Since 2016, America has enjoyed the ongoing presence of Riverdale, a show about an apparently normal American town whose denizens are inexplicably all smokeshows, on the CW. We suppose we could argue that the success of the CW’s DC Comics-based Arrowverse prompted the station to spin the wheel on another classic comic book property. But longtime Riverdale viewers know that Archie Andrews ( played here by K.J. Apa) does not belong in the same category as the dozens of superheroes who’ve made the leap to live action.
Spider-Man and Batman are terrific at being superheroes, don’t get us wrong. But Archie is a superhero, boxer, aspiring rock star, Southside Serpent, convicted murderer, exonerated former convicted murderer, entrepreneur, and community organizer. Riverdale wears almost as many hats as its favorite ginger. One moment, it’s a soap opera focused on the misdeeds of the wealthy and privileged. The next moment, it’s a dark, surreal small town murder mystery. Then it’s a supernatural thriller. Then it’s a gritty urban crime drama. Then it’s a musical comedy. Riverdale hasn’t become a puppet show yet, but really, it’s only a matter of time.
Indeed, Archie is a man of many layers, as is the show he stars on. But what other Riverdale characters contain unseen multitudes? Let’s find out, with this list of the Riverdale characters who mean a whole lot more than you might realize.
The Black Hood
Riverdale pulls influences from all across the pop cultural spectrum, but let’s not ignore its comic book roots. And by "comic book roots," we mean gritty urban superhero books from a few years ago, of course.
While Riverdale’s Black Hood is a serial killer with a delusional sense of righteousness, the original Black Hood first showed up in 1940s superhero comics. He sporadically reemerges in the funny books every other decade or so. As recently as 2015, Archie Comics imprint Dark Circle Comics rolled out a new Black Hood. While this version of the character feels more in line with the spirit of the Daredevil and Jessica Jones comics of the early 2000s, we can’t help but notice similarities in the presentation of this heroic Black Hood and the villainous Black Hood on television. Neither of them look anything like the classic Black Hood, that’s for dang sure.
In fairness to the enigmatic psycho who stalks Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) throughout season two, he thinks of himself as a superhero, even though he’s actually a horrible maniac. So in one basically meaningless sense, the two Black Hoods have something in common, aside from the mask and the name.
The Red Circle
The Red Circle is the vigilante street gang Archie forms to track down the Black Hood. The Red Circle has its origins in the comics, but ironically, those origins aren’t actually from an in-universe connection to Archie.
Red Circle Comics was the publishing imprint that oversaw the superhero section of the Archie Comics catalogue of intellectual properties: This included the Black Hood, the Fox, and the Mighty Crusaders. In 2014, Red Circle Comics changed its name to Dark Circle Comics … kind of like how Archie’s Red Circle gang from Riverdale changes its name to the Dark Circle, eh?
While we might not normally think of Dark Circle Comics as a powerhouse on the level of DC, Marvel, or even the main line of Archie Comics, it’s nothing to sneeze at. Dark Circle’s reboot of the Mighty Crusaders features art by Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld. And as long as we’re on the subject of the Crusaders, we should point out that when Munroe Moore has to pick a Halloween costume in season four, he’s instinctively drawn to the garb of Mighty Crusaders leader and Captain America precursor the Shield. Meanwhile, Archie gravitates to a Pureheart the Powerful outfit, which is nowhere near as cool.
The Josie and the Pussycats of Riverdale (with Ashleigh Murray portraying Josie) are the newest incarnation of an imaginary band that somehow manages to transcend time. Depending on who you’re talking to, Josie McCoy, Valerie Brown, and Melody Valentine might be considered the most famous members of Archie’s social circle. Those of you over 30 likely remember 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats starring Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson, and possibly also its notable cult following. Older folks might have enjoyed the 1970s Josie and the Pussycats cartoon, which wound up sending the trio and their entourage into outer space.
Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space sets up a handful of delicious precedents for Riverdale, especially considering Murray’s return to the series following the cancelation of Katy Keene. In fact, we have a proposal in mind. Most grim YA-focused dramas could never get away with introducing an extraterrestrial monkey-like creature who behaves like a domesticated pet, let alone one named after the only sound he makes, which is "Bleep." But Melody befriends just such a creature in Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space. We argue that there’s nothing stopping Bleep from showing up on Riverdale … except for disgraceful cowardice on the part of CW executives. But The CW isn’t run by cowards … is it? Your move, CW.
