With Archie comics currently experiencing a period of creative innovation and popularity unlike anything else in the company’s 70-year history, it’s easy to forget that the company was once the, um, redheaded stepchild of the comics industry. Fortunately for fans, we have come a long way from the cheesy Archie religious comics and lame TV properties that did little more than sully the reputation of “America’s Typical Teenager” over the past few decades. However, even today some of these questionable moves can be fun to look back upon.
Which brings us to today’s list.
One of the oddest things about Archie, especially during the 1970s, was how certain titles like Archie at Riverdale High, Josie and the Pussycats and the original runs of Life with Archie and Little Archie would often feature dramatic storylines and sensationalistic covers to draw in readers. Often times, these comics were memorable because they swerved from the typical Archie formula to explore themes that usually weren’t dealt with in Riverdale. In other words, they were as weird as they were wonderful. Spanning seven decades, today’s Daily List looks at 25 melodramatic covers that prove just how odd Archie got when the comedy took a back seat to dramatic storytelling. So stop thinking about your own love triangle for a few minutes and check it out.
25) Punk vs. Funk
Answer: Neither. As you’ll see later in this list, the real Jughead died of cholesterol poisoning back in 1958.
24) Doll of Despair
Have you ever yearned for an Archie comic that ripped off both Jaws and that Brady Bunch episode where Greg finds the Tiki idol and all hell broke lose? If so, this exists for you.
23) High Adventure
Ladies, this is why you should never venture into the wilderness if you are having your period.
22) Jughead’s Big News
Fact: The only thing that terrifies Jughead more than a hamburger shortage is the female anatomy. So obviously this cover is a bit of bait-and-switch tied into the regrettable storyline that brought Jughead’s younger sister Jellybean into the Archie universe.
21) Betty Cooper, Betty Cooper
With her non-existent self-esteem and generally crazy behavior, Betty is awesomely melodramatic all of the time. But for the eight-issue “Betty Cooper, Betty Cooper” arc that appeared in Betty and Me back in the late-1970s, life in Riverdale was deliberately made a soap opera. Spoofing daytime TV and paying tribute to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, this storyline was the closest Archie comics ever came to turning into the series Soap. Sadly for readers, Chuck and Bob never appeared.
20) Squatter’s Rights
Hey kids, it’s Deliverance! Archie style! I still think the panel where the hicks made Mr. Weatherbee squeal like a pig is the most subversive thing ever printed in a comic. (Note: That didn’t actually happen).
19) Palm Trees and Pussycats
Du Jour means hostage crisis.
18) The Last Farewell
Please Internet I beg of you, somebody photoshop this so that Archie is saying “You’re tearing me apart Lisa!”
17) Fatal Temptation
It’s the cover that spawned a thousand molestation jokes!
16) Warlock War
Sabrina takes on the hot-button issue of Woman’s Lib. I’m not sure exactly what year this is from, but I’m guessing 1996 seeing how Archie books are always so timely.
15) The Madman of Marley Square
I bet you all feel foolish now for ever doubting my theory that Professor Flutesnoot was Jack the Ripper, don’t you?
The best part of this glorious cover? Either the way the word “holocaust” is spelled out in flames or the visual non-sequitur of Archie riding the back of a motorbike in the top panel.
13) Voodoo Swamp
R.I.P. Josie McCoy. I guess that Josie and the Pussycats reality show is back on now.
12) The Last Kiss
At first glance I thought that the text box said “is a story you won’t want to read,” which would be true because I just can’t stand to see Betty in such pain. You just know that right after this she went home and cried into her pillow while listening to Tori Amos’ “Winter” repeatedly. The poor thing.
11) The Island of Fear
“What should we do for the next Life with Archie? Hmm. Fuck it, let’s do voodoo Klansmen!”
10) Second Chance
The citizens of Riverdale always suspected that Pop Tate would eventually take his own life, though none of them could have predicted it would have been done in such a public way.
9) Tangled Web
Here’s a rundown of what happens in this issue: Archie is tired of Betty’s neediness so he has Jughead lie for him and then blows off their date in the park. As a result of his actions, Betty is mugged by some thugs who beat her so badly that she winds up in the hospital. Our guilt-stricken ginger then shows up to apologize, at which point Betty declares “oh some things are blessings in disguise Archie! After all it did bring you closer to me.” Just another day in the self-respect no man’s land that is Riverdale.
8) The Extractor
In the absence of a Marathon Man comic adaptation, we’ll all have to make do with this.
8) Vengeance from the Crypt
In the early 1970s, demonic possession was just as hot as pet rocks and disco. It was just a matter of time before Josie and the gang got in on the fun. So quicker than you can say “Pazuzu,” this tale inspired by The Exorcist was released. Let me bottom line this for you with the definitive panel from the story:
6) Beware the Blade
Archie Comics: Come for the humor and romance and stay for the knife fights.
5) The Death of Jughead
This is why soda taxes and vegan diets aren’t the worst things in the world. Wherever Forsythe P. Jones is now, I hope it’s a better, more burger-filled place.
4) Run for Your Life
Spoiler alert: Reggie was right and all of the bus accident victims died. Grief-stricken over his hubris, Archie turned to painkillers and empty sex before years of therapy brought him back from the brink.
3) Little Archie Brings Out the Gimp
Um, I’m not for censorship by any means but this strikes me as being wildly inappropriate. I’m in my thirties and I still find this cover terrifying, I can only imagine the nightmares this thing inspired.
2) Afterlife with Archie
Did I say awesomely melodramatic? I meant to say greatest Archie cover ever. Sadly, it’s a variant cover to the ongoing Life with Archie magazine that hasn’t even been released yet. But soon!
1) Betty Cooper Will Break Your Heart
Bob Bolling’s Little Archie work recreates the tightrope walk of sadness and adventure that is childhood in a way no other artist can. His stories are usually tempered by reminders that although being a kid is fun, it can be heartbreaking as well. This approach is best demonstrated by the above cover in which budding astronaut Archie bids Veronica farewell while a upset Betty tries to keep him grounded on Earth so maybe, just maybe, she’ll have a few more moments with him. Melodramatic? Sure. But the image here is also beautiful and universal. It’s an illustrated recreation of unrequited love that is as timeless as the Archie characters themselves.