It’s that time of year again, and the Christmas comic I’ve chosen to cover this season is Little Archie #180, cover dated Feb. 1983, which means it would have been on the stands just before Christmas of ’82. That would be almost exactly forty years ago. (Pausing for a moment here to allow all the Boomers and my fellow Xers to curse to themselves and lament how the year 1982 could be that long ago.)
. . .
Okay, so much like many a What If? tale, we’ve got conflicting titles here, as the cover tells us it’s “Little Archie and the Magic Hat” and our title page tells us it’s “Magic Cap.” (I covered all the bases with my own title for this blogpost.)
Our title story begins with snow falling in Riverdale on Christmas Eve. Little Archie’s mother advises he hang his stocking before going to bed. Then our story really gets going in the middle of the night, when Little Archie is roused from his sleep by the sound of something on the roof. When he goes downstairs, he is quite surprised by the sight of feet dangling feet above the fireplace (particularly surprised because, as revealed earlier in the tale, Little Archie no longer believes in Santa Claus. This despite the fact that I’m pretty sure Little Archie actually met Santa once or twice in past issues.).
Turns out the visitor who has landed on the roof and climbed down the chimney is a small alien named “Zoog.” He’s holding two strange pieces of headgear in is hands and once he and Little Archie put them on their heads, they can communicate telepathically. After Little Archie explains to Zoog where he is, while also explaining the Christmas holiday, the lost little alien plots a proper course to return home, but not before telling Little Archie to keep the telepathic helmet as a gift. Little Archie reacts with “Golly! Let me give a present to you!”
Naturally, the mind-reading helmet winds up causing Little Archie nothing but grief. The story ends with the reveal of what Little Archie gave Zoog: his Christmas stocking, which the little extra-terrestrial is wearing like a sleeping bag and enjoying the warmth it provides.
Next up is “The Champ,” where we see Little Jughead knock out Fangs Fogarty with one punch after Fangs enrages him by swiping his sandwich. (Quite a turn of events since Little Archie #136, huh?) This naturally leads to Coach Kleats recruiting Juggy for the school boxing team which leads to the rather typical Jughead hijinks.
The last story featured Little Sabrina, as was tradition back then. In this story, “One of the Family,” Sabrina’s cat Salem reveals that he was one of the kittens that lost its mittens from the classic nursery rhyme, and was kicked out of his home as a result, his father telling him not to come back until he found his mittens. Christmas upsets him because he can’t see his family for the holiday. Sabrina proceeds to try and reunite Salem with his family in time for Christmas.
All in all, this was a perfectly pedestrian and inoffensive issue of Little Archie. What makes this comic special has absolutely nothing to do with its content.
What makes Little Archie #180 a landmark is that it was the last issue of the title to be published. To be clear, this wasn’t the end of seeing the adventures of Little Archie and his friends on the stands, as they would continue to pop up irregularly in the pages of Archie Giant Series, along with several other retired Archie features, until late 1990 or so. (Their last appearance was in issue #619, cover date January 1991; the final issue of Archie Giant Series overall was #632, cover date July 1992.) Little Archie would still pop up in digests and, in later years, trade paperback reprints, but would not appear in the traditional comic book form again outside of the Legend of the Lost Lagoon comic (written and illustrated by Bob Bolling) issued for Free Comic Book Day in 2007.
This was part of the larger trend of the comics industry going completely superhero at this time, pretty much abandoning all other genres. Aside from a few licensed titles like Conan, Star Wars, Rom, and G.I. Joe, (and later Transformers) Marvel was already leaning into the superhero genre almost exclusively. Classic Harvey titles like Hot Stuff, Casper, and Richie Rich all began disappearing from the stands in and around this same year, 1982. Marvel tried to fill this gap with their Star Comics line, but the line only lasted about a year between ’86 and ’87. Then Harvey returned for a brief, erratic stretch running from the late 80s into ’90, ’91, but this proved an empty last gasp.
DC seemed to be just a step or two behind Marvel. They were just getting out of the horror/mystery titles about this same time, as the last holdout in this genre for them, House of Mystery, would wrap up by ’83. Even the B&W Warren mags, Creepy and Eerie, were finished by ’83, so there weren’t many horror comics to be found anywhere on newsstands by the mid-80s. (Pacific and Eclipse did dabble in the genre, but these comics were only available in specialty shops.) Most of DC’s war comics were cancelled along a similar timeline—only Sgt. Rock would stubbornly live on into the late 1980s. Romance comics had already died off sometime around the middle of the previous decade, the 1970s. Westerns had also been dying a slow death, though DC’s Jonah Hex would keep going until issue #92 (Aug. 1985), after which the character would be revamped into a Mad Max-type character for Hex #1 (Sept. 1985).
Regular ol’ teenaged Archie somehow managed to hold on and buck this larger trend, making it all the way to the present day. I think the ubiquitous supermarket presence of their digests may be a primary reason for their survival through the 1990s. In more recent decades, however, they started boldly experimenting with their brand, putting out some great horror stuff (of all things) and branching out into other media like television with their CW series, Riverdale. They continue to release some sweet reprint packages, along with new stuff even today—most recently they brought back their Madame Satan revamp and just released a new take on Bob Phantom(!!).
Those newsstand days, with their wide array of genres, are pretty far back in the rearview mirror now. But hey, we still have our memories—and classic comic blogs (cheap plug).
Allow me a moment here to wish a happy and healthy holiday season to all! Stay safe, folks! See you in 2023!