entered into an interracial, homosexual union. Hey, I'm all for marriage of any kind, but not in high school, and that's where all these folks should have been, not out in the real world being politically correct. OK, so Mr. Goldwater damaged the franchise by letting everyone get older, but last week he went too far, and allowed Archie to be killed off.
It seems that Kevin, a newly elected Senator, was crusading against gun violence when an assassin took a shot at him. Archie stepped into the path of the bullet, and the next thing we see is Betty and Veronica kneeling over Archie's blood-soaked body in an eerie recreation of the RFK assassination. Goldwater tried to rationalize his idiotic decision in a public statement:
" The way in which Archie dies is everything you would expect of Archie. He dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale, but the best of all of us".
Pardon me while I heave at that hypocrisy. Goldwater doesn't care about heroism, he only cares about the immediate bottom line, because sales of his revamped Archie comics have been on the decline. According to the Weekly Standard's Jonathan Last, the previous issue of "Life With Archie" only sold 2,064 copies. Said Last, "The stunt (Archie's death) is perfectly in line with a company that's experiencing massive internal turmoil".
Perhaps some stunts are harmless, after all, everyone knew that Superman wasn't really dead when DC Comics killed him off in 1992. But Archie is not a regenerating super hero. He is just flesh and blood (sort of),and now he's been felled by an assassin's bullet. And since Archie died fighting for a political issue like restrictions on handguns, cartoonist Rick McKee of the Augusta Chronicle has sarcastically proposed a number of other death scenarios for the Archie gang. McKee predicts that Jughead will die while trying to save a Polar Bear from drowning in a rising sea caused by global warming. He also says Betty will perish in a botched back alley abortion because her boss at Hobby Lobby wouldn't spring for morning after pills.
If Goldwater had wanted to sell comics with sensationalistic political correctness, he could have simply kept the kids in high school, and let them lobby for or against various causes. There was no need to have Peter Pan grow up and get killed just to enrich pirate Goldwater's booty.
I am reminded of a line from the film "Brubaker" in which a corrupt vendor tries to bribe the prison warden. When the warden refuses the bribe, the vendor says, "It's tradition. Don't f**k with tradition".
Jon Goldwater f**ked with tradition, and now Archie is dead, and a part of every baby boomer fan has died a little too. Shame on Goldwater for sullying our childhood memories, and causing an unnecessary death in the family. Shame on him for f**king with tradition.
Jim Longworth is a television talk show host, columnist for YESWeekly, and author of the TV Creators series of books for Syracuse University Press
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