Archie Comics were always among the most wholesome form of four-color entertainment. It was the red-headed kid next door getting into goofy and harmless trouble with his pals in the small town of Riverdale. For Archie Andrews, the biggest worry in life was always how to earn enough money to fill up his jalopy with gas, or whether he should ask Betty or Veronica to the big dance. (For the record, I’m a member of Team Betty). But in the nineties, things went a little bonkers in the peaceful community of Riverdale, as all manner of bizarre and supernatural occurrences began cropping up.
Archie’s Weird Mysteries was the animated record of these events. In this incarnation, Archie is an intrepid journalist for the school newspaper who investigates the mummies, the extra-terrestrials, the man-eating gelatinous masses, the werewolves, and the other dangerous threats that crop up in his hometown every week. And after he gets his story, he generally puts a stop to them, too.
Aided by rich girl Veronica, bubbly all-American Betty, the snobbish Reggie, the lazy (and ever-famished) Jughead, and the brilliant Dilton, it’s an ensemble cast but Archie is always our star.Archie’s Weird Mysteries is at its best when it’s referencing and riffing on specific films that the lifelong movie veteran is at least peripherally aware of: Christine gets riffed in “Driven to Distraction”; “Attack of the 50-Foot Veronica” is equal parts Attack of the 50-Foot Woman and Village of the Giants; “Dream Girl”, believe it or not, is a gender-reverse take on Nightmare on Elm Street; and “Beware of the Glob!” tackles The Blob, just as you would expect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up quite as well in the more original episodes, or the ones that are playing on a generic genre theme.
As Archie is a reporter investigating supernatural events, the show could easily be called a kid-friendly derivative of Kolchak, but the truth of the matter is that Archie’s Weird Mysteries was inspired by The X-Files (which was itself inspired by Kolchak). This is all too obvious in the episode “The Jughead Incident”, which features two FBI agents named X and Y, who are very much in the mold of Mulder and Scully (save for the inexplicable Hawaiian shirts they wear, maybe they were undercover) that stop by Riverdale to investigate a UFO sighting. But as a dyed-in-the-wool Scooby Doo fan, I can’t help but also see parallels between the Riverdale Gang and the members of Mystery Inc. Archie would obviously be Fred, Jughead would be Shaggy and his mutt Hotdog (who makes occasional appearances) would be Scooby, with Betty and Veronica being Velma and Daphne, respectively. I suppose that would make Reggie fill the role of Scrappy Doo (Sorry, Reggie!), and Dilton the random guest star in any given episode.
In one 3-part storyline (comprised of the episodes “Scarlet Night”, “I Was a Teenage Vampire” and “Halloween of Horror”), though, the show is reminiscent of nothing more than an animated Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the characters in which coincidentally refer to themselves as the Scooby Gang). These three episodes were really the only ones to feature a continuing story, and although they can be enjoyed as standalone episodes as well, they’re best when digested as a mini-movie.
Archie’s Weird Mysteries only lasted for a single season, but it produced 40 solid episodes during its run. They started airing in 1999, meaning I was two years out of high school at that point and had to watch cartoons in secret, lest I be further lampooned by my peers (which makes it rather ironic that I’m now proudly professing to watching these episodes in my mid-thirties). I remember enjoying them then, and honestly, I believe I enjoy them just as much now. As my education in and appreciation for the genre has increased, I’m now able to understand the hidden, and the not-so-hidden, references even better. The series also has the benefit of not feeling outdated, so grown horror fans and young horror fans alike can watch this side-by-side. I don’t have children, but if I did, I imagine we’d be bonding over these episodes.
And for those of you who think that an Archie spin on the X-Files is too out there, it wasn’t the first or even the most bizarre pop cultural phenomenon that Archie took on—just the only one to make it off the comic page. Archie has met up with the Punisher, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and most recently the Predator; and the series Afterlife With Archie is The Walking Dead come to Riverdale.
Now if we can just get that last one turned into an animated series, I can die a happy man-child.