The amount that’s going on today, let alone just this week, has been overwhelming. From the Pan Am Games starting tonight here in Toronto [which we only care about more than you do because it directly
affects inconveniences our lives] to, as mentioned in the title, the second day of Comic-Con International in San Diego to the Confederate Flag being taken down from the South Carolina Capitol grounds.
I need to take a short paragraph just to state how immensely important this is for America, and the only reason I’m not covering it today is because I don’t want add what few drops I have to offer to an already overflowing new cycle. That being said, for any who are further interested in the topic of the Confederate flag and all it stands for I have a few articles that are over 150 years old for you to look over. Enjoy.
To get to the actual content of this post allow me to inform everyone that I am all about Archie Comics. I dug them before middle school, when my dad bought me sixty or so assorted digests and double digests at a garage sale, and I love them now years after having misplaced every single one. To put that more simply I have been into tales about a group of all-American teenagers before and after my actual teen years. Considering the fact that they’ve been around for almost three quarters of a century the titular Archie and the other residents of Riverdale have managed to perform the not unimpressive feat of telling timeless stories that appeal to generation after generation.
The thing is, a rolling stone gathers no moss and all that.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the publisher’s Chief Creative Officer, has been making strides to ensure that the world doesn’t forget about Archie Andrews. Non-comics-obsessives may not be aware of Afterlife With Archie, a series that he is writing himself which features the dead rising and the gang doing what they have to not to get eaten. Art by the immensely talented Franco Francavilla [who also illustrated the cover on the right] aside it’s good, with conventional tropes being carried out by characters we know like the backs of our hands. Crossovers with other franchises include Glee, Predator, and, somehow, Sharknado. Anywhere teens could potentially be found has the potential to host Betty, Jughead, Dilton, and the rest of them-
One of publisher’s latest ventures in keeping up with the rest of the world was the relaunch of their main title, the unsurprisingly named Archie. Penned by veteran comic scribe Mark Waid [Daredevil, Superman: Birthright, more books than I care to list] and drawn by Fiona Staples [Saga, enough said] it feels like a once-in-a-lifetime cosmic alignment of talent.
So Archie Comics presses on, and so it should be of no surprise to anyone that the next step is television. Announced today at Comic-Con International was the news that an adaptation of their various books would take the form of a one-hour drama on the CW called Riverdale.
It goes without question that I’m going to be watching this with a near-religious fervour, but upon first hearing the announcement my very first concern was just how intensely White this show is going to be. I understand that there may be some of you who are not as familiar with the cast of characters, so allow me to list the main players below [in no particular order]:
1) Archie Andrews
2) Betty Cooper
3) Veronica Lodge
4) Forsythe “Jughead” Pendleton Jones III
5) Reggie Mantle
Excluding Reggie, who is as close to a villain as you can get while still being considered a friend of sorts by the rest of them, every one has held their own title [Betty and Veronica shared a few books]. Adding that criterion it’s only fair that we add the following, who received a lot of press due to being the publisher’s premiere homosexual character:
7) Kevin Keller
It should go without saying that every one of these young men and women is White [though big ups to Archie Comics for pushing Kevin to the forefront]. Before we can even get to African-American characters like Chuck Clayton and girlfriend Nancy Woods there are a number who I would have to give more prominence before them. They include [surnames omitted to save space] Moose, Dilton, Midge, Ethel, and Cheryl. Every one can be backed up by the Wikipedia article on the main characters as well, with Chucky and Nancy being the only non-White members out of the 17 listed.
With all that in mind if Riverdale follows the Archie Comics books that we’ve read for decades and decades things are going to be predominantly Caucasian. Even if there are a number of other people of colour they’ll be secondary or tertiary characters at best. I can’t imagine Jughead or Reggie being sidelined for, say, Raj Patel. As any of their recent offerings might suggest [holding Life with Archie as a prime example] the first five that I listed are the heart and core of the universe; everything else revolves around them.
I bought and read the aforementioned Archie #1 by Waid and Staples prior to writing this just to see if it could provide any indication of what to expect with the CW’s Riverdale. Lo and behold, Raj does in fact have a line! We also see Maria Rodriguez and Trev Smith, the former of whom moved the plot forward alongside Kevin and someone named Sheila [who looks Asian] that I didn’t recognize.
Not only that, Staples also peppers every shot with non-White characters, which legitimately gave me the impression that this book took place in the real world. It never felt like she was trying to maintain some kind of quota or balance, only that Riverdale is a multiethnic and multicultural place much like the city I live in.
With that in mind I wanted to feel optimistic, especially in light of the characters page on the actual Archie Comics website:
That’s six people of colour out of 20, and considering the relative newness of Trev, Harper, Toni, and Raj [all created in the past decade] it certainly communicates the sentiment that the publisher is serious about diversity. It’s even more encouraging when rating it using the Harvey-Renee Index, with a staggering six Harveys to 13 Renees [which I explained and used here].
Again, I wanted to feel optimistic, but I don’t think I can go into this a lot of positivity on the diversity front. Given the very White core of the series secondary and tertiary characters will only ever be that. They may get an arc or two and receive a good amount of development, but at the end of the day the show will never really be about them first and foremost. It’s the Avengers [the film] problem. You can add Falcon and Scarlet Witch and War Machine and whoever else, but the heart of your franchise is six White heroes and the core of that is three White men. Everyone else must revolve around what remains at the centre.
I really am looking forward to Riverdale. I continue to have an unabashed love for the Archie Comics characters, and especially enjoy debating the option of Veronica being the woman he ends up marrying instead of Betty. Honestly, if they nail Jughead’s character a large part of me is going to end up being satisfied-
All I can really end with is that Aguirre-Sacasa appears committed to having their brand be one that appeals to, well, everyone, and I honestly hope that he succeeds. The first issue of Archie is certainly reason to temper my dubiousness, and I look forward to being proved right, or more hopefully wrong, come the pilot’s release.