Race & Comics Roundup: Archie’s Romance, Milestone’s Return & The Great Ten

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By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García

Chris Sims at The Comic Alliance highlighted the cover to Archie #608, which points in the direction of a decidedly different type of crossover between Archie and his gang and Josie & The Pussycats – specifically, the eponymous Mr. Andrews and Valerie, so uh, memorably played by Rosario Dawson in the 2001 Josie live-action film.

As Sims points out via a column by former Milestone Comics editor-in-chief Dwayne McDuffie, this isn’t the first time a member of the Archie creative team has tried to introduce an inter-racial romance to the staid Riverdale scene, only the first successful attempt. In 1992, McDuffie says, Betty & Me writer Matt Wayne wanted to give Betty Cooper a beau of her own to give Archie some competition for her affection (a twist on Betty and Veronica’s never-ending battle for Archie’s heart).

Wayne’s candidate was to be college freshman Dexter Howard, a young black co-worker of Betty’s. As another twist, Dexter wasn’t going to be a “bad guy,” but would instead befriend Archie despite their competing interest in Betty. Unfortunately, McDuffie says, the idea never got off the ground, as Wayne’s editor, Daryl Edelman, had the story soundly rejected by one of Edelman’s superiors:

[Edelman's superior] hated the stuff, wanting to know why Dexter was so much more accomplished than Archie, “What is he, super-Negro?” (at least, “Negro” is what everyone who told me this story reported him as saying. I have a sneaking suspicion that they were trying to save my feelings). Darryl was very upset and told off his boss, but to no avail. He was ordered to change the story in the cheapest way possible: Dexter was to be re-colored white. Unfortunately, this fooled approximately no one. Archie’s offices were flooded with four or five letters congratulating them on their progressive move of adding that “cool, black guy” to Betty’s cast. Uh oh.

Wayne was subsequently fired after only two issues.

But as Sims points out, the Archie world has slowly moved in a more progressive direction, through more attention to longtime characters like Ginger Lopez and Chuck Clayton and the introduction of new characters like Raj Patel, Kim Wong and Tomoko Yoshida:

Are these characters one-dimensional? Well, yes, but they’re one-dimensional in the way that all Archie characters are, like Raj, who is frequently described as — wait for it — “out-Raj-eous.” He’s defined by one thing — in this case, his aspirations as an amateur filmmaker — but no more than Archie, who’s defined by being a girl-crazy klutz. It’s a reduction of a character to one note, but it’s a rare case of that one note being completely unrelated to their race.

The pairing of the series’ franchise player with Valerie, who has been part of Archie canon for just over four decades, might well be received positively by fans – Sims notes that fans responded positively to a BM/WF potential pairing just two years ago before editors scuttled it – but it’ll be interesting to note how long this romance is allowed to bloom after the book’s release in April.

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Speaking of McDuffie, some of his own characters are getting some much-delayed love this month, as Milestone and DC collaborated on the release of Milestone Forever #1, the first half of a story which will reportedly spell out the final fate of its’ primary characters and storyline hub, Dakota. This particular issue, though, didn’t spend much time on that issue, aside from some musings by the usually omniscient Dharma, who, for once, is stumped as to how to save his universe.

Instead, nearly the whole issue focuses on the Blood Syndicate settling its leadership issues after a run-in with Icon, Rocket, Static and Hardware. The original Milestone artists are on-board for Forever, and John Paul Leon and Mark D. Bright effectively highlight the split in the action between the fisticuffs in Dakota and Dharma’s lair. Meanwhile, McDuffie’s story hums along at an enjoyable pace, given the sheer volume of characters he has to deal with.

Fittingly, given his status as Milestone’s biggest success story, Static gets the best lines; it’s a relief to see him away from the emotional minefields in Teen Titans, and his Electric Company callback is sincerely funny. Forever might have come out too late to build on any momentum from the Milestone mini-crossover with DC’s Justice League (also written by McDuffie), but this issue should encourage fans of this universe to stick around and see what happens.

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Elsewhere in the DCU, this month’s issue of The Great Ten mini-series is writer Tony Bedard’s best case yet for why this team – if not the series – should be kept in the company’s spotlight for the forseeable future.

Originally created by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones for the company’s maxi-series 52, the Ten are China’s first super-team, a delayed response by the People’s Republic to the rise of the JLA and other such teams. This sets up a crucial distinction between them and their American colleagues, in that the Ten regularly report to party leaders, as opposed to running amok.

The series is a nearly-extreme example of decompression, as the story takes place during the course of a single battle against a group calling itself the reincarnation of Chinese gods. In between scenes of the team and its’ handler, Vice-Premier Jiang, trying to handle the situation, each issue focuses on the origin story of a member of the Ten. This month, Great Ten #4 featured the Immortal Man In Darkness, and Bedard effectively balanced the character’s sense of duty with the decidedly morbid nature of his job, even as it turns out to hold a clue to his team’s dilemma.

The only issue with the Ten has less to do with the characters than how DC and Bedard present them to us. The would-be gods (“Yu Huang,” “Kuan Ti,” etc.) get phonetically Chinese names, the Ten themselves are constantly referred to by translated versions of their names. Morrison had reportedly said that names like Thundermind and Accomplished Perfect Physician are close to their actual Chinese names, but not having that acknowledged in the series diminishes the experience just a bit. But give Bedard credit for at least presenting each member of the team thus far as more than a party apparatchik, even if they’re not fighting for the American dream.