Hero Whipped: The Double Life of Archie Andrews

It’s about time to do one these again, as other ideas in the vain are coming to the fore, and I want this one focused and not as scatter-brained.

As you may or may not know, Archie Comics have been shaking things up over the past few years. The introduction of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in this comics universe, was a big step and perhaps the most significant of all such recent stories. I think many comics fans cut their teeth on the Archie tales, I know I did. What makes them a good stating place is that they’re usually humorous tales about the commonplace. That’s why Keller is significant, he’s been folded into a world that just accepts him.

Kevin Keller, however, was the second bold initiative from Archie recently. The first was the Life with Archie series that plays out two different realities: Archie marries Betty and Archie Marries Veronica. Each issues is double-sized in page count and magazine-sized in proportion at a standard comics rate, less if you subscribe like I do.

The stories, now several arcs deep, have always mirrored each other and it got me to thinking about the doppleganger phenomenon in certain realms of fiction. I haven’t had extensive experience with such phenomena with it but what it ultimately lead me to conclude is that this series could be great preparation for more involved and less direct, nonlinear storytelling modes kids may encounter as they grow older.

The first example that came to mind was the film The Double Life of Veronique. This film aside from having a signature and extremely memorable theme plays with the notion that we all have a double in rather dramatic and no frills kind of way. Here you also have slightly different interpretations of established characters, which is not only a staple of comics but occurs in other media too. One for instance would be Stephen King who, via his pseudonym Richard Bachman, treated his characters from Desperation almost like they were actors and recast and re-purposed them in The Regulators.

The story also has a soap opera like feel in the best sense of the word. I think of these as my stories; the tension is palpable and is delivered in drips and drabs. Each storyline and subplot is touched on just enough to keep you coming back for more. Each character’s plot runs about 2-3 pages per issues, thus they have about an issue (two counting both tales) per arc of their plot. Just enough to incrementally move things along.

Another thing the series does which is crucial to breeding comics readership and is applicable to certain films as well, is that it plays with the parallel dimension/multiverse concept in a stripped-down dramatic sense. The lack of grandiosity and superhero tropes introduces a fundamental of the medium in a much more conventional, comprehensible tale for the neophyte and rewards long-time readers with glimpses of old favorites and puts new spins on old tales.

It’s a series that can still relate to teens but what it’s doing is making strides to stay somewhat in step with the times, which I think many will admit it hadn’t until recently. The aesthetic benefits of laying a foundation of more complicated story structures and approaches can be easily understood is what is really exciting; and the pedagogical abilities of comics, even in fiction ought never be overlooked. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, comics essentially taught me Portuguese and organizations like Reading With Pictures know of this power too.

Not to say that Archie’s social forwardness combined with its pushing its own aesthetic boundaries while staying true to its characters and style isn’t exciting too; but it’s this added element and depth that this series has that separates it, and makes it a great gateway to comics, more involved narratives and is the best fodder for cinematic adaptation they’ve likely ever had.

It’s brilliant on so many levels.