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.