Ever since the new modernised relaunch of Archie hit a few months ago, it’s been a mystery as to why Archie Andrews and Betty Cooper abruptly broke off their seemingly perfect romance. This week, we found out why.
The crucial element in most of the old-school Archie comics was that Archie never had to definitively choose. He wasn’t really with Betty or Veronica. The girls’ rivalry and Archie’s bouncing back and forth between them became a comfortable, saccharine status quo. That’s why the most shocking development of the 2015 Archie reboot was the revelation that Archie and Betty had been together.
When we met the new versions of Archie and Betty, their best moments with each other were in the past. They still went to Riverdale High School with other and got caught up in various wacky hi-jinx. But it was made achingly clear that there was real, honest affection between the two at one point and then it fractured. The ex-sweethearts made cryptic references to ‘The Lipstick Incident,’ but nothing more than that. This week’s Archie #4 by writer Mark Waid and artists Annie Wu.Andre Szymanocwicz and Jack Morelli shows actually went down.
The flashback early on shows the couple at their happiest.
But these kids are in high school so, of course, their every move is fodder for unsolicited opinions and ‘advice’ with ulterior motives. When two of their classmates set out to ‘improve’ Betty, she balks at first.
Eventually, she relents and lets the girls give her a glammed-up mall makeover before a movie date. Archie gets weirded out by new-look Betty, which understandably upsets her even more.
The deftest move that Waid pulls here is in showing how the fact that Archie can’t handle this change becomes Betty’s problem. He wants her to go back to the way she was, but that too is a trap. Archie’s desire to lock Betty into one mode is just as limiting as the Riverdale’s girls attempts to upgrade her into Lizzie. But, understandably, the hurt runs deeper with Archie. If the boy she’s loved in one way or another since childhood won’t let her try out new ways of being, then their hopes as a couple look grim.
Adolescence is an in-between place and the experiments that teenagers perform on themselves to figure out who they want to be can be hilariously weird. But, in their best iterations, those reconfigurations don’t change what’s most important or best about the people involved. When their argument reaches its peak, Betty says to Archie that he’s still himself despite the changes he’s been through. The issue makes it clear that isn’t entirely true. Without Betty, he has to change even more to keep growing. If this issue is an indication, the ongoing transmogrification of the Riverdale crew will continue to be funny and bittersweet.