Almost anyone can name the first comic book they ever read. For many, it’s some type of superhero in either the Marvel or DC universe, but, for me, it was Archie and his gang from Riverdale. Yes, Archie and crew are very tame, and were also a highly idealized product of their time (attempts to break into other avenues to break their cookie-cutter image are on-going). My experience was with the various “digests,” containing several stories pasted into one book. Recently, IDW Publishing started putting out collections comprised of Archie’s adventures in the newspapers. Their latest collection, Archie: The Swingin’ Sixties, Volume Two: 1963-1965 is a bright, albeit highly dated, piece of Americana.
Bruce Canwell’s introduction mentions some of the flaws that Archie was known, and lambasted for; mainly, that the comics presented this Norman Rockwell world where outside events never intruded. In spite of these comics being penned during the most turbulent era in our nation’s history, you won’t find any overt mentions about the Vietnam War or the Civil Rights Movement. As we’re told in the intro, Archie was about preserving a place where people could escape their troubles; the paper they were reading already contained enough sadness. There are a few sly winks to anti-war protestors, but it’s few and far between.
The lack of any grandiose social commentary, Archie: The Swingin’ Sixties, Volume Two is a great compendium of comics beautifully bound in a book you’d be proud to display. The gang’s all here and each has a set gag that usually ends up holding back their success, whether it’s Jughead’s love of food or Archie’s complete inability to say the right thing to Veronica or Betty. Speaking of our dynamic duo squabbling for Archie’s affections, the love triangle isn’t nearly as defined as its become. If anything, Archie’s pretty set in his love for Veronica during this time period, with Betty confined to the doormat/stalker/fall-back that ends up going places with Jughead more than anyone else. Archie spends so much time with Veronica I’m interested in seeing at what point the love triangle, as we’ve come to know it, develops.
Unfortunately, the lack of social commentary is waylaid by the dated treatment of women. It’s a problem I had with the James Bond comics in that the respect for women, or lack of it actually, dates these things highly. I had no idea a teacher named Ms. Shapely (guess her defining characteristic) worked at Riverdale high and it’s easy to understand why she hasn’t stuck around. Other characters, Ms. Grundy especially, are repeatedly mocked for their lack of attractiveness.
The enjoyment level outweighs the dated characteristics and there is a lot of fun. The main pratfall the gang gets into includes trying to one-up teachers and parents, and failing, or struggling to find easy ways to pass classes, intelligence not required. Each comic is a simple “gag a day” and is a very quick read considering the volume touts over 800 comics; there’s a handy attached ribbon bookmark included to keep your space.
Overall, Archie: The Swingin’ Sixties, Volume Two is a fun read for Archie aficionados. It probably won’t offer much for fans interested in learning more about the gang since these are daily comics with no continuity between them. The book is a great compendium for those who are already in love with the folks from Riverdale.