This week, there's a comic where a Predator from the movies of the same name stalks Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead. A newly dead body drips blood all over America's favourite lily-white teenagers as the alien hunter observes them from a tree branch above.
Of course, they never look up. So freakin' great.
Archie comic books were the things your parents gave you as a kid to stop your whining, a print counterpart to the teeth-rotting candy in the supermarket checkout aisles. They got you reading — maybe for the first time ever — and didn't have any of that nasty superhero violence. But things have changed a whole damn lot in Archie-land.
Today's Archie Vs. Predator #1 is only the most recent example of the unexpected, edgy and often excellent experimental comics coming out from Archie. Sure, they still publish some traditional tales of Archie and friends, but in recent years they have also turn Archie into a grisly horror story, held a gay wedding in an Archie comic, killed off Archie, and more. Why not a toss a Predator into that mix, right?
Warning: Mild story spoilers follow.
The debut issue of the new Predator series sets up the crossover by sending the Riverdale High crew on a Caribbean vacation. Of course, the place just happens to be the hunting grounds for a Predator. Archie plot staples like bad puns and clique-driven drama still pop up in the word balloons but they're joined by sequences of racier-than-normal humour and innuendo.
Basically, this is longtime Archie scribe Alex De Campi and artist Fernando Ruiz slathering Archie & friends in sweaty teen-horror-movie tropes. Dig the sequence with Dilton below. He may as well be talking about p-o-r-n.
Then there's this moment with Reggie and Veronica, after he's carried her luggage — comedically over-sized, of course — to her room:
The love triangle of Archie Andrews, Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper has been one of the main plots of the high-school-centric mythos. It might have been mildly bitchy at times, the back-and-forth hasn't ever been ugly. In Archie Vs. Predator #1, however, there's a straight-up catfight, complete with shredded clothes and a bloody nose.
It's like something out of a Russ Meyer flick.
And there's a Predator lurking around, which makes this comic all the more unusual and incredible. Maybe there's some history to this. Archie did meet Marvel's Punisher anti-hero many years ago, but this is just so out of nowhere and yet also in line with the Archie publisher continuing to take risks.
This week also sees the release of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2, the newest issue of a series that frames in the teenage witch's spellcasting in the mould of the old EC Comics that enraptured and horrified so much of 1950s America. So far, creators Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack have given us devil worship, child abduction and Carrie-esque telepathic tantrums. I don't want to spoil the new issue, but here are some beautiful pages from the first issue
Sabrina isn't all smiles...
Oh, Betty and Veronica? They just unleash a naked hellspawn on Riverdale while trying to get Archie to finally pick one of them.
Isn't that art amazing?
The Sabrina and Predator books are just the latest examples of the editorial experimentations Archie's been creeping into for a little while now. The 2010 introduction of openly gay character Kevin Keller paying off with increased awareness and positive attention from queer rights groups like GLAAD. Things got kicked up a notch over the last year or so and the publisher's been using the stable of Riverdale High characters in thematically divergent ways, significantly darkening the tone of happy-go-lucky Middle Americana.
Last year's debut of Afterlife with Archie put the Riverdale high-school crew in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, killing always-hungry Jughead and reviving him with a taste for human flesh. Then they killed Archie Andrews himself in another series where he got shot down trying to protect a grown-up Keller from politically-motivated assassination. (Keller was running on a gun-control platform.) This year has also seen the re-invention of the publisher's Red Circle imprint, which was home to b-list superheroes like the Shield, the Black Hood and the Fly. In its new Dark Circle incarnation, the characters are getting harsher takes, like the one that turns The Black Hood in a drug-addled cop who's lost his way. It's the first Archie comic to drop an F-bomb.
The miniseries and plot developments that Archie Comics has been putting out don't feel like cynical stunts the way that reboots and character deaths from DC and Marvel tend to. Maybe it's because Archie doesn't have a history of going to the "nothing will ever be the same !" well as much as big-deal superhero publishers.
Instead, they feel like savvy moves by a 70-year-old company coming to grips with the appeal of a broader creative palette. The people at Archie get that their characters are malleable, able to support a variety of interpretations.
The biggest risk yet from the company will be a relaunch of their main Archie comic, by superstars Mark Waid and Fiona Staples. (The promo art above gives a sense of what the changes might look like.) That's the man who's wrapping up a killer run on Daredevil and the woman drawing Saga, a.k.a Maybe The Best Comic Ever. If the recent gambles above are any indication, the new Archie will be a surprising, well-executed thing.