Little red book: Archie meets the Marxists

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Never again will I even lightly roast my wife for reading Archie comics. If not for that odd but harmless little habit, I might never have learned that ol’ hashtag-head has joined Occupy.
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Yep, it’s all right there in the current Archie #635, “Occupy Riverdale.” Only I wasn’t entirely correct in saying that young Master Andrews “joins” the movement: Actually, he stumbles across a local outgrowth of the Wall Street protests and tries to puzzle out what it all means to him personally. In other words, he’s the reader-identification character, as long as one subscribes to the notion that the average Archie reader is either a tween with an embryonic sense of domestic issues or an adult who classifies himself as a political moderate. (And have fun finding the narrow shaft of daylight between those two nowadays.) The plot is embedded right there in the character archetypes: Rich snots Reggie Mantle and Veronica Lodge look down their noses at the picketing that’s taken over Riverdale’s Pickens Park (“Those protesters just need to take a shower and look for a job like everyone else,” dismisses the former). Meanwhile, the more down-to-Earth Betty gives context to the unfolding class warfare by divulging that her mother has been forced to take a second job in order to keep their family afloat. As they bicker, the government/big business complex -- represented by Veronica’s Romney-esque daddy -- threatens to eject the protesters from the park. “Pepper spray? How spicy?” queries the forever stomach-motivated Jughead, nicely embodying the selfish motivations of the mushy middle. Typing those previous four paragraphs felt like composing a missive from the Twilight Zone, but I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised by the book’s turn toward socioeconomic relevancy. After all, Archie Comics has done such valiant work as of late in standing by their gay character, Kevin Keller, in the face of the predictable “traditional family values” boycotts. In contrast, industry giants Marvel and DC have willingly done public penance for daring to suggest, respectively, that the Tea Party might have some unsavory elements and Superman could have a Muslim friend. Obviously, Archie writer Alex Segura penned this current issue back when Occupy seemed open-ended as a physical phenomenon; instead, it was struck down by antsy community leaders, only to rise, Kenobi-like, to a higher plane of the national conversation. But even as a time piece, the book has some obvious failings. For one, I’m not entirely down with the depiction of Occupy Riverdale ringleader Andy Martinez. He’s a kind of teen Che who comes off as a tad too belligerent --  shades of the abusive, anti-social lefty radicals in Forrest Gump-- even with Betty on hand to remind everybody that hard times don’t necessarily breed politeness. And from a conceptual standpoint, have fun trying to name a single “leader” of Occupy, on either the national or local level. (If you said “Barack Obama,” well har-dee-har-har. Now do your country a favor and go sterilize yourself with a hot spoon.)

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And at the risk of appearing to beat up on a funny book, the narrative, honestly, reads like ass. Characters switch allegiances with lightning speed and for no real reason at all -- making for a quick sprint to a bloodless, Kumbaya conclusion that makes it seem as if the entire gang had been arguing over nothing thornier than a proposal to change the color of Riverdale High’s football uniforms. Yes, we can all agree to disagree respectfully -- but how is that going to get Betty’s mom home in time to ’wave up a pot pie for the fam?

This is one of those endeavors that are best graded on intent, not execution. It’s wholly commendable that the Archie crew even deigned to address the issue of income inequality -- even if what they did with it is about as nuanced philosophically as Bazooka Joe arguing contraception policy. The “Occupy Riverdale” issue works not as an accurate representation of where we are and where we’re going, but as a pleasant view of how we might get there. It’s thus wholly appropriate that big gay Kevin gets to deliver a full-page, full-throated defense of the story’s underlying idealism: “Riverdale’s always been about more than the one percent or the 99 percent!” he tells a roving reporter. “It’s a safe place where everyone is welcome!” Why, I bet they have a mosque and everything. (Not that Superman would care anymore.)

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