I've been reading and reviewing Dark Horse's Archie Archives since the beginning, and it is getting harder and harder to come up with new ways to say how awesome they are. So I won't even try — Volume 8, like every volume in this series, is completely and totally wonderful. Dark Horse's curation of this series is all you could hope for. I put this series on the same level as Fantagraphics' Popeye collection. A comics treasure for the ages.
And I'm not even an Archie fan. Not really. Sure, I read the supermarket digests as a kid when I couldn't get my hands on real comics. But the old Archie/Betty/Veronica triangle was sad and tired, and their attempts at sanitized pop culture were about as out-of-touch as you could get. It was almost like a cultural barometer — if it appeared in an Archie comic, it was definitely uncool. Just do the opposite of whatever the Rivendale gang did and you would do all right.
But! That was my generation! Hop into the time machine called the Archie Archive series, and you'll go back to a time when everything in the series was fresh and new, when Archie and the gang at Rivendale were actually… Edgy. Dangerous. Sexy. And most shockingly, actually funny. There is nothing tired or stale in Dark Horse's collections.
So what's great in Volume 8? First off, it's 1947 and we are out of the war years. Archie is done with mucking up his responsibilities as air raid warden and champion recycler, and back to just being a worthless, girl-crazy teenager. It's summertime, and he needs to make some cash for dates, which predictably ends in disaster. All good times.
The homely Ethel makes her first appearance here in The Patch Hop from Archie #10. This is a pretty famous story that I have seen reprinted elsewhere. Just like Donald Duck and Popeye, Ethel was supposed to be a one-shot throwaway character that was just too cool to dispose of. Ethel later became a full cast member of the Rivendale gang.
The Patch Hop is one of those mind-blowing stories that makes me ask — Did they really do that back then? Did girls really chase boys around with a sharp needle and thread to try and sew a patch on them to claim them? Could you imagine a school trying to get away with that today?
And the summer job scenes; I spent most of my high school and college summers working as a lifeguard, so it was fun to see the 1940s equivalent here. Apparently, the old technique was to punch a drowning person in the face. I'm not sure what good that does, but they do it a lot here.
And hooo-boy — Veronica. It's no surprise by now, but EVERYTHING you thought about the puritan nature of your grandparents (Or great-grandparents, if you are younger than me) is apparently completely wrong. Because Veronica from the 1940s was a lot more uninhibited and sexy than her modern counterpart. Modern Veronica flashes her cash to lure Archie away from Betty, but the 1940s Veronica flashes her ass.
It'll be interesting to see this series transition to the 1950s. When did Archie become sanitized and lifeless? Was it Frederick Werthem that scared the sex out of Archie? I guess I'll have to wait and see.
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.