‘Riverdale’ (Season 2): The Evolving Face of Archie

Riverdale is a mad delight. This show has taken an American icon of blandness and turned it into a bizarre, over-the-top mystery show where Archie is ripped, Jughead may become a criminal, and Cheryl Blossom is living out her own personal gothic horror. The second season premiere continued the madness, with the generically masked gunman from the first season finale seeming to begin cutting a bloody path through the people in Archie’s orbit.

For the majority of viewers, Riverdale’s twisted outlook on the classic character probably continues to be a huge shock. However, it’s surprisingly in keeping with the company’s recent restructuring of the character. Sure, Archie Comics has continued to publish comics in the classic style, but this past decade has been marked with increasingly experimental titles featuring Archie and his friends.

These modern reinventions had humble beginnings in Archie #600, which started a seven-issue storyline called “Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty” in 2009. Set right before high school graduation, the storyline followed Archie as he decided to walk up Memory Lane instead of down it. This decision, along with a split in the road, allowed him to see two alternate futures: one where he married Veronica, and one where he married Betty.

Instead of being a one-off storyline, “Archie Marries…” led to a spin-off series called Life with Archie: The Married Life. And, because there’s no true answer to the question “Betty or Veronica?” the series continued to follow both timelines for several years. The finale? Archie dying at the hands of a gunman trying to kill one of his friends. Even better, it’s kept ambiguous which timeline this story takes place in, suggesting this might be Archie’s fate no matter who he ends up with.

Of course, while The Married Life was experimental, it definitely kept closer to the classic Archie feel. Where things truly started to get bizarre was with the launch of Afterlife with Archie, a series that saw Sabrina Spellman accidentally beginning a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale while trying to revive Jughead’s pet Hot Dog. The hugely successful series became the launching point for the entire Archie Horror line, which also includes a series where Jughead is a werewolf and a series depicting Sabrina as a truly dark witch (the likely inspiration for Riverdale’s own planned Sabrina spin-off).

Honestly, Archie’s always been a bizarrely adaptable character, with a storied history of appearing alongside characters such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Punisher. The difference these days is that Archie actually reforms and changes to fit those new genres. When Archie faces off against the Predator, the cast’s personalities will change to fit the roles of terrible teens in a slasher flick; the same can be said for the crossover with Sharknado.

So when Riverdale continues to push Archie in bizarre, unsettling directions, it’s surprisingly in keeping with the character’s newfound elasticity. And it makes for the wildly unpredictable and over-the-top show that fans have come to love. Whatever is ahead in the second season, I can only hope it’ll be as crazy as the comics are willing to get.