Archie Andrews, aka the Ron Weasley of Riverdale High, was killed off in this week’s issue of ‘Life with Archie’, causing a whole generation to go, “Who the hell is still reading Archie?” His death gave us 20-somethings yet another reason to whine about how old we are and how we’re *this* close to popping it and being discovered weeks later, our six pet cats feeding on our corpses (which, obviously, would be hunched over a laptop reading a listicle about how old we are.)
I gave up on that self-defeating form of nostalgia once I realised that I would never again be younger than the world’s most popular athletes, musicians and MMS stars. But even so, it was a little weird to hear about Archie and the way he died – shot dead by a gun nut. I guess they wanted to stick to their core idea of Americana. The only way it could’ve been more American is if Archie’s heart had exploded under the weight of bacon grease. But I guess they’re saving that one for Jughead.
If that storyline sounds very different from what you grew up reading, it’s because it is. Life with Archie is a recent spin-off that focusses on the Riverdale gang dealing with modern-day life as adults. The tone is darker, with an emphasis on realistic adult themes, like divorce, illness and the urge to smack anyone who wears baggy pants.
I haven’t read Life with Archie, because if I wanted to experience modern adult life, I could just, y’know, wake up. I wonder what would happen if other formerly-carefree characters from our childhood got their own realistic spin-offs. GI: Joe would just be called PTSD, Johnny Bravo would be getting herpes on Jersey Shore and Captain Planet would meet with a “tragic accident” on a deserted highway because some builder wanted to make a mall out of dolphin carcasses.
Of course, since Life with Archie is a spin-off, the makers have assured us that Archie will still live on as a high-schooler in the regular comic books. Even those have been updated for modern times, which is why they have an Indian character called – you’ll never guess his name – Raj Patel. It’s like every white character in Bollywood being called Bob Smith. (It’s only a matter of time before Indians start sharing feel-good messages about how the UNESCO named Raj Patel as the Best Comic Book Character In The World, and that Jughead is derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘jugaad’.)
One reason why Archie comics were a huge hit in India is because they were our introduction to the wondrous world of America, as imagined by Americans stuck in a time-warp. Archie first made an appearance in 1941, and if you try to read old issues on the website today, you’ll see a disclaimer that states, and I quote, “The issue is a product of its time and may contain material that is offensive to some of its readers.”
That just leads me to imagine the worst storylines possible, like Archie dressing up in blackface for a school play called ‘Why Broads Belong In The Kitchen’, while the commie-hating Mr. Lodge wins an arms contract to kill “those gosh-darned Jap slants”. Or something even more ridiculous, like Jughead being forced to deny his real sexuality.
It’s funny to think that the world of Archie was so aspirational in the ‘90s, given that Riverdale was just another boring suburb. It had a burger place and a mall. That’s it. Even Kurla would spit on it today, and that place has rats the size of scooters. I can’t imagine the kids of today reading Archie, but that’s because they can’t read anymore. Wow, that last line makes me sound really old. You guys go ahead and think about Archie – I’m gonna go adopt some cats.
(Note: This is my HT column dated 20th July 2014.)