The monetary benefits of reinventing an old property are well documented; the brand and the audience are already present and if you take a property from the current 20’s or 30’s something childhood you are reaching an audience with some (depending/hopefully) disposable income. It can also be more than just a cash grab with some people looking to older properties to be transported back in time and others taking pleasure in having those classics be updated to fit their tastes now. What we get from studios and companies is often a reflection of what they think the current audience wants and from what place that property began. Where on the age and content spectrum the property is located is important because to make something new and good out of something old, regardless of what you want from it, the creators will need to address or add something that wasn’t fully investigated while still maintaining enough of the original material so that it is identifiable. A fun way to do this to titles that were originally targeted towards children is to make them darker and grittier. It is these factors that make reinventions of Archie so much fun. It is a series that spans many generations that is also well known for its lighthearted treatment of small town teenage life.
Two examples of how this works in practise in different ways can be found in the recent Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla and one of my favorite comics Criminal the Last of the Innocent by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips. The tone of both of these books very different. Afterlife with Archie is at its core a horror comic that rather than bring its story into a more realistic setting actually amps up the jump the readers need to take to suspend their disbelief by bringing zombies into Riverdale. The sense of suspense is helped by Francavilla’s art and coloring. What grounds the book is the details and emotional arcs it brings to the individual characters. Published by the Archie Company, Afterlife with Archie is allowed to let the characters be how we remembered but with more emotional depth. It can be best seen in issue five which is told almost exclusively from the view of Veronica Lodge’s butler Hubert Smithers. He is still the eye rolling butler and dutiful servant, but through his eyes the door of criticism and heartache is opened, providing details we hadn’t seen before such as the pain brought to Lodge manor from Veronica’s mother passing.
Last of the Innocent is an unlicensed Archie comic, that uses some elements of the original Archie narrative but mostly focuses on the characters as adults. There are two art styles used to convey the passage of time in the books, Sean Philips more detailed darker work for when they are adults in the present and the more round flat drawing common of Archie comics when our Archie stand in “Riley” remembers his childhood. What’s interesting about this take on Archie is that if you have no previous knowledge of the Archie universe the book still stands on its own and fits perfectly within the noir Criminal universe. For those who do know Archie comics, it recasts the comical sets up and adds some good old sex and drugs to the mix and see’s what happens when those patterns are maintained until their adult years.
Both are fantastic reads that I would recommend strongly and are both good examples on how to breathe new life into an old series.