This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on June 1, 2017.
Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.
So without any further ado…
How does killing off a member of the Archie cast of characters damage the metaphysics of our reality?
This is one of those questions that goes from being laughable to fascinating in quick order, assuming you’re high or particularly sleep deprived. Metaphysics is essentially the study of ideas without any science or evidence. It’s a look at abstract concepts and what defines them, and it makes for an evenly balanced mix of tedious and enlightening conversations if you happen to have been a philosophy minor, like yours truly. You wind up talking about what time means without digging into those difficult bits, like fundamental interactions and relativity. It’s a lot of talk with little application, which brings us about to whatever the hell metaphysics has to do with Archie Comics.
Archie and his pals in Riverdale aren’t original character conceptions; they’re archetypes. If Joseph Campbell were to read a bunch of these comics, he’d write a sequel to The Hero With A Thousand Faces about the American teenage narrative. It would be much shorter and much less meaningful, but there would be a funny tangent about American Pie and raunchy comedies, so not an altogether terrible read. In any case, Archie Comics embraces the very idea of innocent American teenage narratives. It is to this genre what the metaphysical concept of time is to an atomic clock. There is the idea of the thing and the thing itself.
I suppose that’s what makes the narratives of Archie Comics timeless. They do not require anything new in order to be sustained. Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the rest simply are. It’s also what allows for so many variants of this core cast to be reconstructed with so many interesting results. When you start to put restrictions on their world or twist the genre, you can see how the idea of the thing impacts the thing itself. That’s why Afterlife With Archie works like gangbusters. Even people who don’t care to discuss the concept of the “All-American Boy”, “Girl Next Door”, or “High School Prankster” suddenly acknowledge that these characters are impactful when the stakes are so high. You may not care about the concept of time, but when it comes to actually measuring the day, you’ll find yourself caring a lot.
Archie Comics is the center to all of its spinoffs, alternate realities, and a whole lot of other stories that don’t openly acknowledge these archetypal forms. It doesn’t matter that American Pie or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off don’t bother with Archie Comics, they still can’t extricate themselves. And the center must hold.
Mark Waid offing Reggie Mantle is not what I would define as the center holding though. For the past few months Archie Comics has been revving its marketing engine about the story “Over The Edge” in which Archie Andrew, Betty Cooper, and Reggie Mantle get involved with some car racing shenanigans that sends all of their vehicles over a guardrail. This has all been followed with the promise that someone will die and nothing will ever be the same, like Archie Comics is suddenly the realm of capes and crippling masculine insecurity.
It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that Reggie is fucked.
Something like Afterlife With Archie has already killed a slew of characters every bit as important as Reggie, so why does this make a difference? However, we’re talking the idea of things instead of whether they make an impact, which this clearly doesn’t. The idea of Archie Comics is centralized in its iconic, canonical town of Riverdale. It’s the idea of the “real Riverdale”, not one where Archie gets raped by his music teacher or Jughead eats brains. Right now that idea is continued in the stories of Archie, the relaunched center of this comics brand. It’s the ongoing concept of the place where all of these teenage brands and their mentors live forever cycling through a variety of wackadoo adventures and lessons.
Riverdale is the endless, timeless imagining of the American dream as viewed through the innocence of children hoping to become adults. That’s why whacking one of these kids making one or two of the other leading cast guilty of negligent homicide is a bit damaging.
Killing one of these kids in the “real Riverdale” forever alters that world’s view of youth, its most important concept. When the children who are learning how to become adults can die because the world is actually a cold, chaotic, cruel place, then that is the place Riverdale becomes. Randomly killing Reggie Mantle who is still learning whether or not he’ll be a jackass as an adult moves Riverdale closer to reality, away from the idea of Riverdale. That’s how the center is lost.
It’s a move that screams for relevance, and that broaches tones and ideas that have no connection to the strengths of Archie Comics. It’s like throwing The Punisher into an issue, then telling readers Dilton is still murdered next month because sometimes mass murderers misjudge a situation, and mass murderers are very real.
I’m not saying that “Over The Edge” will ruin Archie Comics forever or that we should be outraged about it. I’m just saying it’s a choice that fundamentally misunderstands what Archie is and why it matters. In the big picture this particular genre is only a small part of the tapestry of stories, and the choice to kill off one archetype in its most thematically central narrative is a minor choice. Yet it’s still a damaging one that discards a significant sort of character and antagonist.
I suppose you could compare it to a tiny ding on a well-cared for muscle car. While it’s ultimately insignificant, it’ll still bug the ever-loving shit out of you if you care about the car. It won’t ruin anything, but it’s still a bit of damage to this incredibly minor branch of metaphysics as you’ve forced me to define it.