Ah, Archie. Every boy in the world should have your troubles. You can't step out the door without being battled over by two beautiful girls. Or accidentally organizing your school dance on a garbage scow. Or flooding a golf course. Or … on second thought, maybe it isn't so great to be Archie Andrews.
The third volume of Dark Horse's Archie Archives is every bit as excellent as the rest in the series. This volume reprints the Archie stories from Pep Comics #46-50 and Archie Comics #7-10 from 1944. That's 227 pages in total of vintage Archie, all packaged together in a nice hardcover that will keep for years.
It's hard to imagine how Archie has been in publication for so many decades while following pretty much the same formula. Every other character from that era has gone through countless reboots and retcons, but aside from the recent wedding event most Archie comics follow the same theme. Archie is stuck between Betty and Veronica, always trying for both and somehow winding up with neither.
The reason why I love these earlier Archie stories so much is that the theme was still fresh then. Archie had wooed Betty and Veronica for only a few years, and he hadn't played out every theme on the planet to try and get them. Of course there is some repetition. In Volume 1, Archie and Jughead went to a party with a set of twins thinking they were both dating the same gal, and in Volume 3 it is Betty and Veronica's turn to hit a party with a pair of strapping twin lifeguards. But being in on the joke is all a part of Archie and you just accept that whatever harebrained scheme is going on it is bound to backfire somehow.
In Volume 3, they were experimenting with the formula as well. One story features a "Times Past" version of Archie and the gang as cavemen, with a note to readers asking if they liked that kind of story. A couple of stories are Archie's dog Oscar getting into trouble of his own, as well as an adventure with Archie's dad when he is caught buying a fur coat for another woman in a classic misunderstanding. Aside from the usual gang of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, a girl named Gabby pops up a lot, spreading whatever secret she happens to overhear. Reggie just does some flybys and doesn't really appear in the stories, and there is no Moose or Ethel to be seen.
The character designs were being played around with as well. Archie is still the buck-toothed redhead with the checkerboard hair, but Betty is almost unrecognizable. She looks more light-brown than blonde, and she hasn't got those Betty eyes yet. Her hairstyle is in constant flux, and she is much more of a glamour girl than the later "girl next door" that would contrast with the wealthy and stylish Veronica. Veronica, on the other hand, still looks like a vamp. Even though we tend to think of the '40s and '50s as more innocent times, Veronica is far more of a sexbomb than the Veronica I grew up with. In one scene — disappointed that the boys aren't paying enough attention to her — she calmly lifts her skirt up over her thighs until she gets what she wants.
Archie is one of those comics I can read and reread over and over again. They are always a laugh, always charming, and that's why I am glad that Dark Horse puts out these great hardcovers. I know they will be on my shelf for a long time.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.