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Squeaky-clean comics hero Archie is dying to prove a point about gun control

Archie Andrews is dying.
Archie Andrews is dying.
Archie Comics
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Archie Andrews is dying!

Wait, Archie Andrews is dying?


The red-headed all-American teen that's the namesake and mainstay of Archie Comics?

None other! And unlike a lot of comics deaths, it looks like this one is going to stick, because the comic in which it's happening will be ending its run next month, publishing just one additional issue after Archie dies. (August's final issue will pick up one year after his death to examine how his friends and loved ones have moved on in the wake of his death.) Oh, sure, Archie will continue to live on in the myriad other titles in which he is a star, like the comic that bears his name or Betty and Veronica. But in at least one of those titles, Archie will die.

And he won't just die. He'll die because he took a bullet to protect his good friend, gay senator Kevin Keller, as part of a storyline that examines issues of gun control. Yes, we're a long way from the days when Al Hartley licensed the characters to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Archie has a gay friend?

Yeah, you might have missed this in all the time you likely don't spend reading Archie Comics. But Archie's friend Kevin joined the gang in the spinoff title Veronica in 2010, which was so popular that he got his own title.

Like everybody else in Archie's hometown of Riverdale, Kevin's an all-around good guy. He's also very handsome and possessed of a slightly vacant stare. The character has attracted some controversy, but he has mostly been a massive success for Archie Comics (the company), and he's also underlined the publisher's refreshing willingness to engage with the realities of modern life, unlike certain other comics companies. (We're talking about DC. We're always talking about DC.)

In particular, Archie Comics has a surprisingly progressive streak. Kevin's one of the good guys, one of the characters we're meant to identify with, and in this particular storyline that leads to Archie's death, he's advocating for increased gun control. It's the sort of forthright political partisanship that could only be really happening in the pages of Archie Comics, because basically no one would believe that Archie Comics is going in for forthright political partisanship.

But, wait, seriously? Gun control?

Yeah, it's a little weird. But Archie will die in the comic Life With Archie, which flashes forward to the future to allow for deeper, more mature examinations of such issues as middle-aged anomie, marital frustrations, and the possibility of the multiverse. The comic initially started as a miniseries named The Married Life, intended to examine the eternal question of what would happen if Archie married either Betty or Veronica, then proceeded to spool out both timelines. It followed from there with a regular series that examined both of Archie's possible futures. In this world, Kevin is a military veteran and happily married, and he's recently been elected senator.

Life With Archie is actually a surprisingly entertaining book, and it engages with the idea that comics can do "mature" storytelling that's nevertheless engaging to younger readers and isn't constantly, needlessly grim. (Okay, Marvel is doing a lot with this idea, too, to say nothing of smaller publishers and the indie comics scene. We're really just grousing about DC again.)

Is Archie dead forever?

Nah. Life With Archie is done, but the character will continue to live on and have safely bland adventures in the many, many other titles Archie Comics prints that are set in the Riverdale universe. And as the comic's smart dude Dilton is only too happy to point out, the universe of Life With Archie is just one of many possibilities for what might happen to these characters. For instance, there's at least one universe where Archie is a superhero. So hang onto that.

When was Archie born?

The character has been around since 1941, and from the adventures of him and his friends (who include such luminaries as Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and Big Moose) has sprung a comics empire, one that also gave birth to everything from Sabrina the Teenage Witch to Josie and the Pussycats.

When can I read tell of Archie's heroic demise?

Though his death was announced back in April, Archie will actually expire in the issue released Wednesday. Life With Archie, then, will wrap up its run in the issue released in August.

Do you have a quote from someone at Archie Comics that makes Archie sound like Batman from the end of The Dark Knight?

Do we ever! As Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO Jon Goldwater told the Associated Press: "He dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us. It's what Archie has come to represent over the past almost 75 years." Smash-cut to black, Jon Goldwater! Smash-cut to black.

Betty or Veronica?

The only answer to this is Betty.