Bret Weston Wallis
While he’s a highly controversial figure, author Bret Easton Ellis has undeniably left an long-standing impact on the culture, principally through his novels Less Than Zero (1985) and American Psycho (1991). American Psycho grew into a force of its own, with a renowned 2000 movie adaptation starring Christian Bale and, in more recent times, a Broadway musical. In the pre-Riverdale phase of his career, showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote the aforementioned all-singing, all-dancing splatter-fest, so the similarity between the famous author’s name and Bret Weston Wallis the character is certainly no coincidence.
Bret Weston Wallis (Sean Depner) is a smug preppy dude with writerly ambitions, so he’s definitely not completely removed from the Bret Easton Ellis who published Less Than Zero so many decades ago. Given the content limitations of primetime network television, we don’t expect Riverdale’s Bret to get up to much of the NC-17 antics the author’s characters are known for. But considering all the creative ways Riverdale apparently manages to sneak suggestive material under the radar of the CW’s standards and practices department, maybe we shouldn’t be so certain.
A handful of characters on Riverdale carry a degree of symbolic relevance through their respective actors. Luke Perry, star of ’90s teen melodrama Beverly Hills, 90210, and Archie’s dad on Riverdale, is the most obvious link between the past and present of angst-ridden adolescents leading complicated lives on television.
But Riverdale feels an awful long way from the most opulent zip code in California. It would be a nondescript middle class community, in fact, if it weren’t for the routine presence of sociopathic masked killers, occasional menaces of a seemingly supernatural nature, and all the really hot people. In other words, the world of Riverdale has a remarkable resemblance to the world of ’90s horror staples, a la Scream (1996) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997).
Skeet Ulrich portrayed teens of questionable moral fortitude in Scream and The Craft (1996). His turn on Riverdale as the redemption-seeking FP Jones hearkens back to his Clinton-era work, and strengthens the sense of homage that occurs throughout the show. It’s very easy to envision Billy Loomis, Ulrich’s Scream character, arriving in Riverdale to cause trouble, running into FP Jones, and turning right around to go look for a different town to screw with.
Riverdale is a quiet, picturesque town with a sinister underbelly: The macro-arc of the show’s first season revolves around a mysteriously murdered teenager. That’s not lifted from Archie Comics, folks — that’s the premise of Twin Peaks.
While Mädchen Amick herself has pointed out that Riverdale sprints while Twin Peaks paces itself, her presence as Alice Cooper strengthens the tonal and thematic connection between the two franchises. However, Amick’s not playing the same character in both shows. Alice Cooper is a serious-minded, upper middle class television journalist, whereas Shelly Briggs famously waits tables at the Double R Diner and tends to be way less of a drag.
Maybe we could argue that they’ve got similar romantic proclivities? Shelly’s dating record includes drug dealer and reluctant murderer Bobby Briggs, her ex-husband, drug dealer and enthusiastic murderer Leo Johnson, her other ex-husband, and a drug dealer and magician known only as "Red." Alice was married to serial killer Hal Cooper before the events of Riverdale began, and she later hooks up with FP Jones, her ex-boyfriend and a local gang leader. So it appears both Shelly and Alice are both attracted to gentlemen prone to ethical compromises, or "bad boys," if we want to softball it.
Side note: Twin Peaks co-creator and director David Lynch provides the inspiration for David, the clerk at Blue Velvet Video, a somehow-still-surviving movie rental establishment frequented by Jughead.
The 2019 death of Luke Perry inflicted serious damage to the fictional universe of Riverdale. As you might expect, it also profoundly upset the real life cast and crew.
Already a television legend before taking on the role of Fred Andrews, Perry provided an on-screen aura of familiarity and hard-earned wisdom that carried over to his on-set interactions. But as far as Perry’s legacy goes, Riverdale isn’t really what he’s primarily known for. Perry’s biggest deal was Beverly Hills, 90210, a certifiable cultural phenomenon of the early ’90s. A lot of actors on 90210 fizzled out once their time on the teen soap opera came to an end, but Luke Perry managed to hang on to household name status. The same can be said for co-star Shannen Doherty, also noted for her work in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats (1995) and the WB supernatural series Charmed.
Instead of recasting Fred, which would’ve been a highly controversial choice, Riverdale opted to close his story in conjunction with the passing of his actor. At the outset of season four, Fred dies in a freak accident, struck by a speeding car while attempting to help fix a broken-down vehicle on the shoulder of a highway. Archie happens to run into the driver his father inadvertently sacrificed himself to help. While IMDB names Doherty’s character as "stranded motorist," a sizable fraction of the Riverdale audience likely recognized Perry’s former co-star on sight.
