The magazine Life With Archie celebrated its first anniversary in September with a trade paperback collecting the first story arc—an appropriate gesture for the traditional "paper" anniversary. The first six issues of Life With Archie have just been released in collected form as Archie: The Married Life, Book 1, a trade paperback which delivers over 300 pages of story for $19.99.
The magazine's storyline takes the Archie gang into young adulthood with two different yet related stories, one in which Archie marries rich-girl Veronica Lodge and goes to work for her father, and one in which he marries girl-next-door Betty Cooper and follows his dream of being a musician. The trade paperback includes both the Betty and Veronica stories but none of the extras from the magazine. Archie co-CEO Jon Goldwater said that the plan is to collect each six-issue arc in the same way.
Writer Paul Kupperberg has thrown in a number of interesting twists, and he has big ideas for the future, including the marriage of Kevin Keller, Archie’s first openly gay character, and a “very startling story” involving Cheryl Blossom.
The dual-storyline series was originally conceived by Michael Uslan as a six-issue miniseries, Archie Marries, which ran in the flagship Archie comic in 2009-2010. Uslan roughed out the first few chapters of the current story, and then Kupperberg took over.
Although he is a seasoned comics writer who was an editor at DC (as well as senior editor of the supermarket tabloid The Weekly World News), Kupperberg had only been writing for Archie for a few months, and he Although he is a seasoned comics writer who was an editor at DC (as well as senior editor of the supermarket tabloid The Weekly World News), Kupperberg had only been writing for Archie for a few months. He thinks that may have helped: "I don't know why they went to me, I was new to the place," he said, "but my assumption has been I was somebody with a background and experience in writing serialized stories, which the Archie creators don't have a lot of call to do, and besides having an understanding of the characters, which I have from having read them for 50 years, I didn't have preconceived notions about them. I could look at these characters in a fresh way"
That fresh look includes inverting some of the characters’ long-standing personality traits. Jughead, once portrayed as lazy and allergic to girls, takes over the Chok’lit Shoppe and gets married. Moose, originally portrayed as a dumb jock, turns out to have dyslexia (this is true in the regular Archie continuity as well) and takes up with a yoga teacher who helps him calm his violent impulses and run for mayor of Riverdale. Even perennial cad Reggie Mantle turns out to have a human side.
"I don't think they are going against type," Kupperberg said. "They are just growing up and finding themselves. Yes, Reggie was a conceited jerk in high school, but he was one of those guys who grows up and says, 'My best years are behind me, and I can become the jerk from Back to the Future or grow up and make something of myself.' I wasn't changing Reggie, I was just finding him when he was 24 years old." Moose's possessive attitude toward his girlfriend Midge, played for laughs in the regular comics, causes him to lose her—and find himself—in Life With Archie. “He was a big kid who was looked at as being big and dumb, and he was frustrated and it came out in anger,” Kupperberg said, “He learned the consequences of his anger, losing his girlfriend, and he started to grow.”
As for Jughead, Kupperberg said, “Jughead is not a lazy layabout. Jughead is one of the smartest guys in the group, which is why, like Tom Sawyer, he could get them to do things for him. He didn't like to do the work, but if he had to, he could—and he did.”
“I really don't think I did anything that departs from the characters you see in the comics consistently for the past 40 or 50 years,” Kupperberg said. “I think I'm being pretty true to them, but I’m extrapolating.”
The openly gay—and extremely popular—Kevin Keller will become part of the regular continuity of Life With Archie, Kupperberg said, and in addition to Kevin’s marriage, the story will include another first: A realistic depiction of combat. Kevin, who is in the military, is wounded in battle in the Middle East. But it all ends happily when he returns to Riverdale, marries a local doctor, and joins the Archie Marries Betty continuity.
Kupperberg has added new characters, including a new group of high school kids, named after his own son and his friends. Moose’s girlfriend is a blind yoga instructor, and Reggie eventually goes to work for a garage owned by an Indian woman named Jo. “I'm a big Frank Zappa fan, and I wanted to have ‘Joe's Garage’ in there, Kupperberg said. “There's also a fairly conscious attempt to make sure there is diversity in these stories, that everybody is not white males.” And those aren’t the only changes: Death came to Riverdale in the Archie Marries Betty story, in which Miss Grundy dies from cancer (after a short, happy marriage to Mr. Weatherbee), and Riverdale High itself burned down under mysterious circumstances.
Mr. Lodge has moved the furthest from his original character, becoming much more evil and manipulative, and Kupperberg said he has gotten some pushback from fans about that. “There were some plans that actually changed along the way that had reason for him to turn so hard-edged and so ruthless,” he said. “That will all come out and be revealed at the end of the third story arc, in numbers 17 and 18. And then after that there will be a rehabilitation for Mr. Lodge.”
The original plan for the series was to get to a multiverse storyline in which all the alternate realities coexisted, Kupperberg said, but those plans have changed. “Instead, I came up with an alternative story and wrapped it up in issue 18,” he said. “When we get to 19 and the fourth story arc begins, we will deal with the consequences of this multiverse story, but we will not mention it again. All the plot lines will continue along, all the relationships will continue evolving, but the multiverse stuff is not our primary goal in this book. Our primary goal is Archie meets Melrose Place.”
The magazine itself has been through some changes over the past year. The celebrity features that peppered the cover and the interior are gone, as are the posters that once came stapled in the center. Both changes were made because of reader feedback, according to Archie co-CEO Jon Goldwater.
"We initially went into it with the mindset of doing a teen magazine with some really great comic book stories," he said, "and as it turned out, people loved the comic book stories and didn't want that experience interrupted by other imagery in there." That renewed focus has helped the magazine get back into some newsstands and mass-market stores that had dropped it, Goldwater said; in fact, after the change he saw the comic prominently displayed in two drugstores that had not carried it for months.
About a year ago, Archie Comics announced another magazine, Veronica and Betty, that would be similar in concept to Life With Archie, but don't look for it anytime soon. "That for the minute is on hold, just until we sort out the best channels of distribution," Goldwater said. "Life With Archie has been an education for us. We are figuring out how best to position this magazine."
In the meantime, Kupperberg is busy coming up with twist after twist to keep Life With Archie interesting. “All comics are soap opera,” he said. “This is just naked soap opera.” But it’s also Archie, and some things won’t change: “All this stuff in the end, in an Archie comic, it's going to be positive,” Kupperberg said. “If it’s not upbeat, at least it will have a fair and proper resolution.”