When word got out last spring that Archie had gotten off the fence and proposed to Veronica, news outlets and old fans went nuts. But as far as I’m concerned, the solicitation for Archie #608 — which suggests young Mr. Andrews has been swapping more than guitar licks with Valerie, the African-American member of Josie & the Pussycats — blows that event out of the water. Here’s a sampling of the reaction from some friends, who are all jaded media types:
“Oh, wow. Wow. That’s awesome.”
I realize that we’re a decade into the 21st Century and that interracial romance isn’t earth-shattering in real life or the pages of, say, Vertigo and Marvel. But while I have a great deal of affection for Archie Comics, they’re not exactly known for being ahead of the curve. So even if the cover of Archie #608 is selling us a bill of goods — “Gee, Valerie. The power went out, and in the dark, I thought you were Midge! My bad.” — it’s a big deal to see such an old-fashioned brand tipping a hat to modern times through its lead character. Not convinced? Just read Dwayne McDuffie’s account of a failed attempt in the early 1990s to have Betty date a black guy. That’s early ‘90s, not ‘70s.
Archie doesn’t get a lot of love from comic book geeks, but I’m not going to front: Before I discovered superheroes, the Riverdale gang served as my ambassadors to the world of comics. Even now, I’ll occasionally grab a Betty & Veronica Digest in the grocery store checkout line “for my daughter.” But while Archie’s predictability never bothered me, I did have moments of wondering why Chuck and Nancy seemed to be the only minorities at Riverdale High, and if there was some unspoken rule that they could only date each other.
In any case, Archie and Valerie’s kiss has shifted Riverdale’s paradigm, and it’s about time. Who knows? In another 20 years, Jughead might come out of his beanie-filled closet. You’re not fooling anybody, son.