Some elements on Riverdale harken back to the show’s origins in Archie Comics. But in other cases, the relevant source material might be easier to find in the classic TV section of your Netflix or Hulu queue than in your local comics store.
Archie Comics depicts Riverdale High School teacher Miss Grundy as a frank older woman, in the spirit of May Parker from Spider-Man comics. Meanwhile, Riverdale depicts music teacher Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel) as a sexy 30-or-40-something, in the spirit of May Parker as played by Marisa Tomei in the MCU Spider-Man films. The Riverdale version of Miss Grundy winds up leaving town in infamy after a few other adults discover her affair with Archie Andrews, her student. This scenario would be wildly implausible within the pages of Archie Comics. But it is exactly what happens with Pacey and Miss Jacobs in late ’90s teen melodrama Dawson’s Creek.
Quite like how Riverdale season one is loaded with Twin Peaks tributes, Archie and Miss Grundy’s romantic subplot is clearly inspired by a TV predecessor, rather than the comics from which the characters sprang. This raises an important question: Why hasn’t James Van Der Beek made a guest appearance on Riverdale yet? And when he shows up, can he play the version of himself from Don’t Trust the B—- In Apartment 23?
Best known for playing Barb, a character who pretty much gets killed off in the second episode of Stranger Things, Shannon Purser plays Ethel Muggs. Some Riverdale actors seem like they’re meant to remind the audience of their previous roles, but we suspect Stranger Things, which premiered in 2016, was too new to be much of a consideration during the Riverdale casting process. Although, seeing as how Hawkins, Indiana is another middle American town with dark secrets, who knows? Maybe we’re supposed to see Ethel and think "Barb!" after all.
Ethel Muggs made her way into the ink and wood pulp world in 1962. Her character has been more-or-less defined by her obsessive romantic intentions toward Jughead for the vast majority of her history. Television’s Ethel goes to arguably coercive lengths to kiss Jughead (Cole Sprouse) in season three, but at that point, she’s tied up with a cult based around Gryphons & Gargoyles, the Riverdale world’s answer to Dungeons & Dragons. Getting occasionally brainwashed and spending lots of time standing around in the background while main characters do most of the talking probably gets boring, but it certainly beats a brutal death at the hands of the Demogorgon.
The Toni Topaz of Riverdale, played by Vanessa Morgan, is a bit of a departure from her comics counterpart. On the show, Toni’s a member of the Southside Serpents, and the sensible half of her relationship with Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch). Before she hooks up with Toni, the maple syrup heiress causes a whole heap of mayhem and inconvenience for Archie and his pals. Toni’s influence helps tamp down Cheryl’s madness and evil to much more pro-social levels of eccentricity and moral neutrality.
The comics incarnation of Toni Topaz is an out-and-proud bisexual, but a bunch of other details don’t sync up. Most significantly, the comics introduce her as a rival for Jughead’s reputation as Riverdale’s champion competitive eater. As it happens, she first encounters the beanie-wearing dynamo as her opponent in a cupcake eating contest.
This brings us to an important point. As of this writing, we haven’t seen Jughead win a hamburger-eating contest yet. We realize Riverdale can’t, and shouldn’t, try to match the comics panel for panel. But if Riverdale wraps up without Jughead eating a dangerous amount of hamburgers in a single sitting, well, that’d be kind of like an X-Men movie in which Wolverine never uses his claws.
Nowadays, the leader of a blockbuster super team can come out as bisexual, and it barely registers as news. So to today’s teens, the mere notion that society would ever push back against a secondary Archie Comics character being gay might seem absurd. But it’s entirely true.
You might not be able to tell from watching Riverdale, but Archie Comics used to be considered one of the most non-controversial and wholesome properties in American pop culture. So when writers introduced Kevin Keller as Riverdale High School’s first openly gay character in 2010, it was a pretty big to-do. In fact, they hauled off and straight-up killed Archie a few years later, and the event didn’t make as much of a splash as Kevin’s introduction. For reference, Archie’s not dead anymore, but Kevin is definitely still gay.
Critics of Riverdale can call it a lot of things: Tacky, derivative, unrealistic, inconsistent, loaded with product placement, largely detached from the spirit of its source material, and gratuitously thirsty. But you definitely can’t call it deliberately homophobic. You can call it accidentally homophobic due to hacky writing, granted, but definitely not homophobic on purpose. And for that, fans owe partial thanks to the comic book version of Kevin Keller, who kicked over that barrier.