On one level, the concept of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie and Jughead joining forces with Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy Ramone shouldn’t work. At all. On many levels, the bands’ outlooks are seemingly too different from each other to meld into something that could be coherent. The bright bubblegum pop so epitomized by the Archies conflicts with the dank urban malaise that the Ramones described with such loving detail in their work. Indeed, the Archies, known for their oldies radio staples like “Sugar, Sugar” and “Jingle, Jangle” are the epitome of kitsch in popular songwriting; indeed, the whole Archie enterprise is kitsch.
Which is why I worried that the result of this mash-up couldn’t live up to my expectations. The new one-shot comic Archie Meets The Ramones has intrigued me ever since it was announced at San Diego Comic Con 2015. I’ve been curious as to how the pairing would work because if there are any two groups as polar opposite from each other in execution and outlook, it’s these two. So, to my great relief, I enjoyed the final product. This is not a perfect comic by any means, but it is an amusing one.
To be sure, writers Alex Segura & Matthew Rosenberg and artist Gisele Lagace take an admirably bizarre concept and create a story that works, even with a winking knowledge that the whole thing is far-fetched.
Archie and the gang are stuck in a rut. They’ve entered a Battle of the Bands competition and completely fail at bringing meaningful music to the stage. “We are the worst band on the planet,” Archie exclaims as he’s humiliated off the stage. Looking for inspiration, Sabrina (that ol’ teenage witch) hands Archie a copy of the Ramones’ self-titled debut record. The moment the needle lets loose the sonic wonder of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” Archie and his band are magically transported back to Max’s Kansas City in 1976, coming face-to-face with the progenitors of American punk rock.
From there, the story takes Archie and readers on a journey packed to the brim with garish, colorful imagery and Ramones’ references galore (the thought of Jughead turning tricks on 53rd and 3rd gave me a chuckle). The comic borrows its visual style more on from the Archies canon (obviously), rather than integrating the Ramones’ unique aesthetic. But while the story works in the context of the comic, there is still a massive juxtaposition of tone: Segura and Rosenberg do an adequate job of immersing the Ramones in the world of the Archies. It simply doesn’t work the other way ‘round.
Maybe it just my personal bias peeking through in that regard.
The Ramones as presented in Archie Meets The Ramones are so far removed from their real personas that this comic seems to do a disservice to the band. Just from looking at the historical footage, CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City weren’t lit with soft fuchsias and turquoise as they are here. Certainly, for me, the fact that the Ramones appear to be friendly, smiling, and happy (albeit in one panel with Johnny bopping Archie on the head) with one another was one of the most distracting elements of the whole comic. I don’t mean that I’m taking this comic too seriously. I know it’s a gag, but there could certainly be an element of historical revisionism happening here. Compare the benign playfulness of the Ramones in Archie to the more realistic and brutal depiction as drawn by Derf Backderf in his Baron of Prospect Ave. webcomic.
This latter point is a quibble only because I am a fan of the Ramones and their music and want them to be presented as being true to themselves, warts and all. This theme, ironically enough, one of the ideas of the comic. “You ain’t ever gonna be good if you’re trying to impress someone else,” Joey tells the gang at a critical point in the story. As I said, this is an imperfect comic, but one with its heart pointing in the right direction at least; the writers make clear their love for the Ramones. It just goes overboard at some points.
So, whether a reader is a neophyte in the world of punk rock or a long-time cretin, Archie Meets the Ramones is ultimately a surreal—but weirdly hypnotic—comic fusion.