Short Story Month: No picture is worth a thousand words

Archie (Short Story Month #13)

And so we return to Riverdale, hamlet of bitter tears, where every act disguises a perversion, every truth conceals a lie, and every witticism masks a cruel taunt that exposes your filthy hypocrisy.

Here, Archie Andrews once again plays to audience expectations, embodying the hapless fool we all abide as he struggles mightily to employ a flat tire as a plate upon which to deliver heaping mounds of good-natured humour (although we must note the baffling lack of series continuity in this panel, as the automobile in question is clearly not his beloved jalopy/sexcoach. Did Archie steal this car?). Immortal trickstergod Jughead Jones waits nearby, silent, slyly awaiting an opportunity to either add to the joke or (more likely) steal focus with a quip about hamburgers or how women are the worst.

And then…boom! Expectations subverted!

Our tale is not at all concerned with Archie’s physical struggles! Instead, we find ourselves enmeshed within an argument over Archie’s latent talent as a mechanic, placed within the confines of notorious gangland snitch Terry “Pop” Tate’s Chok’lit Shoppe (a well-known front for a meth distribution centre and after-midnight pansexual fetishateria). Matching wits behind Pop’s back — yet note, the old man pays attention, filing all information away in the dark recesses of his memory palace for possible use against his many enemies — are the beauteous, bewitching, innocent (?) tomboy Betty Cooper and Reggie Mantle, the egomaniacal leader of Riverdale’s Young Republican Club. Betty has made an innocuous comment regarding Archie’s skills at replacing a tire. Reggie, a being comprised solely of superego, rises up and seizes upon Betty’s bait, biting down on the mundaneness of Archie’s unseen victory concerning said tire. Yet Betty quickly tops Reggie’s scorn with Archie’s triumph, as Riverdale’s head ginger has employed a skateboard (that most innocuous of personal conveyances) to replace the tire, resulting in an image so delightfully absurd that to actually witness the result would be to destroy the fragile magic of the conceit.

The cartoonist makes the wise decision of forgoing an inked representation of Archie’s triumph altogether, letting the comedy find room to breathe in the juxtaposition of Betty’s glorious grin, Reggie’s snarl, an enchanting gust of air, and the signatures of the artists themselves (making themselves part of the artistic punchline).

Tragically, Archie’s triumph, as per usual, will be short-lived, as the “skateboard-as-tire” invention cannot possibly succeed for long, because physics. The auto will careen wildly into Riverdale Park, where it will collide with the closeted odd couple that is Milton and Moose, demolishing their picnic and sending Moose into a psychotic rage that will not be quelled before blood is spilled. Jughead, meanwhile, remains mute witness to the carnage, having instigated the entire debacle through his lending the use of his cousin Souphead’s skateboard.