“The Battle of the Jitterbugs"
Archie Comics, 1948
by Chris Sims
If any of you out there have followed my work over at the ISB, you may already know that I'm a pretty huge fan of that most hallowed of comic books, the Christmas special. And since this column is scheduled to go up during the holidays, I did my best to search through my considerable Yuletide archives to find one that combined the usual holiday cheer with the mind-boggling homoerotic subtext that you've come to expect from the pieces here at QEOC.
Sadly, I just wasn't up to the task.
What I did find, however, is something that might just be the perfect last-minute gift idea for the person on your list who gets a kick out of the unintentional hilarity of old comics: the Archie Comics Best of the Forties trade. Trust me, between a story where—no lie—Mr. Weatherbee is clubbed over the head by a policeman who suspects him of a grisly murder and the charming tale of gender-swapping rivalry that brings us here tonight, this thing is golden.
That's right, coming at you from a time when he was touted as “The Mirth of a Nation”—because apparently, the editors over at Archie thought it was a good idea to give their children's humor comics a tagline based on a profoundly racist movie from 1915—we have Archie Andrews and the rest of the crew from Riverdale in “The Battle of the Jitterbugs.”
It all starts with Archie and Veronica hanging out down at the Chocklit Shoppe arguing over whether or not girls or boys are the better dancers, and really: Has anyone in the history of the world ever actually had that sort of conversation? In typical Archie fashion, it's presented as the issue of the day for America's teenagers, but I've got my doubts.
Besides, the answer is clearly girls.
Sadly, Archie's running crew doesn't have access to the latest journals, and at Reggie's extremely eager suggestion, they decide to settle it Zoolander-style with an old-fashioned dance off that pairs Betty and Veronica against Reggie and Archie.
And now you know why you're reading about this story here.
Of course, just pairing off with same-sex dance partners really wouldn't be enough to stick out in a trade with a story where Reggie actually goes so far as to spank Archie with a paddle as a club initiation, but by the time they convince Archie that it's only fair if he engages in a bit of good-natured cross-dressing, things start to get a little more noticeable.
The actual dance contest itself goes about like you'd expect: Despite their cockiness, Reggie and Archie end up clumsily fumbling with each other, and it all ends with Archie flat on his face with his legs in the air while Reggie walks away satisfied.
Betty and Veronica, however, take to their sapphic fandango with wild abandon, tearing up the dance floor in full-page montage of effortlessly sliding through each other's legs and doing the splits that was probably worth its weight in gold on the playgrounds of the late forties.
For the record, Veronica's the boy. This, of course, surprises nobody.
Anyway, their performance on the floor is so good that it demands a response from Archie and Reg. In fact, one could even say that the boys of Riverdale had been “served,” and that now... it was on.
Of course, Archie knows when he's been beaten. Reggie, though, won't quit, and so Archie demands that his pal “put on this Susie Suit” and play the femme for their next encounter, thus adding yet another layer to the seedy underbelly of Riverdale's brutal dance competition scene.
Needless to say, things don't work out all that well for the boys, and Misses Cooper and Lodge—and, by extension, women—are declared the victors. Sorry, Baryshnikov: It's science.
But that's when we see Archie's dark side. Upset over Reggie's constant attempts to shift the blame for their loss, Archie ends up literally dragging him out in the street to beat the living heck out of him, a plan of action that anyone who's ever actually read a comic with Reggie would fully support. The problem, of course, is that Reggie's still in drag.
Fortunately, before Archie can be hauled off to jail for committing a hate crime, a nearby flock of old women descend with their umbrellas to give Archie the business for beating up an alleged woman, which leads to the last panel where Archie confesses to Jughead that he is no longer interested in women.
Sometimes, these columns just write themselves.
Chris Sims is a freelance comedy writer who reads far too many comic books and wields the English language like a cudgel. Evidence of both of these traits can be found daily at his website, Chris's Invincible Super-Blog.
All images and characters TM and © 1948 Archie Comics. Review © 2006 Chris Sims.
Prism Comics promotes the works of the LGBT community in comics. It does not implicitly endorse any other material or products associated with those works. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s).