by Brandon Schatz
On Monday, the pop culture bereft owner of my shop phoned had asked if I had ordered enough of the “death of Archie thing” that was happening. As with all comics, the news of this event had been announced well in advance. As always, calls came pouring in over the telephone lines. People wanted the comic where Archie dies. I had to explain to them that it wouldn’t be happening until July. At this point, reactions would vary from uncomfortable silence to outright indignation. One such phone customer accused me of hoarding copies to sell for a premium at a later date. I had to bite my tongue before I told them they didn’t understand the first thing about books like this.
When books like Life With Archie #36 hit the stands, the store gets a mountain of phone calls and visitors looking to get their mitts on copies of the books in question. A sizeable chunk of these people are just popping into the medium for a visit, having heard the news on the radio or television or from a friend. Most just want to have a copy to say they have it. Some even want to read the damn thing. Inevitably, the fever dies down (usually by the weekend, with a few stragglers looking for copies weeks, months and years later) and the effects are negligible. There’s very little that will turn someone who had no interest in reading comics into a full fledged Wednesday warrior overnight. Regardless, events like this always give me hope, and usually net a small handful of new customers who didn’t know we existed, and liked the service enough to return. Almost 100% of these return customers are people who took the time to actually read the book they came into purchase, instead of stashing it away in a box that they’ll bring back to us several years down the road for All The Money. Some books make this transition easier than others, offering a smooth read with interesting bits of storytelling that dig the hooks in. I remember the Death of Captain America netting quite a few return customers, as did the Death of Johnny Storm. I doubt the Death of Archie will have the same effect – and it all comes down to the company’s lack of experience when dealing with these big events.
When you open Life With Archie #36, you’re greeted with two full pages that explain the series to date in near excruciating detail. The opening gives new readers an overview of what the book was up until this point: an exploration of two possible futures where Archie married Betty and Veronica. This, along with the information that Kevin Keller is running for Senate on a platform of gun control and gay rights is all you need to know to enjoy what follows. Instead, the recap spends time talking about all the various differences and similarities between the two realities. It even spends a paragraph detailing the time that an Evil and Good Dilton almost destroy the Archie multiverse using science. None of this information is needed, and serves only to confuse the inexperienced reader who thinks they might want to dip their toe into the medium.
After selling comics at the shop for nearly eight years, I’ve come to realize that the best way to sell a comic is to give people as little information as possible. Have you ever sat through an hour long lecture as to why the Silver Age Legion is the best Legion? I sure have. You know what it didn’t do? Make me want to read Legion comics. In fact, it made me want to avoid them. Passion needs to be discovered, not explained – and Archie Comics failed in that this week. They did a poor job selling a book that was going to sell itself, something that could have been easily avoided with a stronger editorial hand.
The issue itself is quite good. Instead of giving new readers the same story in both realities, Paul Kupperberg and Pat & Tim Kennedy play things fast and loose with some pronouns and character placement, allowing the story to function viably in both realities, utilizing a form of brevity for the concept. It’s not high art by any means, but it’s a nice, suitable story that brings a character’s journey to a poignant end. The only failing seems to be how eager the company is to explain things that don’t need to be explained, giving the reader a jumble of information that would have been better served as a story they explored later, than explained in a blurb. That said, Archie is Archie, and will endure forever, so it’s not like people are going to be bucked off the train to Riverdale. The event continues to paint comics as a medium that is indesipherable to get into – after all, if you can’t understand what’s going on in an Archie title, what hope would you have for anything else on the stands.
Regardless, this book is going to sell. It was sold before it hit the stands, and will be a novelty for a long time to come. It’s just a shame it couldn’t sell the industry at the same time.
[Brandon Schatz has been working behind the comic book counter for eight years. He's spent the past four as the manager of Wizard's Comics and Collectibles in Edmonton, Alberta. In his spare time, he writes about the comics he likes over at Comics! The Blog and works on building his comic book recommendation engine over at Variant Edition. You can find him on twitter @soupytoasterson. The opinions expressed are those of Schatz and do not necessarily reflect those of The Beat]