Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Classics - Archie and Me #80

While I've managed to hang onto a good percentage of the comics I've bought over the years, there are some titles that I didn't keep - and now I regret it.

One of those would be the dozens of issues of assorted Archie comics that I bought, read and then discarded (mostly by trading with friends for other comics).

When I was very young, kids my age read cartoon-based comics - Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, etc. Those were read and lost to the ages.

As I got a little older, I gravitated to comics starring Archie Andrews (and they were legion). They were funny and they felt a little more "grown up" - if just for the fact that there was romance involved and these were stories about kids who were in high school - perhaps it would help us prepare for that?

The art was a bit on the cartoony side, but - based on the work of the great Dan DeCarlo - it seemed more mature than the usual animation style, and it also managed to evoke the latest styles, fashions and trends in a way that very few comic books did.

The stories were usually light but fun - a variation on Archie's attempts to romance either Betty or Veronica, or his clashes with authority (most notably the school principal, Mr. Weatherbee), or general hijinks with friends like Jughead.

But the stories manage - amazingly enough - to hold a timeless quality. This issue of Archie and Me is a good example (it was published in 1976, so it's several years after I was first buying Archie's comics - but it's one of the few older issues I still own).

It includes four stories, and only the fashions (and an offhand reference to the energy shortage) give away the publishing date. Among the stories: Archie fights to save a tiny plant from the ravages of winter, only to find an unexpected ally in Mr. Weatherbee; the kids and Weatherbee clash with the school's cook, the cranky Mrs. Beazly; Archie accidentally destroys Mr. Weatherbee's clothes and winds up in an odd costume; and Archie's suggestions wreak havok on the school - and have surprising results.

So, a few laughs, some fine art (sadly, the artists and writers aren't identified), and four average-at-best stories. It was typical for the time, and while it doesn't do much for the adult version of yours truly, it's a comic the teen Chuck would have enjoyed (though the book needed more of Archie's usual supporting cast).

The issues I've read in recent years continue the tried-and-true formula, and that's one of the strengths of the series - it's always in tune with modern events and usually a step ahead of the latest fashion, so it resonates with young readers. And at the center of each story is a group of likeable characters we care about and identify with - and the story is almost always entertaining, funny or thoughtful.

But as it took me a while to realize, Archie isn't just for kids - we geezers like these stories, too.

(And you know, I'd swear I had a shirt in the late '70s just like the one Jughead's wearing on the cover.)

Grade: C+


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