The iconic characters of Archie Comics – created by John L. Goldwater and artist Bob Montana, with help from writer Vic Bloom – made their first appearance in a December 1941 issue of Pep Comics. Archie Andrews, Jughead Jones, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge, and the various other residents of Riverdale went on to land their own series starting in 1942 and remained relatively unchanged until a recent revamp.
In 2015, Archie Comics – which now has a number of other beloved pop culture icons under its banner like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Sonic the Hedgehog – announced an update of their flagship series. Unlike Marvel and DC, both of which have rebooted their comic book worlds and individual characters a number of times, the main Archie series hadn’t deviated from its timeless, non-serialized premise since the ’40s. While there is a wide catalogue of Archie spinoffs that span a multiverse of different situations in which the teenager and his pals have found themselves, Archie’s update proved to be a major overhaul of the comic universe.
Shortly before the relaunch was announced, it was also reported The CW’s Arrowverse architect Greg Berlanti was developing a TV adaptation of the Archie Comics – Riverdale, which eventually landed a series order on The CW. The series seems to deviate from the original Archie even more so than the comic book update, following a young and attractive cast playing the high school characters in a Riverdale that’s shrouded in secrets and contending with murder.
But, despite all the differences between Riverdale and the Archie Comics reboot – as well as the series’ distinctive tonal change from the classic comic shenanigans – The CW’s upcoming drama still focuses on adapting the iconic characters. Archie Comics’ Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is serving as executive producer and showrunner of Riverdale, after all. Now, we discuss how Riverdale does, in fact, fit in with the Archie Comics update.
The all-new Archie title, starting over from #1, launched in July 2015 with writer Mark Waid and artist Fiona Staples at the helm. The flagship series was joined later in the year by a solo run following Archie Andrews’ best friend, Jughead, from writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Erica Henderson, while 2016 saw the launch of Betty and Veronica, Josie and the Pussycats, as well as Reggie and Me. Although the additional titles have adapted and spun off iconic characters from the main Archie series, Waid and Staples were those tasked with relaunching a comic book continuity almost 75 years old.
For the first trade paperback collection of Archie, Staples penned a forward and Waid an afterword, explaining their thought processes while developing the series’ relaunch. In fact, Staples revealed she was hesitant about rebooting Archie, especially given its iconic “consistency and suspended time,” but eventually came around – at least in part due to Waid’s story for Archie #1:
Archie and Betty have a past, and the future is uncertain! Jughead has known some real troubles, and is canny and wise! I felt that the story’s new intricacies just enhanced what the characters had always been. … There’s a bit more detail and complexity in their world now, but I hope this version of Archie still feels like an old friend.
Meanwhile, Waid wrote of his own philosophy when rebooting such a classic and beloved character, by borrowing the Hippocratic Oath’s first tenant: Do no harm. Still, his aim was to update Archie for a modern comic book audience:
All the term “updating” meant to me, to us, was digging a little more deeply into the kids and their personalities. It meant allowing actual, permanent conflict between them so that there’s a greater, more dramatic sense of consequence to their interactions and their choices. It meant never ignoring an opportunity for Archie to get a paint can stuck on his head. It’s still comedy, people.
Based on the statements of Waid and Staples about their intention for the new Archie run, it’s clear that their aim – as well as the aim of those at Archie Comics – was to keep the heart and soul of the characters the same (or, at least, similar). In fact, the biggest differences seem to be the complexity and permanent conflicts within Waid’s storytelling, giving Archie more compelling drama both with its characters and its plotlines.
The characters feel more real: Archie and Betty’s relationship has a tangible history and in Archie Vol. 1 they’re struggling to move forward after the #LipstickIncident, while Zdarsky’s Jughead identifies as asexual and is prone to fantastical daydreams – though he still has a serious love of burgers (and all food). When all is said and done, the soul of Archie Comics hasn’t changed much, despite all the obvious and subtle differences – the comics are still funny and still for an all-ages readership.
