This just in: Life With Archie is friggin’ awesome. Yes, I know the series is no longer new, but no matter how many times I read it, I’m surprised by just how juicy it is. Seeing Riverdale’s former teens as grownups who are grappling with real-life drama is fascinating. LWA has become the comic book version of the TV soap you don’t want to miss.
Writer Paul Kupperberg meets the difficult challenge of crafting two interesting, separate narratives: One in which Archie is married to Veronica, and another where he and Betty are hitched. Sudsy goodness abounds in both, but Archie’s strained marriage to Veronica yields some of the strongest storytelling in this issue. The two are separated, but Ronnie has been living it up as tabloid catnip, and conspicuously so. When she hogs the spotlight at war veteran Kevin Keller’s wedding (more on that later), Archie goes completely off and confronts her in a manner that’s a tad unsettling.
“Don’t worry, Reggie. She’s done dishing it out to me. It’s my turn to start giving her grief,” he says, angrily grabbing Veronica’s arm. Oh, damn.
There’s a certain shock factor that works in this book’s favor, but what makes it a satisfying read is that the emotion is genuine and relatable. You really feel for the characters as they watch their relationships sputter and crumble, worry about making ends meet and even face legal problems. Kupperberg takes them beyond the archetypes we grew up with and gives them a refreshing complexity. And who knew that Hiram Lodge, cast here as a scheming, manipulative tycoon, would make such a great villain? Or that one-time timid genius Dilton Doiley could be so creepy?
A book with more than 50 pages has room for a lot of story, and Kupperberg doesn’t waste a single page. Neither do illustrators Fernando Ruiz, and Pat and Tim Kennedy. One of the impressive things about their art is that they subtly make the characters look like older versions of themselves without departing much from the Archie house style readers are used to. Panels overlap and brim with detail but never seem cluttered. The scenes of Kevin leading his fellow Army soldiers through enemy fire in an unnamed Middle East territory are particularly striking, and the colors throughout are vivid.
Speaking of Kevin, he and his boyfriend, Clay, make comics history in this issue by tying the knot. The significance is obvious, so Kupperberg simply tells the story behind their relationship and treats their marriage like any other joyous occasion. (Spoiler Ahead!)
I have just one complaint. This is a series with grownup themes, and the big smooch is a given at any wedding. So the fact that there’s no scene of Kevin and Clay kissing is puzzling, and it’s a glaring omission. There’s nothing graphic or remotely inappropriate about that. But to be fair, it’s still a touching and undeniably progressive story, one that you don’t have to be an Archie Comics fan to appreciate.
Even if you have just a passing interest in the world of Riverdale, you should give this highly enjoyable series a chance.
A version of this review was published previously on Newsarama.