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Includes Issues: Life With Archie 13-18
Fernando Ruiz, Paul Kupperberg

This review contains minor spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

Archie Andrews is Spider-Man.

Actually, let me rephrase that.  Archie Andrews is Peter Parker.

Actually, no, that’s not quite it, either.  Archie: The Married Life is Spider-Man without the super-heroics.

Archie books are normally seen as the quintessential disposable comic.  They are the opposite of the “NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME” fanfare: no matter how many decades pass, Archie will be the everyman teen living an unremarkable life in small town America with his high school chums, and forever undecided when it comes to which girl he’d actually like to go steady with.  It therefore came as a bit of a shock when Archie Comics began publishing Life With Archie, a magazine-style title with ongoing stories set in Archie’s near future—it feels a core paradigm or three had been violated.

For two volumes, The Married Life, as this particular subbrand is called, has followed two parallel stories, set in universes defined by Archie’s choice marry either Betty or Veronica, as well as a host of other, not-directly-related differences.  In them, the cast all deals with young adulthood and finds out it wasn’t at all what they expected it to be. Chuck Clayton and Nancy Woods deal with the pressures of owning a comic book shop that isn’t as successful as they hoped it’d be.  Reggie Mantle has no idea what to do with his life and settles for a job as a reporter, and finds out that he likes it; along the way, he begins a romance with Veronica.  Kevin Keller gets injured while fighting in the Middle East, while Jughead deals with the pressure of suddenly owning a multi-million dollar restaurant chain.  In one universe, Moose runs for the office of mayor of Riverdale; in another, he’s a handyman at his old high school.  In one universe, Mr. Weatherbee and Mrs. Grundy realize their love for one another and tie the knot, only for her to succumb to not-explicitly-identified-as-cancer not long after.

Basically, its life, presented in a way that while still distinctively Archie—it still feels escapist and wholesome and optimistic, and a bit tone deaf—it still feels far more honest than anything the big two would deign to publish now.  It reminds me a lot of the pre-nineties Spider-Man comics, where Peter would combine web-swinging with dropping out of college, Harry Osbourne would be doing drugs, and Mary Jane would be that carefree party girl who is secretly very sad beneath it all.  It’s just like that, except, you know, without the people wearing costumes destroying New York.

And yet, that’s not quite accurate either, because as much as The Married Life is about regular, mundane life, it has also been dropping hints from the beginning that the two different universes are more linked than they would initially seem. In this third volume, things come to a head, as the connection between the worlds is expanded upon and the machinations of the closest thing the series has to antagonists threaten to destroy the Archie Multiverse, with the only thing standing in their way being…Mr. Lodge, Veronica’s plutocrat father.

(Well, he’s not the only one–but, you know, spoilers.)

In any case, the combination of the two elements makes for a far more intriguing comic than it would have been without either.  In any other comic, the end of the world and characters with honest-to-gosh superpowers would be the equivalent of a forty-degree day—to paraphrase Stringer Bell, nobody would have anything to say about them.  Here, they give the slice-of-life goings-on of the characters a ting of excitement and danger that turns the book from what could have potentially become Melrose Place circa season 1 and into something more akin to Melrose Place season 2 and 3.

Oh, and this is also the volume with Kevin Keller’s wedding.

Archie comics have always been, if not exactly conservative, then at least persistently concerned about being inoffensive.  While this has sometimes ironically made them incredibly offensive—Chris Sims describes here how a black love interest for Betty had his skin color lightened in 2008, because it allegedly made him more palatable—it also means that any change towards more diversity comes with an implicit message: this is harmless.  This is inoffensive.  So when this volume devotes two of its stories to the wedding of  Kevin and physical therapist Clay Walker, it feels significant.  It’s still rather incredibly daring—it’s the first same-sex wedding in mainstream comics, in a product that is still seen as being for kids—while making the argument that it really shouldn’t be.

This being Archie, there are no surprises when it comes to art.  While there are some differences between pencillers Fernando Ruiz (Veronica-verse) and Pat & Tim Kennedy (Betty-verse) they still fall neatly into the long-established Archie house style.   While they’re both acceptable, I prefer Ruiz, whose style, while less distinctive, feels cleaner.

Perhaps it’s because it’s been a good long while since I was one, but I never quite believed that Archie comics actually spoke to teenagers, despite its cast.  However, as someone who is currently the same age as these older versions of the characters, and who has gone through the same highs and lows and periods of crushing self-doubt combined with the occasional realization that oh my god this is adulthood why did no one tell me?, I appreciate the heck out of what Archie Publishing is doing with this book. It’s good stuff, even for people who aren’t fans of the publisher’s regular fare.

While it doesn’t reach quite the heights of previous volumes, it’s more of the same, “the same” being on the whole quite good.  4 out of 5.

Essential Continuity:
Yes, as this is the volume when one finally gets answers to questions posed since the beginning.

Read first:
The first two volumes, which give you some essential context, such as the reason why Veronica-verse Archie and Veronica are separated.

Read next:
Some of the great Spider-Man runs.  I recommend Roger Stern’s The Amazing Spider-Man (224–227, 229–252), some of which is collected in books like Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin.

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