Riverdale’s Teen Drama
Meanwhile, The CW’s upcoming Archie-based series Riverdale seems to be as far removed as possible from the all-ages content of both the original comics and the relaunch run. The series kicks off with the murder of local high school golden boy Jason Blossom, the brother of resident queen bee Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch). Plus, Archie (K.J. Apa) is having an affair with Riverdale High’s young music teacher, Ms. Grundy (Sarah Habel) – a character who was often portrayed in the Archie comics as an older woman with white hair.
Aside from these major liberties taken with certain aspects of the story and characters, the tone of Riverdale is much different to the books on which it’s based. The series has been compared to a mix between David Lynch’s cult-favorite surrealist series Twin Peaks and more typical teen drama fare like Gossip Girl and The O.C. Certainly, the moody, dark overtones of the posters and promos for Riverdale go a long way in effectively differentiating the look of the series from the bright, bold colors of the comic books – offering clear visual cues that The CW’s show will be distinct in its own right.
That said, Riverdale does still include many of the same bones as the Archie Comics relaunch. Archie Andrews is an All-American teenager who is just as likely to sport a varsity jacket as display his musical capabilities. Jughead is still Archie’s best friend – and, though the character isn’t asexual in the series, actor Cole Sprouse is hoping to adapt that aspect established by Zdarsky; Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) are still the girl-next-door and the rich new girl in town, respectively. Plus, Riverdale will include plenty of other supporting characters in Archie’s world: Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray) and her band Josie and the Pussycats, Reggie Mantle (Ross Butler), and Ethel Muggs (Shannon Purser).
So, although the tone and story of Riverdale seem to be incredibly different from anything fans would read in the Archie comics – even though the comics do have some strange entries in its multiverse – the characters and relationships are much the same. As such, although The CW’s upcoming Archie-based series is incredibly different from the property on which it’s based, it won’t be wholly unrecognizable to fans of the Archie Comics relaunch.
Riverdale Is An Extension of The Archie Comics Relaunch
Going a step further, Riverdale acts as an extension of the principles behind Archie Comics’ relaunch. Just as Waid and Staples’ flagship series offers complexity and drama, albeit still for an all-ages audience, Riverdale goes a step further, adding even more complexity to the relationships of the characters and drama with the murder of Jason Blossom – this time for a notably older audience.
Certainly, Riverdale is arguably a teen-geared drama since its main characters are teenaged high school students, but the elder generation seems to have plenty of focus as well. Archie’s parents have their own history on Riverdale; Fred Andrews (Luke Perry) is trying to raise his son on his own after Archie’s mother Mary (Molly Ringwald) left, though she will return in season 1. Plus, the mothers of Betty, Veronica, and Josie are major players in the town of Riverdale – Alice Cooper (Mädchen Amick ), Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols), and Mayor Sierra McCoy (Robin Givens), respectively.
The Archie Comics relaunch was all about updating the publisher’s titular character for a modern audience, which they achieved with Waid and Staples’ Archie in addition to their host of new titles. Now, that relaunch is expanding into a new medium through Riverdale – which, it’s important to note, is being shepherded by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, chief creative officer of Archie Comics. As a comparison, Geoff Johns is chief creative officer of DC Comics and helps oversee all four of The CW’s superhero-based series (in addition to all other DC Comics adaptations on both TV and film).
With Aguirre-Sacasa on board of Riverdale, it’s unlikely the series will deviate too far from the heart of Archie Comics. Furthermore, Riverdale simply seems to be taking the concept of a modern update on the comic characters a step farther than the Archie series, setting up a show that offers darker – and perhaps more realistic – counterprogramming to the comic books. But, at the end of the day, Riverdale is still an Archie Comics series and, as Staples said of Archie, hopefully “this version of Archie still feels like an old friend” – albeit a moody old friend who’s dealing with the murder of a fellow classmate and having an affair with one of his teachers.
Riverdale premieres Thursday January 26th with ‘Chapter One: The River’s Edge’ at 9pm on The CW.