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ARCH-rivals Is Archie’s choice of Veronica over Betty an indication of what recession does to people?
ARCH-rivals Is Archie’s choice of Veronica over Betty an indication of what recession does to people?

Teenage comic hero Archie Andrews getting hitched to Veronica Lodge in the 600th issue of the series has triggered a tirade of debates. BAGESHREE S. mulls over the implications

There is no escape from growing up and getting on with life. Yes, we reconcile to this fact at some point, kicking and bawling. But is it fair to expect the same reconciliation from our comic book heroes too?

The news is that Archie Andrews, the forever-teenage hero (so we thought!) of the Archie Comic series, is getting hitched to the catty brunette Veronica Lodge in the 600th issue of the series, leaving the goody blonde Betty Cooper heart-broken. That is a paradigm shift of sorts in the all-American, seven-decade-old saga, considering that the constant cold war between the two girls for Archie’s attention forms its central plotline.

The Internet is agog with debates on the implications of this twist in the tale. Hardcore Betty fans are shell shocked by Archie’s “stupid” choice of the “rich spoilt brat” over the “sensible” middle-class girl. Looking long and hard into the crystal ball, one reader has said Veronica will eventually dump Archie for his rival Reggie, while Betty by then will be in the White House! Veronica has a small but fierce fan following too.

Others are reminding their fellow-Archie readers that the 600th issue will only be the first part of a six-part story, and so, anything can happen by the end of part six. For all you know, the whole situation might be a “trick” on readers, and maybe, it will turn out to be something as inane as a dream Archie is having. Anything to get the sagging sales graph up and shooting through the roof! But not everyone is as intensely involved with the life at Riverdale High. At least no longer. Many would agree with the reader who responded to a blog on The New York Times Arts Beat slot with the question: “Who can they possibly be selling Archie comics to in 2009?” Archie and his gang, despite their efforts to grow with the times, are still caught in a time warp and in old stereotypes. Many a woman reader, who felt sorry for the 17-year-old hero torn between the two pretty girls, has grown older and wiser enough to snigger at such male fantasies.

Veena Reddy, software engineer and mother of two who grew up on Archie comics, can now see that every character here is “strongly stereotyped into the rich girl, the nice middle-class girl, the geeky type, the simple attractive guy who the rich girl takes for a ride, the mean guy who troubles the nice guys and so on”. The fault of the much-vilified Veronica, if any, is that she has “always been able to appreciate her own point of view and indulged herself”. Archie’s choice is no surprise, really, considering that he is quite like Veronica in character: behaving according to his own whims and fancies, keeping Betty as a standby, using her help for homework…

If Veena picks up the comic once in a way now, it is partly for nostalgia and partly because the characters are simple, with “nothing crooked, mean or nasty”. “Reggie is the meanest that you could get and he is still harmless,” she says.

Critics have said that the reassuring sense of “normalcy” of a suburban middle-class life is at the core of the Archie series. In an article in ew.com, when Archie turned 50, Tim Apello called Archie’s genesis in the troubled 1940s as “a freckled bulwark against global chaos”. There have been suggestions that Archie’s choice of the rich girl now is so appropriate in the recession years!

Superheroes and comic-strip characters having to break out of the mould in which they are tightly cast is not unprecedented. After all even Superman and Sherlock Holmes have had to die, though the former was brought back to life on public demand. Arul Mani, English lecturer in a city college and an avid blogger, says that these plot twists have to be seen as “dialogues between a reader and the writer of the series”. These are “carefully researched” and can’t be reduced to random changes or straight-forward marketing gimmicks, he adds. He would have been less surprised if this twist had happened in Bush’s America where “respectable marriages” were more in. So, does Archie’s “Will you?” in Obama’s America indicate that things will not change as drastically with the new regime as we all imagined? One cheeky blogger said: “I was hoping Archie would move to Massachusetts and marry Jughead.

Sigh, such is life! But this writer for one hopes never to see the day when Hagar is a squeaky clean man, Beetle Bailey a disciplined soldier and Calvin a good boy who knows that Hobbes is all but a toy.

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