This post is part of Forever Young, How to Love Comics’ celebration of Archie’s 80th anniversary. Find out more and read other posts in this series.
Betty or Veronica? It’s a debate that’s been argued and discussed in comic book shops, playgrounds, and the ol’ Choclit Shoppe for decades. Everyone has a preference, whether it be for Archie Andrews himself or for themselves. With so much discussion and countless stories dedicated to it, it’s clear that the Archie-Betty-Veronica situation is comics greatest love-triangle.
With our celebration of Archie Comics and Valentines Day, it has never been a better time to explore this classic love-triangle. We’ll explore its dynamics, how it has been challenged by other parties, and how it has been portrayed over 80 years.
So, how did the love-triangle begin?
We need to go back to the first Archie story. In 1941’s Pep Comics #22, the world was introduced to Archie, Betty, and Jughead. On the very first page, Archie can be seen impressing Betty Cooper with a bicycle stunt. While the remaining story involves comedic misadventures, it cements Betty as a potential romantic partner in future tales.
A few months later, in 1942’s Pep Comics #26, Veronica Lodge was introduced. On the very first page, she certainly made an impression on Archie and all the other boys. Archie quickly asks her out after walking her home. In classic Archie Comics form, the date doesn’t go as planned, with Archie taking Veronica to the restaurant that he’s working at, wearing the tuxedo that constitutes his work uniform. Through a series of comedic events, Archie spends more time working than being on the date, with Veronica leaving with someone else at the end of the night. She must have impressed readers because she returned in the next issue and soon a regular cast member.
With two potential love interests established, stories portrayed Archie’s interests in different ways. Sometimes, his preference is Veronica, with Betty acting as a back-up option. Other times, Betty is the preferred option because Veronica is considered too high-maintained. And sometimes, Riverdale’s resident redhead, can’t make his mind up at all.
You would think that this would get repetitive over 80 years, but Archie Comics has found countless ways of playing it out. The publisher has always been about taking advantage of the present, with comics creating scenarios and situations that take advantage of recent events, new technologies, current fads, and even the occasional parody. With this method, they’ve been able to keep the love-triangle fresh for readers.
Although, it’s not always Archie doing the pursuing. Often Betty and Veronica will compete against each other for his attention. And it really is a competition. In “Directions, Please” (Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica #91, 1963), the girls use their own unique methods. Veronica puts on a sexy dress and perfume in the hope that sex appeal will be her ticket to a date with Archie. Betty goes down a more homely approach, baking cookies. (This an approach that Jughead fully endorsees.)
The above-mentioned goes even further to explore another element of the Betty and Veronica dynamic: sabotage. To win Archie’s heart, the girls are not above trying to get a competitive edge. Sometimes this works for one or the other, scoring a date with Archie and resulting in a few gagsfor the reader along the way. In “Directions, Please” Betty intentionally spills coffee all over Veronica and the latter gets her revenge by pouring salt over all the cookies. The problem is that it doesn’t work in either of their favours, with Archie concluding that girls can be crazy at times and leaves to hang out with Jughead.
Strangely enough, this regular competition over the same boy never hurts their friendship. Betty and Veronica remain B&V, best of friends. A lot of this comes from the standalone, episodic, nature of Archie Comics stories. The status quo is always reset, returning between the conclusion of a story and the next one.
Although, Veronica is often the winner, with her more likely to be portrayed as the girlfriend much more than Betty. From a storytelling perspective, this makes a lot more sense as writers and artists seemed to get a lot more mileage out of the relationship. When Archie is dating Veronica, he had to deal with her less admirable qualities, such as jealousy and fussiness. Archie and Betty are more alike, so you don’t get that comedic tension that opposite personalities can create.
Dating Veronica also has the advantage of the dynamic between Archie and Hiram Lodge, Veronica’s father. It creates another avenue of Archie stories where Riverdale’s favourite redhead ends up making an unintentional nuisance out of himself every time he visits.
How does Betty feel about this? While she is often portrayed as accepting of the situation, but secretly pines for him in the background. Other times, such as in “Queen of Hearts” (Betty’s Diary #24, 1989), she’s visibly upset about Veronica being with Archie.
There are the occasional challengers to the dynamic. When the characters arrive, they turn the love-triangle into odd shapes.
This began with Reggie Mantle, who sometimes has his eyes on Veronica. When he isn’t trying to steal Big Moose’s girlfriend, Midge, he’s competing against Archie for Veronica’s attention. This usually means making Archie look bad through pranks. For instance, in “Say It With Flowers” (Reggie and Me #67, 1973), Reggie orders flowers for Betty and Veronica under Archie’s name. This gets Archie gets in trouble with both girls, who believe he’s trying to play the field. This allows Reggie to swoop in and score a date with Veronica. Usually, in these kinds of stories, Archie gets his revenge or pranks backfire, but it depends on the tale’s punchline.
But Reggie isn’t the only person Archie has to look out for. There’s also Adam Chisholm, a character introduced in 2000’s Betty #87 who became a rival for Betty’s attention. Although, unlike Reggie, Adam is genuinely a nice guy who has no malice in his intentions. In many ways, he seems like the better suitor for Betty’s affection, with him easily one-upping Archie at every turn.
But what about Betty and Veronica? Do they have any rivals to worry about? Apart from Archie’s girl crazed brain, there’s Cheryl Blossom. Essentially a female Reggie, this mean girl is willing to compete against B&V for Archie’s affection. This often means using dirty tricks to get what she wants.
Archie doesn’t need rivals to strike out with Betty and Veronica. While he can be the victim of circumstance, he’s often his own worst enemy. Archie isn’t always the sharpest tool in the shed, with his mouth or actions getting him into regular trouble. In “Now That Was A Mistake” (Betty and Veronica #245, 2010), for instance, he wins five bouquets of roses from a local florist. Instead of giving them to his mother or just one of the girls, he gives one to five different people. This sends a lot of mixed messages and gets him in hot water with Betty and Veronica.
In more recent times, the rebooted Archie Universe comic transformed into a teen drama. With ongoing storylines, the love-triangle found new angles. Very early on it established that Archie and Betty had dated at one time, but had broken up due to the Lipstick Incident. Being forced to move on, Archie soon falls for the new girl in town Veronica. Veronica is established as the long-term girlfriend in the series, even though Archie and Betty still hold torches for one another.
So has there ever been a definitive answer to who Archie would settle down with? When Archie #600 was published, we thought we had the answer. Set after Archie has graduated from college, he proposes to Veronica. In the subsequent issue, we see them get married, and in the following, they settle down with children.
So he picked Veronica, right? Well, not exactly. In Archie #603, our red-headed pal takes the other literal and metaphorical path. This time we see the scenario play out with Betty. What readers thought was a definitive answer ended up being two very interesting and character-driven what-ifs.
The parallel universes were popular enough that Archie Comics spun them into a comic called “Life With Archie: The Married Life”. Each issue would be split in half to explore each marriage. Unlike the usual formula, this series was more like a soap opera than self-contained comedies. And it was well-received too, with the series running for 37 issues and made mainstream news headlines with its 36th instalment.
We’ll probably never get a conclusive answer to Betty or Veronica, but do we really need one? This dynamic has been going strong for 80 years, creating countless stories from it. The fact that it can still get mileage out of it shows that it stands the test of time.