The unthinkable is happening! Archie Andrews was the Dorian Gray of high school teenagers and enjoyed immunity from the ravages of time. In his case, it lasted for or some 73 years. His romantic affection for Betty and Veronica would never be consummated in marriage, but would keep his readers in a perpetual state of wonderment. He was the comic strip version of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” – – “Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, yet She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss . . . For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair.”
And now we learn, to our horror, that the ageless denizen of Riverdale high has lost his immunity and his life will suddenly, and violently, come to an end. Achilles was invulnerable except for his heel. Archie was invulnerable except for political correctness. And so, Archie Andrews’ perpetual adolescence comes to a crashing halt, though in what readers are asked to believe is truly heroic. He takes a bullet to save his best friend from an assassination attempt. His friend is homosexual and working hard to avenge the death of his former “husband” by lobbying for better gun control. “The way in which Archie dies is everything that you would expect of Archie”, states Jon Goldwater, Archie Comic publisher and co-CEO. “We wanted to do something that was impactful that would really resonate with the world and bring home just how important Archie is to everyone. That’s how we came up with the storyline of saving Kevin. He could have saved Betty. He could have saved Veronica. We get that, but metaphorically, by saving Kevin, a new Riverdale is born.”
Who is next on the hit list? Dagwood, Santa Claus, Cinderella, Peanuts, the Tooth Fairy? For more than seven decades, Archie and his gang enjoyed a primal innocence, adolescence suspended from the rigors of life. It was a fantasy world where they could dream on without their dreams ever being crushed by disappointment. It was a kind of Brigadoon for his readers who could find comfort entering vicariously into a life devoid of tragedy. Why cannot things that have worked so well for such a long time remain what they are? Yet, political correctness is both ubiquitous and omnivorous. It is a vulture that preys on the living.
Archie will never marry either Betty or Veronica, though the publishers entertained his marrying both of them. Poor Ms. Grundy passed away, Archie’s new love interest, Cheryl Blossom tackles breast cancer and affordable health care. Archie’s best friend, Kevin Keller, had, at least briefly, a “same-sex marriage”. There is no reference, perhaps surprisingly, to global warming. The new Archie, emancipated from its long tenancy as a fairytale, is now a political tract. Gun control in peaceful Riverdale, has now become a dominant issue. Continuity has been sacrificed on the altar of social relevance.
Could there have been an alternate end to the comic strip? Let us envision Archie marrying Betty while Veronica serves as the Maid of Honor and Jughead, still Archie’s best friend, plays the role of the Best Man, while Ms. Grundy accompanies herself on the organ singing “O Promise Me”. It would be in keeping with seven decades of comic book history. But would it be too traditional, even as an innocent comic strip, for today’s harsh world? Political Correctness is voracious. What will be its next target? Fast Food restaurants, Saturday morning cartoons? Daycare centers?
Archie, until very recently, was a piece of nostalgia. When George Steiner, a leading literary critic, penned his Nostalgia for the Absolute, he was calling attention to the fact that the new gods have proven to be most unsatisfactory. Hence the nostalgia. Archie, by no means, represents the “Absolute,” but his violent demise is an indication that our modern world is perhaps too preoccupied with change and not sufficiently appreciative of images that are lasting and eternal. Archie’s death is another blow against innocence. The soda fountain may not be paradise, but it is at least symbolic of something that continually refreshes us. Archie is gone and we shudder to think about what he died for.