The CW's new show Riverdale has sparked a lot of debate about its deviation from what most consider to be classic Archie Comics. In this adaptation, Archie and the gang are in the middle of a murder-mystery high school drama filled with fog, neon lighting, and an extra dose of teenage angst. And while that's a far cry from the happy-go-lucky, straight-edge slapstick that many fans are used to, it's not out of bounds by a long shot.
Archie Comics, founded in 1939, may have began as all burgers and milkshakes, but things have taken a turn since then. Archie began breaking down what he was known for all of those years before and replacing the mythos of what it meant to be America's favorite teenager with something else – spinoffs. The multiverse grew by leaps and bounds in a short span of time, exploring territories like sci-fi and horror. In fact, during this transitional period,and beyond, it seemed as though the weirder the alternate reality was, the more likely it was to happen.
This idea that characters like Jughead, Betty, and Veronica could exist anywhere, at any time, reinforced that the magic wasn't in the setting, but relationships of those personalities, and the imagination of the creators, that make Archie what it is. If you think you have trouble wrapping your head around Riverdale, there's even more where that came from. Let's take a look at some the most daring corners of the multiverse, in honor of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Greg Berlanti's continuation of true Archie Comics tradition on The CW.
This '90s spinoff finds the town of Riverdale in the year 3000. Archie and crew are still adolescents, but this time around they're living their teenage years in a world that mostly resembles Judy Jetson's. Archie is using something called a Sound Wave-a-Tron to wash his hands instead of water, Jughead is getting airsick on zero gravity rides, and Mr. Weatherbee is watching students serve their time in detention from a floating tv screen. Even though not much was different about the characters or the way their personalities were portrayed, it was definitely a change of pace for the franchise.
Jughead's solo sci-fi adventures
Jughead's Diner was much more of a mixed bag than Archie 3000. The crown-wearing, burger-eating best friend to America's favorite teenaged comic book character becomes the proprietor of an inter-dimensional version of Pop Tate's diner - usually named some variation of The Chok'lit Shoppe. There are all manner of characters passing through at any one time from multiple decades, not to mention dancing cows. Jughead's laidback, go-with-the-flow nature is completely necessary to accept absolutely anything that happens in this version of Riverdale called Dinersville.
This Jughead spinoff seemed like it opened up the possibility for another one to take shape after it – Jughead's Time Police. Joined with Archie's descendant from the future, Marshal January McAndrews, and his very trusty white canine companion named Hot Dog, Jughead travels through time solving a large range of crimes and mysteries. Obviously, it wasn't exactly the easiest arc to follow, but it's safe to say that Archie Comics was very big into taking risks.
Dilton's Strange Science
Even Archie Comics' resident geek Dilton, who is sometimes genderbent as Dilly, got a shot at running their own show. Full of experiments gone wrong and Godzilla like green creatures peaking through the front door, Dilton has to deal with the bizarre every issue and use his brainpower to get him out of trouble. There's even an alien encounter when two extraterrestrials decide to drop in and steal his shrinking ray. And that's one of the most mild plot lines you'll find in this book.
The New Riverdale Universe
Marvel and DC aren't the only companies to hit the reset button on their entire franchise – you can add Archie to that list, too. 2015 brought a brand new Riverdale universe, with an updated art style plus makeovers for everyone and everything in town to make them feel like they belonged in this decade. The company had been toying around with how to make Archie look and feel more contemporary. They even had a failed experiment back in 2007 where they adapted old Archie Comics novels with a new look.
In 2014 the company set up the reboot in the way that every comic book universe usually does – the main character dies. Archie: The Married Life, a book series that started four years earlier following the parallel married lives of Archie with Betty and Veronica finally ended in The Death of Archie. Our favorite all-American teen, now an adult, takes a bullet for Kevin Keller who, in this universe, is a newly elected gay Senator having a fundraiser at The Chock'lit Shoppe. But it all paid off, because 2015's Archie vol 2. was a critical success, applauded collectively by fans and media. The first five titles in the brand new Riverdale universe set up all of the series staple characters with their own solo stories once again. After Archie came Jughead, Betty and Veronica, Josie and the Pussycats, and Reggie and Me.
Just a few years before Archie Comics hit reboot on their flagship an entirely new universe, and company imprint, was introduced by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the very man who brought Riverdale to The CW. Afterlife With Archie is nothing short of a straight horror fiction book. Protagonist Archie Andrews lives and fights to survive through the zombie apocalypse, and Jughead is patient zero – all thanks to the not-so-teenage witch Sabrina Spellman. Both Archie and horror fans alike ate it up.
The book won three Ghastly Awards in its debut year for Best New Series, Best Ongoing Title, and comic book artist Francesco Francavilla won Best Colorist. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was released about six issues into its predecessor, and although they share some characters that story exists in a separate universe, too. Both titles performed so well that a new imprint, Archie Horror, took shape with Aguirre-Sacasa at the helm as Chief Creative Officer.
We've barely scratched the surface of alternate realities and universes that exist, or have existed, within the elaborate Archie Comics multiverse. There are books like Archie vs. Predator, or issues with visits to Riverdale from characters like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Punisher to take into account as well. However, one thing should definitely be clear by now – Archie is not a monolith.
There is no blueprint to a story about Archie and the characters that surround him on an everyday basis,and there's no real way to pin down any specific behavioral traits or timeline to lives of these personalities that have lived in so many time periods and places, facing all kinds of unique challenges and circumstances. Archie is a blank canvas, waiting to be filled with unlimited imagination from whatever creative mind gets a chance to hold the reigns. Maybe that's why the character, and the world of Riverdale, has lasted so long. And that's why The CW's version may be the perfect way to give this generation its first live action taste of the all-American teenage everyman Archie Andrews.
Riverdale premieres at 9pm central on January 26th, 2017.