I was immensely saddened to learn of Archie comics writer George Gladir’s passing last week. As I mentioned on the podcast, I found he had a very wonderful and unique handling on the characters on the fringe of Riverdale life. From Dilton to Moose to Reggie to Pop, his stories focusing on characters stalking the background of Archie or Jughead’s life were always unforgettably human and hilarious. However, many of his stories were also off the wall insane, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t honour the man by talking about the subversive child-like hysteria in many of his stories, always delivered deadpan, as in the unforgettable story ‘DOUBLE TROUBLE’.
From the beginning, you can tell that this story is going to be something special. Not only is it penciled by Fernando Ruiz, one of the most kinetic and expressive Archie artists, but by the way Gladir characterizes Mr. Lodge. The set-up of the story is one we’ve seen plenty of times – Veronica is holding a party in celebration of Archie, and her father fears the boy’s clumsy absent-mindedness will cause more trouble for him.
But it’s the truly haunted and fragile inner life of Lodge that Gladir portrays so perfectly. Any man who has it all must live in constant anxiety that any of it could be taken away, and Gladir gets a ton of humour out of the fact that Lodge has literally everything he wants in life, and the one minor inconvenience of a dim-witted boy is enough to plauge him with night terrors. And it’s Gladir’s unique ear for dialogue that makes the story even more special “Aren’t you being a wee bit harsh on the boy?” asks Mrs. Lodge. “Have you forgot his many transgressions?” Mr. Lodge responds, bewildered. That kind of odd phrasing is a hallmark of the man’s work, and it underlines all the weirdness about to go on in the story.
Not only does ‘DOUBLE TROUBLE’ involve an unforgettable nightmare sequence in which Lodge imagines a world where Archie reveals his long lost twin, it also features a robot butler sequence. It’s pretty hard to make a robot butler sequence better than it immediately is, but Gladir does it – because apparently the only reason Mr. Lodge even purchased one was to impress his high society friends.
Again, only Gladir could get inside of skins of these side characters in such a way – Lodge is so insecure that he’ll go to otherworldly and unimaginable lengths to be accepted by a community he’s been apart of for years. Even better, Gladir never makes a show about any of these things being of note, in a character revealing or ‘wait, wait, robot butlers?’ sense – he plays it with incredible nonchalance. If you still doubt that this guy knew what he was doing, just you wait for the conclusion of the story.
The day of Veronica’s gala celebrating all things her boyfriend (which, in typical Veronica fashion, manages to be completely self-involved and masturbatory even while being charitable. I mean, she’s essentially having a giant party celebrating the fact that Archie is her boyfriend, and therefore that Veronica is better than Betty, therefore the best) is underway. Of course, what better way to celebrate than with some “very realistic masks”? If you’ve been paying attention, you can kind of see where this is going.
The conclusion may be the wacky kind of coincidence we expect from the Archie comics, but it’s the way Gladir executed it. I mean, people celebrating Riverdale’s most popular teen by wearing a replica of his face? And doing so in the house of the man who fears him most? This is just crazy stuff.
As Lodge has a panic attack prat fall, believing his dream about Archie’s twin to be reality, Veronica has to calm him down. But notice again the repetition of the ‘very realistic mask’ phrase, which only became funnier to me hearing it a second time, especially in the bizarre context. Gladir was just so fantastic at this weird kind of phrasing, and they made his stories that much more memorable and hilarious. It was a kind of Bob Haney or Steve Gerber wink at the audience, a weird celebratory good-spirited ribbing at how insane his own stories and characters are.
George Gladir’s stories always had this kind of casual insanity – from Dilton traveling to outer space to meet alien babes, too busy being fascinated by their technology to notice they desperately wish to sleep with him, to Archie’s frustration that more women don’t read superhero comics, Gladir’s ARCHIE stories always had plenty of subversion and often reckless insanity.
Miraculously, the stories were never shallow – he penetrated the psyches of some of Riverdale’s least known characters, showing us their deepest fears, biggest dreams, or occasionally, simple and petty human frustrations. I’ll always remember him for his unique and ethereal dialogue, his honest and real characterizations, and of course, his penchant for robot butlers. George Gladir, you will be missed, and I’ll never forget “your many transgressions!”