Something rotten in Riverdale

Both the news media and (segments of) the nerd community went nuts last spring with the announcement that iconic comic-book teen Archie Andrews would finally end one of pop culture's most enduring love triangles by proposing to one of his long-time girlfriends (note that I don't use nerd in a pejorative sense here, as I've proudly read Archie for as long as I can remember).

Jaws dropped further with the revelation that Archie pops the question to Veronica Lodge, aristocrat, snob and manipulatrix extraordinaire, instead of the long-suffering All-American sweetheart Betty Cooper.

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 The plot thickened last week when the New York Times published a story indicating that Archie will switch his chips back to Betty in a November issue, a scant two months after proposing to Veronica. Predictably, Archie sales have skyrocketed and the blogosphere is alive with questions. Why Veronica? Why not Betty? And of course, insufferably, why not Jughead?

The real question should be why anyone's making a big deal out of this.

When the proposal was first announced, Archie editors rushed to assure readers that this storyline would not be a dream, an alternate universe or any sort of cop-out. That leaves only the alternative that Archie is finally jumping the shark and the series has run its course.

The Betty revelation proves that the story is already a partial cop-out. But either way, it means Archie is still married and, more disturbingly, will actually have sex (Archie offspring are begat somewhere in the storyline), so the story is still creating controversy.

Naturally, the strongest reaction is coming from Archie fans. My personal favorite objection came from U.S. comic book store owner David Luebke, who protested the proposal to Veronica by selling his copy of Archie #1 (Note to Mr. Luebke: it doesn't really count as a protest when you make almost $40,000 US. If you want to make a statement, burn the thing, don't profit from it).

However, it's the Archie fans who should know best that this storyline, as Macbeth would say, is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Why?

The story takes place in the future, which has no relevance to the frozen-in-time Riverdale gang. Like The Simpsons or Family Circus, time never advances in their world. Yes, there are occasional what if?-type adventures, but in the standard narrative, Archie and friends have now been in high school since 1941. There's no indication that the marriage storyline will permanently shift Archie and the gang into adulthood.

Also, the veteran Archie reader knows that the Riverdale universe is one of mind-boggling inconsistency. Within a single issue, Archie often changes from a hapless unco-ordinated boob to a star athlete, from a dork driving an ancient jalopy to a popular kid in a red convertible. Sometimes Moose is dyslexic, other times he's just dumb. Fervent woman-hater Jughead sometimes has a girlfriend. And on rare occasions, Archie has been black (although that's more attributable to sloppy artwork than some sort of Black Like Me experiment). In a universe with no continuity, anything can happen.

So calm down, Archie fans. The marriage has already served its purpose, that being to increase sales. In the long run, Riverdale will remain unchanged and comic-dom's lengthiest enduring love triangle will remain unbroken.

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