Writer: Paul Kupperberg
Artists: Pat Kennedy, Tim Kennedy
Publisher: Archie Comics
Release Date: July 16, 2014
“Death of Superman didn’t kill Superman. It killed death,” muses screenwriter Max Landis in his brutal parody of The Death and Return of Superman saga. In essence, Superman’s wildly-hyped undoing and near-immediate, underwhelming resurrection in the early ‘90s made it possible for characters in superhero comics to hop off and on the mortal coil at their convenience. After the murder of the most famous hero of them all was retconned into insignificance, death itself no longer mattered.
Little has changed in the 22 years since DoSM. These days, nobody takes death seriously.
But, death did make Superman sexy again, albeit briefly, in the gritty antihero-crazed ‘90s when wholesomeness and irrelevancy were interchangeable concepts. Archie Andrews is also wholesome, but he’s no Superman. He’s just some dude with freckles. He doesn’t even live in the same continuity as his crime-fighting, fetish-gear-clad contemporaries. Does Archie’s death actually matter? Can Archie, of all people, return death to its former position of gravitas and finality? Can Archie bring death back to life? And if he does, will it make him sexy, likely for the first time in his 70-plus years? The answer to all four of those questions is, “Nah, not really.”
Our ginger protagonist’s sorta-kinda-death in Life with Archie #36 recalls Green Goblin squashing Peter Parker on Earth-1610 (aka, Ultimate Earth) a few years ago. Meanwhile, Spidey on Earth-616 — the Earth where most Marvel comics take place — continued his usual, merry web slingin’. In this comic, future adult Archie takes a bullet while protecting his senator buddy Kevin Keller from a homophobic, second-amendment absolutist madman. Meanwhile, regular ol’ teenage Archie from the mainstream timeline is doing just peachy.
Point being, the media wasted a lot of attention on this largely inconsequential, ham-fisted and stilted Archie story. I appreciate how the idealized America channeled through Riverdale is hardly a right wing utopia. Archie could’ve just as easily taken a bullet for Jughead or Veronica or whomever. But sacrificing himself for Kevin Keller feels like an entirely deserved middle finger waved at One Million Moms and others who took umbrage at Keller’s 2012 wedding. That’s kind of cool. But it’s the only remotely interesting thing that happens in these 42 pages.
Before the main event, Archie goes on a jog, wanders around town and internally waxes philosophical about his station in life. He’s pretty stoked about his existence, but nonetheless drops a few improbable thought nuggets like, “All it takes to turn happiness into sorrow is a split second!” for the sake of unnecessary foreshadowing? I guess? Picturing two decades down the hypothetical line, jogging Archie envisions himself as a cliché suburbanite dad. Soon after, he lets his imagination soar, and casts himself as a wealthy businessman who barks at underlings to send him contracts, flies in a private jet and does other cliché businessman things. When he meets his unexpected end at Keller’s fundraising event that evening, at least we know Archie won’t be missing out on anything exciting.
In fairness, writer Paul Kupperberg’s aching attempts at pathos may affect anyone who’s emotionally invested in the conclusion of the Life With Archie series. But while death might’ve seemed like a big deal in the ‘70s when Gwen Stacy was doing it, Pong was also blowing minds back then. Death certainly can’t carry a story by itself anymore, but Life With Archie #36 works under that faulty assumption, which makes its titular everyman look even more antiquated than he already does. Definitely not sexier.