“ARCHIE AND THE GANG”
by Rick Jones, Husband of the Minister's Wife
I am divagating far afield this Friday. News from the world of comic books brings a mixed wave of nostalgia, fear, and hope.
Archie Comics has launched a “makeover” of Archie and the gang from Riverdale High. My fear is that changes will ruin the beloved, iconic characters; my hope is that they'll be more popular for a new generation. And nostalgia . . . most Americans have fond memories of Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica, even if they don't care about any other comic books. Horror novelist Stephen King recalls Riverdale as “a great place where I took many welcome vacations from reality.”
Since his first appearance [December 1941] Archie Andrews has literally become world famous -- he's “Archi” in Mexico, “Acke Andersson” in Sweden. In special “crossover” projects, Archie has met The Punisher [from Marvel Comics], the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the rock group KISS, and this month, there's Archie vs Sharknado – no, I'm NOT kidding – written by the director of Syfy channel's Sharknado trilogy.
A couple of years ago, a homosexual teen, Kevin Keller, transferred to Riverdale High. This was shocking news to readers – but not as shocking as it was to Veronica, who couldn't figure out why the new kid in town wasn't responding to her flirtation. But when Sabrina, the Teenage Witch debuted in 1962, it wasn't to promote the occult; Josie and the Pussycats, an all-girl band, wasn't designed to teach about gender equality or rock music; and when black band member Valerie Smith began dating Archie, it did not trigger heavy-handed lectures on interracial relations. Through all the changes, the stories still centered on Archie's mishaps, Jughead's sarcasm, rivalries, confusion, and camaraderie. I hope they remain so. Riverdale should be a place for a short vacation, not overt social commentary.
Hopefully, the company learned that lesson from their 1984 revelation that “Big Moose” Mason, high school sports hero and all-around dumbbell, was not actually stupid – he had dyslexia. Unfortunately, all the stories before and after that one didn't help people understand the challenges of dyslexia; they unintentionally suggested that dyslexics were dumb, like Big Moose. In 1995, I spoke to an editor at Archie Comics who said that he'd heard of the story, but never saw it, and that it was pretty much forgotten at their headquarters . . . implying that he hoped the readers had also forgotten it.
I hope so too, because while I'm not sold on the idea of using comic books to teach young readers about “heavy” issues, I think something very valuable can be learned if we skip the “revised Moose” story.
Big Moose is dumb. Really, really dumb. He's lucky his feet are so big, because his IQ is smaller than his shoe size. Any dumber and he'd die, because he'd forget to breathe. The teens of Riverdale often have to deal with the complications caused by the overwhelming, no excuses, just plain dumbness of Big Moose.
But he's part of the gang. His best friend is Dilton Doiley, a geeky teen super-genius. Archie, and the rest of Moose's pals, wouldn't dream of excluding Moose just because his intellectual abilities don't match theirs. Because, regardless of any other factors, he's still part of the gang – and you don't bail on your friends.
Now, there's a socially relevant lesson worth learning.