Another week, another comic book controversy. You may be surprised to hear that, of all things, Archie Comics has stirred up a fuss, but that isn’t actually surprising at all (which I’ll get to in a moment).

This week, the issue is that the American Family Association noticed an issue of an Archie comic that featured a gay marriage.  I do want to point out that the comic in question, Life with Archie, features the characters as adults and is aimed at a slightly older audience than the usual Archie fare. In one storyline, Archie is married to Veronica, in the other, to Betty, and in both, he and whichever wife have twin babies named after themselves—something that never stops being weird and amusing to me.

Above: It’s Gonna Be Twins In Any Reality

The storylines are more serious than one might expect, involving everything from financial problems to cancer.

Of course, even the regular Archie Comics have been flirting with controversy—in fact, the last couple of years have been marked by an increasing bid at relevancy for Archie (or, if you’re cynical, an increasing need to be in the news, because any press is good press). Long seen as impossibly old-fashioned and tame, Archie has recently covered issues like interracial dating/marriage, vampires, comic book conventions, even politics (one 2010 issue featured Obama and Palin visiting Riverdale). Recently it was announced that an upcoming issue will feature an Occupy Riverdale movement (the writers were perhaps slightly behind the times on that one). I do tend toward the cynical, but I can’t help but admire the folks at Archie for trying to show some diversity and look at some relevant issues.

Speaking of Archie, my first recommendation this week is for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ series Criminal (wait for it). Brubaker is probably best known for writing series like Captain America and Daredevil, but Criminal is one of my favorite series and takes a totally different tack. It’s this great gritty noir-ish series, and the art is a big highlight (Brubaker and Phillips have also teamed up for Incognito, a superhero noir story which is also worth reading). Six volumes are out currently, but since each has a discrete storyline, they can pretty much be read in any order. And the most recent, Last of the Innocent, is a really good starting point.  It made a ton of best of 2011 lists, and with good reason—not only does the story involve passion, nostalgia, money, and murder, but all the flashbacks are drawn Archie-style, and all the characters are analogous to Archie characters (though more realistic—or maybe just more scandalous). Somehow the Archie-ness of it all makes the story much more powerful.  This one is definitely for grown-ups.

For younger readers (officially 12 and up, although I think some younger kids can read it if they want to) is Faith Erin Hicks’ Friends With Boys, about a home-schooled girl about to start real high school, having to deal with her mother leaving, her father becoming police chief, her three older brothers–not to mention how to make friends. Plus a ghost is haunting her. I love Hicks’ art and the story and characters are really compelling (and cute!). It totally nails the very awkward freshman-in-high-school feeling—probably because Hicks herself was homeschooled and knows exactly how it felt.