Re-educating Archie: American idol gets new look

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Something peculiar is going on with Archie, the perky but dependably vanilla bachelor boy at the heart of the eponymous American cartoon strip that has been going strong – or strong-ish – since the early 1940s. The lad has sprung a muscular new body and has turned his hand to fighting evil spies. Oh, and he has two fiancées.

This is not about Archie, or his creators, going off the rails. The new, more modern story lines being explored in his strip – an openly gay character recently joined his circle of friends – are about getting him back in tune with the zeitgeist, and not just for ageing boomers and their parents. A new team of managers at Archie Comic Publications, based just outside New York, has brought a new approach. They don't just want to update Archie. The more serious goal is to do with him what more powerful competitors, such as Marvel and DC, have done with properties like Batman and Spiderman. They want to transform him from cutesy throwback to a global franchising powerhouse.

The first issue of a new Archie magazine explores the vital question of which of two long-term friends, Veronica or Betty, our suburban hero – the whole crew lives in fictional Riverdale – should wed.

The regular strip's current story line, "The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E", is a car-chase-and-explosions spy caper (based on The Man from U.N.C.L.E, a 1960s television classic). Though meant as a parody, it shows Archie in more muscular, even superhero, form. All this is calculated to drum up some noise in the corners of American culture where Archie has barely registered for years.

The US Post Office leapt on the bandwagon last month, issuing a first-class stamp showing Archie sharing a milkshake simultaneously with Veronica and Betty.