Archie Comics, in the past nearly consistent in presenting its leading brands as wholesome fare featuring small-town America, has branched out into horror with titles such as Afterlife with Archie and the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Heading in a different direction with the Dark Circle imprint, the company has also thrown itself headlong into the realm of the superhero and the world of pulp comics.
While Sabrina’s move from a humor title to one of horror is simply a twisted look at a theme already embedded in the character’s history—the supernatural—Afterlife with Archie stripped away the main premise of Archie—a suburban coming of age story (though one admittedly frozen in the penultimate stage)—to focus on zombies. While the title is a critical and commercial success, what if Archie Comics took a dark look at what Archie is actually about—small-town American life?
My suggestion? Black Betty, a title that takes the premise in Archie and presents a warped reflection of it. Riverdale has always been the idealized suburbia we dream about—close-knit, supportive, tolerant, wholesome, and diverse. Springvale would be the small town at its worst, a thin veneer of respectability cloaking corruption and intolerance—tawdry secrets kept behind closed doors. While character names and basic attributes should be kept the same, the art should be severely different from the traditional friendly and open DeCarlo style. It should serve as a clear indication that what is being presented is a Riverdale that is not quite right. Perhaps a style reminiscent of one of the newspaper masters such as Jorge Longarón would be ideal—a style that conjures up nostalgia for the soapy strips of yesteryear.
Black Betty is not my only suggestion! Just as Archie, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Josie and the Pussycats serve as a steadfast trinity for the publisher, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Black Betty, and Pussycats! could act temporarily as its dark triad. While Black Betty examines small-town secrets, Pussycats! could illustrate how the scandalous world of celebrity can quickly poison one seeking stardom. Dreamgirls meets Less Than Zero.
Each series should be capped at 6 to 12 issues—long enough to create a splash, tell an interesting story, and be bound into 1 or 2 trades, but short enough to avoid interfering with the main brand. I think it would be a great way for Archie Comics to shake off the shackles of its kids’ publisher status and show that it is willing to try new things.