After 75 years, the Archie universe is undergoing a much-needed update. In July of last year, for the first time in the comic’s history, Archie, along with its multiple spin-off series centered around specific characters, was relaunched with an aesthetic that reflected a modernized Riverdale universe with ‘edgier’ characters and storylines. Archie and his friends now look almost unrecognizable after their creators abandoned the classic drawing style that had remained largely unchanged since the comic’s debut in the 1940s. Archie’s art is sleeker and more attractive, rendering it more appealing to audiences that may not be particularly familiar with the comics and their cast of characters.
But this overhaul doesn’t simply stop at the surface. The comic is trying its hand at tackling relevant social issues that have been thrust to the forefront of public discourse as of late. In a recent issue of Jughead, it is revealed that the titular character identifies as asexual. Jughead’s lack of interest in dating has been central to his character since the beginning, and regularly played out in his vocal disgust of women and preference of eating to dating. However, the character was still assumed to be straight until the recent reveal, a move that was met with lots of praise on the Internet, particularly considering the pervasive invisibility of asexuality in the media.
This isn’t the first time an Archie character has made headlines for coming out. In 2010, Kevin Keller was introduced in an issue of Veronica and came out to Jughead as gay soon after his introduction. This was pretty big for the comic at the time, as they had never included a character who had identified as anything other than straight. Keller became so popular that the creators began an entire series centered around him. however, the move was controversial, and after Keller was introduced as an adult in a Life with Archie storyline where his marriage to another man was shown, some groups called for the removal of the comic from stands at Toys ‘R’ Us. In response, a story was written in Kevin Keller about Keller facing adversity and homophobia at school.
It’s great to see a well-known comic adapting to the current social climate and addressing issues in a positive and thoughtful way; however, the best thing about the inclusivity of Archie comics is that its characters are not treated as novelties—every new thing you learn about them feels natural and has a place within the story. Although Archie comics are obviously making an effort to be contemporary, they are not doing it in a way that objectifies their characters for token diversity. Jughead’s asexuality, although a recent revelation, is not all that hard to believe. As a character, he has only ever had one relationship with another character, Ethel, and he has generally only agreed to dates in order to get a free meal. His distaste for dating and displays of sexuality have been central to his image, and his asexuality naturally fits in to the identity fans have come to love about him.
In fact, other than an artistic overhaul and a greater emphasis on social commentary, Archie comics have not changed all that much. The characters themselves are still familiar, as is the dynamic between them. Reading a new edition of Archie or Jughead won’t be a jarring trip into a new world, it will still feel familiar to longtime fans of the comics. Perhaps this is the most admirable aspect of the comic’s rebranding: While it has developed its characters and adapted to a society in which individual sexual identity can be accepted and celebrated, it still remains close to its relatively unassuming, happy-go-lucky roots.