There’s certain comic book discussions that are so frequently brought up that a lot of people have stopped seeing the merit in them; Marvel or DC, Superman or Batman, Betty or Veronica? I don’t know if it’s just the shamefully nostalgic bent my mind seems to have, but I love questions like these, and I think it’s a lot of fun to explore why are tastes lean the way they do, and what that says about us as people.
Being the Archie fanatic that I am, the one I find myself mulling over the most is Betty or Veronica – a down to Earth, intelligent and focused young woman, incredibly naive and self-pitying but always passionate to be the best person she can be, or a take-charge, self confident narcissist, with no sense of reality and a presumption that others should think about her as much as she does? I mean, ignoring the fact that these are teenage girls and these stories are meant for children and that oh god why I am writing about this, let’s talk about what the two represent and what we can learn from them.
First of all, we have to get something clear; Betty isn’t a doormat. There are a lot of Archie fans who are passionately obsessed with her earliest years, where she was a lot closer to the feisty personality of Veronica. Myself, I enjoy the way Betty evolved, because the contrast between the two characters made the stories so much stronger. That being said, it sort of led into a weird misconception. Betty became a motivated student, a talented chef, a lover of sports, and always dreaming patiently for Archie to understand that she is his one true love.
But just because she’s a young teenager being unrealistic about love, I don’t think that should make her the target of feminist scorn. Betty is a very intelligent and self-actualized person, and she’s incredibly honest with herself in almost all realms except her love for Archie, and that’s what I find fascinating. A lot of readers, and often I find female readers, find it hard to believe that Betty would be interested in a klutzy, awkward freckled redhead like Archie. That’s kind of the whole point to me, though. Unrequited love has to be unrequited, and I don’t think a girl as intelligent and beautiful as Betty would have any difficulty getting a rich, good-looking funny man. I’m not saying Betty’s looking for a ‘project’, but I do think that her drive, focus and even maternal instincts are what creates an attraction to a sensitive, slow witted guy who doesn’t really have his life together.
I don’t mean to spend so much time defending Betty, though. I have a lot of problems with her. Chiefly, as well constructed as her character is, I do think that a lot of the time she’s little more than a symbol of longing for readers who may relate themselves to Archie. I mean, a beautiful and caring blonde bookworm, waiting patiently for an awkward nerd to sweep her off her feet, comfortable with constantly being second place? I mean, I get how that bothers people. I think in the best stories she’s characterized better than this, but there are countless examples where she’s sort of a white whale.
I’ll never be a Betty guy, but I think that’s to be expected from somebody who spends time blogging about comics. I’m very happy with people who are well-mannered and have their life together; more power to them. I hope everybody can find that kind of contentment. But that isn’t me, or at least, that isn’t me where I am right now. I’m more attracted to a passionate blaze of self-destruction, to somebody who is so fearlessly themselves and unafraid to voice unpopular opinions and so proud to be unlikeable…somebody like Veronica.
Veronica means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To some, she’s a feminist icon who was way ahead of her time, she refuses to let any man own her or anybody define her. To others, she’s every unattainable girl that ignored them in high school; rich, gorgeous, snooty and cruel. One of the greatest things about these characters is how malleable and open to interpretation they are, and I guess it’s clear the bias’ and hang-ups I have with how I see Veronica. To me, there’s nothing feminist about her (beyond the fact that she’s a woman who’s treated like a multi-faceted complicated character) and she certainly isn’t some regressive hate fantasy for me; she’s the thing that matters most to me in life and stories – she’s human. And she displays my favourite of all human traits, which is that she’s honest enough to be a horrible, selfish and neurotic person.
A lot of people like to focus on Veronica’s hotheadedness and independence, but she really is often terrified of the world and of winding up alone. Pick up any DOUBLE DIGEST and you’ll see an example – in ‘Tropical Tantrum’, a story where Veronica winds up trapped in a self-piloted plane by herself, she starts sweating and shaking – “Oh! I’ve never felt so lonely!” The constant times when Archie does something wrong, Veronica almost always immediately trembles into rage and throws him out of her house. She really is so easily reminded of this thing she thinks about herself, this belief that she isn’t good enough for people to try hard to do right by her.
Betty or Veronica? It’s a difficult question. But in the end, I like a person who has at least similar philosophies as mine. If I were with someone like Betty, it’d just be a teacher/mentor relationship. She has her stuff together, she’s talented, motivated – I think she’d lecture me endlessly about my lack of drive. Veronica and I could ride off into an injured sunset together – a destructive world of endless neuroses and narcissism. But maybe that’s my own immaturity, maybe I’m completely misplaced in what I’d actually like to get out of life. I think you can learn a lot from Betty and Veronica, and which one we want to spend time together might put some hit toward our future.