The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Archie's death saving a gay friend latest comic book story to inject reality

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. - For most of Archie Andrews' life, the red-headed comic book icon's biggest quandary was whether he liked Veronica or Betty.

The character's impending death comes in Wednesday's installment of "Life with Archie," a spin-off series that centres on grown-up renditions of Archie and his Riverdale pals. It brings a bold conclusion to Archie Comics' four-year-old modern makeover of the squeaky-clean, all-American character.

Freckle-faced Archie will meet his demise when he intervenes in an assassination attempt on senator Kevin Keller, Archie Comics' first openly gay character, who's pushing for more gun control in Riverdale. Archie's death, which was first announced in April, will mark the conclusion of the "Life with Archie" series.

"I think Archie Comics has taken a lot of risks in recent years, and this is the biggest risk they've taken yet," said Jonathan Merrifield, a longtime Archie fan who hosts the Riverdale Podcast about all things Archie. "If it shakes things up a little bit, and people end up checking it out and seeing what's going on in Archie Comics, it will be a risk that was smartly taken."

While casual fans likely still associate Archie with soda shops and sock hops — and that's still holds true for the very much alive teenage character in the original "Archie" series — Archie was thrust into adulthood with the launch of "Life with Archie" in 2010. The series kicked off after alternate futures were envisioned where the love-struck do-gooder married both Veronica and Betty.

Over the past four years, storylines in the more socially relevant series aimed at adult Archie fans have included Kevin's marriage to his husband, the death of longtime teacher Ms. Grundy, Archie love interest Cheryl Blossom tackling breast cancer and Jughead and friends dealing with financial struggles.

It's been a shift not unlike other changes in the modern comic book landscape, where Spider-Man's alter-ego is a multi-racial teenager and Wonder Woman wears pants.

"Every few years, we see a comic book tackling an issue that could be considered provocative," said Dave Luebke, owner of Dave's Comics in Richmond, Virginia. "It's interesting that the ending of 'Life with Archie' involves multiple social issues, but it's not surprising." (Luebke sold his rare 1942 "Archie" No. 1 comic book in 2009 for $38,837 at a Dallas auction.)

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and several Archie fans praised Archie Comics' decision to have the character sacrifice himself to save Kevin, who is depicted in "Life with Archie" as a married military veteran turned senator.

"In recent years, 'Life with Archie' has become one of the most unique books on the shelves by using its characters to address real world issues — from marriage equality to gun control — in a smart but accessible way," said Matt Kane, GLAAD's director of entertainment media. "Though the story is coming to a close, we look forward to seeing Kevin and Archie's stories continue in their remaining titles."

Others have voiced their concern on Archie Comics' Facebook page and other online forums that the character's death was unnecessary or too politicized.

Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO, defended Archie's demise being a lesson about gun violence and diversity.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I don't agree," said Goldwater. "I think Riverdale is a place where everyone should feel welcome and safe. From my point of view, I'm proud of the stance we've taken here, and I don't think it's overtly political on any level."

Depending on the success of the final installments of "Life with Archie," Riverdale Podcast host Merrifield won't be surprised if Archie Comics takes on other topical issues in the near future.

"I'm sure there will be a tearful moment for me," he said of the character's death. "But this isn't goodbye. He'll be back in a couple of weeks in a book of reprints and the teenage 'Archie' will continue. Archie will still be around. He's always around."

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Online:

http://www.archiecomics.com

___

Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang.

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