Review – Archie 1941 #1: Riverdale Goes To War

Comic Books
Archie 1941 #1 Francavilla cover, credit to Archie Comics.

Archie 1941 #1 – Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn, Writers; Peter Krause, Artist; Kelly Fitzpatrick, Colorist

Ray – 4/10

Ray: Archie Comics has become known lately for its alternate universes and turns to the dark. They’ve got not one but four horror-based spinoffs (Jughead: The Hunger, Vampironica, Netflix-bound Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and infrequently released Afterlife With Archie) and the Mark Waid reboot went in some surprisingly tragic directions with plots involving a serious injury to Betty Cooper and Cheryl Blossom’s evil father taking a school dance hostage. But with Archie 1941, they pull off what might be their boldest experiment yet – taking Archie and the gang back to the year their characters first debuted and taking on the real issues of the era, including the inevitable march of World War II to American shores.

Unfortunately, as every scientist knows, bold experiments come with a significant chance of things blowing up in your face.

Archie 1941 is on a lot of levels a well-put together comic. Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn are both talented writers, and Peter Krause is a highly underrated artist. His linework manages to make the characters all look like the classic Archie protagonists while adding an undercurrent of melancholy and realism. The issue is with the tone. It’s off from the first moment, which begins at the Riverdale High gang’s high school graduation. Archie and Jughead are reminiscing about their high school days, and a distracted Archie misses his own name at the ceremony and has to charge onto the stage. Mr. Weatherbee essentially tells him he’s been waiting years to be rid of him, an odd tone of negativity from a character who has been consistently strict with but encouraging of Archie for going on sixty years now in every other version.

Graduation Day. Credit to Archie Comics.

From there, the story focuses on the gang going about their summer before they have to decide what to do with the rest of their lives, and the issue never lets us forget that war is following them. From newsreels of the European front to Pop Tate saying a quiet prayer that the war won’t swallow these kids, it’s almost a character in the issue. Speaking of characters, Jughead is the only one of the Archie crew who feels like themselves. He’s still jokey and obsessed with food. Archie is morose, seemingly caught in a rut that he doesn’t know how to escape from. This leads to conflict with everyone from Betty (who he’s dating, but seems to be ignoring and whose feelings he disregards at multiple times) to his father. Fred Andrews’ characterization is another odd sticking point in this issue for me – he seems obsessed with getting Archie out of the house, to an almost spiteful extent. He exists to follow Archie around and berate him for not being a man yet.

Veronica, of all the major Archie players, has the least to do this issue. She returns from Europe midway through to upend the dynamics, but in the process she reveals that she was abroad with her father working on a deal in Germany. Hiram Lodge tends to get villainized a lot in Archie alternate universes, but having him selling goods to the Nazis is the kind of thing that can’t be easily papered over. Kudos to Archie if they want to bring awareness to the fact that a lot of American companies did covert business with the Nazis, but I’m not sure using an iconic Archie character is the way to do it. It seems to be becoming a standard tactic of Archie comics to randomly villainize one of the parents – Hal Cooper in the main Archie reboot title, Fred and Hiram here.

By the end of the issue, the war is drawing closer, and Archie seems to be inspired by it in a way nothing else inspires him. That’s the oddest thing about this comic – I expected it to be about small-town American kids whose plans for the future are disrupted by the war. Instead, it’s about Archie being so dissatisfied with life in Riverdale that he seems to want to chase the war? To be frank, this issue’s portrayal of Riverdale is so dour and depressing that I can almost see why. Archie 1941 is a failure of a comic book on a lot of levels, but it’s a fascinating failure. I have no clue where they’re going with these versions of the characters. I was deeply dissatisfied with this issue in a lot of ways, but I sort of want to follow it and see where they’re going with this odd series.

GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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