On my 8th birthday, my aunt Shirley handed me two comic books, one a Superman title and the other an issue of Archie Comics. She carefully explained that the Superman represented the kind of comics I’d be leaving behind, and the Archie reflected the genre I’d be growing into.
“Uh-uh,” I replied firmly. “Nope.”
My parents and grandparents were a little concerned about my stubborn fascination with superhero comics, and hoped it was something I would grow out of.
I hope they’re not still waiting.
What a sweet and ironic retribution, too, when, about two years later, the “mature” Archie Andrews became a superhero. Finally I was buying Archies, but it brought my loving young aunt little comfort.
Pureheart the Powerful, Archie’s superhero identity, actually offered a rationale for superheroes that made a weird kind of sense. If super heroes exist, why don’t we ever see them in action? Archie anticipated the Men in Black movies with his neat answer to that question.
Inspired by a self-help book, Archie uses the power of his pure heart to transform himself into a caped superguy complete with rocket belt (Archie Comics never liked the idea of people just “flying” without a visible motive power).
But the sheer telepathic force of Archie’s willpower wipes out everyone’s memories when his super deeds are done. That clever angle let Archie’s superhero adventures slip neatly into the comics’ teen humor continuity.
The weakness that robbed Archie of his super powers turned out to be the same sexual feelings that delighted and/or plagued him in his regular continuity. Another neat storytelling trick.
Penned by Frank Doyle and drawn by Bob White, Archie’s crusade against evil began in Life With Archie 42 (Oct. 1965), just ahead of the national Batman craze that followed the premiere of the TV show in January 1966.
“By 1965, the superhero revival in American comic books was in full swing, and even the funny guys were starting to get into the act,” comics historian Don Markstein observed. “That was the year Goofy became Super Goof, Herbie became The Fat Fury, and Archie became Pureheart the Powerful.”
Soon Betty Cooper became Superteen and Jughead Jones a surprisingly effective Captain Hero. The trio had already been super-secret agents a la the Man from UNCLE, so this evolution seemed natural.
“Even Little Archie got into the act — Little Pureheart was first seen in Little Archie 40 (Fall, 1966),” Markstein wrote. “To celebrate this efflorescence of superheroics in Riverdale, the 142nd issue (Oct. 1966) of Archie Giant Series magazine reprinted all these guys’ origin stories.”
“But the glory was short-lived. Pureheart the Powerful/Captain Pureheart lasted six issues, exactly as long as Superteen’s tenure in Betty & Me. Little Pureheart made only three appearances, the last in Little Archie 44 … Jughead as Captain Hero bucked the trend by hanging on for seven issues, but it too was gone as of November 1967, and the entire ‘Pureheart’ scenario became a fond memory for fans of superhero comics.
Their lighthearted adventures delighted me while they lasted, as did those of their Archie’s Mad House colleagues Captain Sprocket and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Even Archie’s rival Reggie Mantle had donned envy-green tights as Evilheart.
Odd name for a superhero, I always thought.