By Carter Glace
Full Disclosure: Archie Comics is not one of my more versed subjects. I’ve mostly learned about it through my girlfriend, and I have a growingly clear picture of how it works. Enough of an image that, seeing the casting notice for the planned CW series “Riverdale,” my eyebrows were raised.
Upon inspection, it’s very clear the creators aren’t interested in the traditional, campy 50’s vibe of the comics and more a dark, twisted reimagining. Archie is described as having a “Dark Secret,” Betty has an “Affinty for Adderal,” Veronica’s dad is in prison and Jughead is an “Emo-heatthrob.” This only further cements early scuttlebutt about the show, that it was looking to be a modern, “subversive take on Archie… exploring the surreality of small-town life—the darkness and weirdness bubbling beneath Riverdale’s wholesome façade.”
The first instinct of mine was to cringe. I’ve made it known I’m not a huge fan of “dark” reimagining’s, and for a series iconic for being campy, comedic, and breezy. It almost sounds like a parody of Hollywood’s obsession with Dark Knight style grittiness that has already worn out its welcome.
But oddly enough, Archie has proven that subverting its traditional tone can producing surprisingly quality works. The most topical example is Afterlife with Archie, whose writer is also helping write the pilot. The series brings occult horrors, zombies and Lovecraftian monsters, and bringing them to this universe works because seeing a normally campy world turn bleak is fittingly unnerving. I can never imagine a normal world existing in The Walking Dead, but a know a normal world existed for Archie. And perhaps one of the most absurd tonal crossovers of all time was The Punisher Meets Archie, brining the violent, psychotic killer to Riverdale. The entire arc focused on Punisher being out of place in a cheery, violence free world, exasperated as he bends his methods to fit this universe (there’s also the Archie/Predator crossover, but I haven’t read that yet).
Honestly, the Punisher story may actually be the unexpected key to making this work: exploiting the weird anachronism of Archie for surrealism and mystery. Much like The Peanuts, Riverdale is effectively stuck in the 1950’s, both in tone, technology, and how the characters act. While they have discussed this show being set in the modern day, playing on that stuck-in-the-past nature with confusion and bewilderment as oppose to sentimentality, sincerity and endearment. There’s something to be said about small towns permanently stuck in the past and the weird/creepy nature of that. Or at the very least, modernization could be done in the more direct vein, such as the rebooted Archie line, that features a more realistic style and approach. The line has been shockingly good, and one of the big keys to warming me up to the idea of a present day Archie. And if things go horribly wrong, it’s not like they can’t just try a more straight adaptation in five years, championing a “return to the source material.”
So will Riverdale work? If I knew, I wouldn’t be a failing film student. But from the very basic concept point, a terrible sounding idea could work.
Carter Glace is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org