In recent years, Archie and the gang have acquired iPods, Archie’s jalopy become a smooth roadster, he married both Betty and Veronica, Riverdale High got their first gay student and the gang teamed up with KISS. It’s been an exciting time in Riverdale, but there was an era of Archie when things were very different. It was an innocent era, where the world wasn’t nearly as complex as it is now. This era of Archie, the '40s, was brought to us through Pep and Archie Comics. Now, Dark Horse has collected these comics into volumes that have been restored to their original glory.
Archie Archives Volume Four and Five cover the redheaded troublemaker and his friends from 1944 through 1946. The series originated in 1941, so these books really give an overview into how the series developed. While mainstays like Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Betty and Veronica are here, they look very different from what they settled into. Archie is a bucktoothed dork, Reggie has a small head and narrow, shifty eyes, Jughead looks similar but his trademark crown is different. Mr. Weatherbee is there but not nearly as fat, and Miss Grundy looks downright evil.
Betty and Veronica are the two biggest differences. The 1940s were not an era that cared about objectifying women, so there is a lot more Boomp Bappa Boomp Bappa in how they’re drawn. Overly glamorous faces with heavy make up, very tiny waists, big hips and bosoms. In one way, it’s cool to see an era where the public appreciated women not built like skinny little boys. In another, it shows an era where the only thing a woman hoped to accomplish was land a man.
Story wise Archie Archives Volume 4 and 5 are chock full of fun and light misadventures with Archie and the gang. Archie goes camping, Archie tries out for various sports teams, he gets in trouble with Betty and Veronica, he goes to a fair, and the list goes on and on. Writers in these volumes are often listed as unknown, but their style is consistent enough to figure it was either the same person, or there was a template for how an Archie story was constructed. One fact that remains fascinating is the rivalry between Archie and Reggie. In these volumes, it’s a lot more violent. Reggie and Archie assault each other viciously and, unlike the modern version, there is no sense of camaraderie beneath the rivalry. In these versions of the story, Reggie and Archie hate each other.
The real star of these books is the art. In the archives, the main artist is Bill Vigoda, and the work he does is amazing. During the Golden Age of comics, the art form was filled with studied illustrators drawn to the medium for its freedom and the fact that it actually paid. With that much raw talent, the work was usually exemplary, and Archie is no different. Vigoda’s lines are strong in both his human pencils and the backgrounds. The inks are also perfect, thick and heavy giving each panel a standout feel.
I’ll admit, the anatomy is a little off but somehow Vigoda makes it part of the charm. When a character falls, the knees vanish and the legs become rubbery. As bizarre as it sounds, it works in the hyper-real world Vigoda creates. Most of his focus is on the foreground, the action going on with the characters. Vigoda’s backgrounds are often just white or they exist only to give depth to the story. The only time he opens them up are for splash pages and covers. Dark Horse’s dedication to restoring these issues to full color and clarity preserves the Archie world for all of us to enjoy.
Archie Archives Volumes 4 and 5 are a continued triumph that celebrates an American icon in comic books.