Parallel universes give fans a great opportunity to see familiar characters in alternate, and sometimes twisted, versions of their favorite stories. DC’s Elseworlds and Marvel Comics’ What If –? series offer two giant multiverses that show what could have happened if Superman had become Green Lantern, or if Spider-Man had lived with early British colonists in 1602.
When it comes to sheer variety, diversity, and just plain wackiness, however, few comic companies can hold a candle to the parallel worlds offered by Archie Comics. Although most people don’t consider the multiple versions of Archie and the gang as denizens of infinite Earths, Archie Comics has a multiverse of its own that ranges from the hilarious to the horrific.
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Archie Comics premiered in 1939 – one year after DC Comics introduced Superman (and the same year Batman made his debut). From the beginning, the writers and artists played fast and loose with continuity – offering stories where cavemen versions of Archie and the gang had adventures with prehistoric dinosaurs, distant futures where Archie and Betty went on “Jetsons-style dates,” and many other bizarre adventures set in alternate realities. No explanation was made – or needed – for these odd choices as readers simply enjoyed seeing Archie having fun in different settings.
Archie Comics – The Oldest Multiverse?
In recent years, however, Archie comic creators have established an actual “multiverse” that places each of these divergent stories in its own continuity. The Life with Archie: The Married Life follows two versions of everyman Archie Andrews – one who marries rich girl Veronica Lodge and has to deal with the pressures of being a wealthy businessman, and one who marries girl-next-door Betty Cooper and struggles to make it as a New York musician. The alternate realities don’t end here, however, as the Life With Archie comic also contains a subplot where super scientist Dilton Doiley discovers an entire realm of parallel universes – from the world where the adventures of “Little Archie” took place, to the various eras of teenage Archie (1930s Archie, 1940s Archie etc.), a prehistoric Archie universe, and even a realm where Archie and the gang are all superheroes.
Dilton ends up traveling through the different universes, teams up with an “anomaly” (the almost-forgotten supporting character “Lil Ambrose”) and even stops an evil version of himself from destroying the entire multiverse. At one point, the “walls” separating the different universes begin crumbling, and alternate Jugheads, Archies, and even Hot Dogs start bumping into each other. It’s all a fantastic, entertaining mess that rivals anything DC or Marvel ever did with their crossovers. In fact, considering that DC waited until 1953 to introduce its parallel worlds in Wonder Woman #59 (which showed Wonder Woman meeting her dimensional twin from an alternate reality), this means that Archie Comics (unintentionally) began establishing its multiverse several years before Marvel or DC thought to create their own! That being said, Archie’s adventures in fictional universes don’t end with the worlds of Archie…
Cross-Company Crossovers and Brave New Worlds
Just as DC and Marvel regularly allows their heroes to meet (and usually fight) in big crossover events, Archie Comics has held its own cross-company crossovers. In Archie’s case, however, the crossovers are inevitably stranger than anything DC or Marvel could ever dream up. Archie actually became a target of Marvel Comics’ Punisher in the unbelievable (for its time) Archie Meets the Punisher, which saw Marvel’s gun-toting vigilante head to Riverdale to track down a criminal who looked almost identical to Archie. The comic used multiple artists, including Stan Goldberg, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer, to draw both Archie and the Punisher in their traditional likenesses. Writer Batton Lash also chose to make all the actors stay in-character – with Frank Castle remaining grim and gritty in sharp contrast to the usual goofiness of Archie and the gang.
The weird crossover proved popular, which only encouraged Archie Comics to keep pushing the envelope. Betty and Veronica fought killer flying sharks in Archie vs. Sharknado while all the Riverdale teens fell victim to the extraterrestrial hunter Predator in Archie vs. Predator. These stories were considerably bloodier than Archie Meets the Punisher (with characters regularly getting skewered, maimed, and eaten) but were still drawn in the “cartoonish” Archie style, which just made the whole experience more surreal.
While Archie Comics once had strict guidelines about depicting its characters in violent and/or sexual situations, those rules eventually went out the door when the comic books began producing more “mature” Archie comics for its new Archie Horror imprint. Afterlife With Archie saw Riverdale trying (and mostly failing) to survive a zombie apocalypse. Jughead: The Hunger had burger-loving Jughead transform into a savage wolfman being tracked by werewolf hunter Betty Cooper, while Chilling Adventures of Sabrina showed the (formerly) happy teen witch now involved in some decidedly darker exploits.
More recently, the CW television series Riverdale (and its spin-off comic book) have shown teenage versions of Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica engage in some very risqué and morally questionable acts amid mysterious murders and serial killer attacks in once-peaceful Riverdale. Nothing could be further from the wholesome, all-American adventures of the Archies from the old days – but considering the extremes the “Archie-verse” has taken its parallel realities to, it fits perfectly in the multiverse.
The Jughead Wars
Although some of the current Archie comics have sought to keep its parallel realities separate by focusing on the current storylines and attempting to keep its characters grounded in one reality, a few comic books have managed to celebrate the wacky legacy of Archie’s multiverse. The 2019 comic book series Jughead: Time Police (a reboot of the short-lived Jughead: Time Police of the 1990s), shows the “modern” Jughead of current Archie continuity meeting both past depictions of his comic book self as well as radically different alternate versions.
In a plot weirdly reminiscent of Marvel’s X-Men time travel stories and DC Crisis events, present-day Jughead finds himself at odds with 1940s Jughead, who assembles a team of alternate reality Jugheads (including werewolf Jughead and zombie Jughead from Archie Horror) to take over the timestream. It’s a weird story that simultaneously celebrates and subverts the oddball stories in Archie Comics’ 80+ year history – showing how Archie’s multiverse really is the place where anything does and can happen.
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