by KC Carlson
When we last left Archie character Marmaduke Merton Matowski “Moose” Mason… No, wait a minute, let’s deal with that name thing right off the bat. “Merton Matowski?” Yeah, ignore that part. That supposedly comes from a single Golden Age story (that I still haven’t been able to locate), where Moose says that’s actually his real name. Well… no.
That supposedly contradicts a later flashback story (again, not yet located) in which a Russian immigrant named Lazslo Kharandashikov befriends Archie Andrews’ Scottish ancestor Andy Andrews when they meet on a ship on its way to America. Kharandashikov has difficulty with English, so he gives his last name as “Mason” to the U.S. Immigration officials.
Yep, Moose is supposedly of Russian ancestry. So he’s not Merton Matowski, he’s actually Marmaduke Mason. “Moose” (or “Big Moose” depending on the era and the story) is his on-the-nose nickname, probably given to him by his football teammates, presumably because of his hulking size.
ASIDE: ARCHIE AS HISTORY
I keep saying “supposedly”, which is annoying. Welcome to the state of current Archie “scholarship” (research), in which helpful internet fans provide details of stories they’ve read without bothering to say where they read them. Citation is important for confirmation, especially the location where the story first appears, and if it’s been altered in reprints (something that happens frequently at Archie).
I can’t really crab too much at Archie fans for not citing their finds much. Most Archie internet fan sites are produced by actual Archie fans, who are, by nature, more excited about the characters and stories, and by finding fans like themselves, than they are about being historically accurate. (Or, also likely, these sites may be old and abandoned, as the youthful once-fans have moved onto something else as they grew older.)
Archie Comics as a company hasn’t done very well with their own history. They denied creator credits for decades and stuck with the idea that the Archie line was only for kids and had no historical permanence in society. The current management has been doing much better at this, although much of the actual scholarship has been in Archie reprints published by Dark Horse and IDW. Unfortunately, it looks like these two publishers have no further Archie-related material in the pipeline. (Perhaps Archie has canceled those licenses in order to bring this publishing back in-house?)
Archie the company has been experimenting with new and innovative formats, such as ever-increasing digest page counts, but these works don’t have much reference content. Their first attempt at an actual historical publication, The Art of Betty and Veronica, was pretty, but slight on historical insight, and their upcoming The Art of Archie: The Covers looks to be more of the same, despite the fact that Craig Yoe (an actual Archie scholar) is involved with both.
But all that’s actually a whole ‘nother blog post. Let’s get back to Moose — and yet another contradiction!
THE MOOSE FAMILY
Moose’s infrequently seen parents are named Jerry and Marilyn Mason. Many sources claim that Moose is an only child, but there supposedly has been one story about a seldom-seen sibling, a freshman-age sister named Marsha Mason. (Loved her in The Goodbye Girl… What? … Oh, sorry.) Of course, Reggie tries to hit on her. Do I have to tell you how this ends up?
Most older Moose stories have Moose beating up somebody, usually somebody looking at, or talking to, his girlfriend, Midge. This is usually Reggie, who can’t leave well enough alone, but occasionally you see Archie, and even Jughead, flying through panel borders. This gag has evolved over the years, as Archie Comics has attempted to break away from the obvious stereotypes or shorthand personalities that many of their characters had previously been saddled with, mostly for comic relief.
Some of Moose’s best appearances have been as dumb-guy jokes for many Archie comic book covers. Here are a selected few:
As Archie publications became more kid- and preteen-focused in recent years, Moose was not seen as frequently as in previous decades, mostly because his one-note angry, jealous, overprotective shtick became tedious (and not very politically correct). He still appeared occasionally, usually when someone strong was needed to help out. And Archie Comics also backed way off doing constant dumb-guy jokes… mostly because they just weren’t funny anymore. Maybe people were actually starting to feel bad for Moose.
Then somebody got an idea that maybe… just maybe, Moose wasn’t really dumb after all. It was an idea that changed Moose forever.
Moose’s long-term learning difficulties are finally given a cause in the historic Archie at Riverdale High #98 (August 1984 cover date). In a story called “The ‘Eyes’ Have It!”, written by Sam Kujava and drawn by Stan Goldberg and Rudy Lapick, Miss Grundy assigns the class very complicated instructions written on the chalkboard. She asks the students to copy them down correctly. “With proper research and study, every one of you should do well — even Moose Mason,” claims Miss Grundy, somewhat condescendingly. But of course, Reggie insults Moose’s intelligence, and later Veronica calls him a “dim bulb” while talking to Betty. But Betty’s not so sure.
A few days later, as Miss Grundy is about to hand back the graded assignments, an excited Moose asks out loud how he had done, since he worked very hard on the assignment. Miss Grundy says that he failed, but it doesn’t make sense, if he followed the instructions. Moose hands the teacher the instructions he copied off the board, and Miss Grundy discovers that what Moose has written “reads like a jigsaw puzzle! Words jumbled, letters missing, order reversed… No wonder your paper turned out the way it did.”
Riverdale’s resident genius (and Moose’s best friend), Dilton Doily, suggests that perhaps Moose is having problems with his eyes and needs glasses, but Moose claims the coach tested his eyes before the season and they were 20/20! Miss Grundy proclaims that if Moose’s grades don’t improve, he may be suspended from the football team. A frustrated and dejected Moose walks forlornly out of the school.
The gang meets over the weekend, and Moose’s girlfriend Midge tells them that Moose’s parents have taken him out-of-town to see a specialist. On Monday, he’s back in school, and Miss Grundy and Mr. Weatherbee have a special announcement. Miss Grundy explains: “Moose was given a select series of vision, balance, and coordination tests. They revealed a condition generally referred to as dyslexia.”
The “Bee” continues: “Dyslexia is a hidden condition that affects many students. You may have 20/20 vision — but your eyes don’t always work correctly — they may not receive the proper messages from the brain.” Moose adds, “Duh-yeah! I always had trouble reading words… cuz I see them different than you guys do!” Grundy then reveals that Moose’s copy of the instructions from the board looked odd because that’s what Moose was actually seeing.
Betty brings it all home: “So Moose was never actually a ‘dumb’ student!” As the story wraps up, it’s revealed that Moose is now going to be “working with a trained therapist to do regular eye and hand exercises… so that Moose’s eyes and brain will learn to work together!” Yay! And all this in only eight pages!
Just three issues later, in Archie at Riverdale High #101 (February 1985), the same creative team follows up on the story. Riverdale High is invited to battle Pembrooke Academy on the TV station WRVD-TV’s “Quiz Whiz”. Several students jump at the chance to participate, including top students Dilton and Betty. Veronica volunteers because if she’s on TV, “Daddy will buy me a new dress!”, and if Veronica’s on, then both Archie and Reggie must be also. But a surprising candidate steps forward — Moose Mason, full of confidence. The entire class cheers him on, as Weatherbee chokes back tears. “Egad! It’s moments like these that make my job worthwhile!”
Dilton, Betty, and Veronica make the cut for the first three slots on the show, but Archie, Reggie, and Moose have tied for fourth, so there’s a run-off quiz. Reggie’s eliminated, but as Archie and Moose get set for the next round, Archie suggests settling it with a coin toss. Moose agrees, chooses heads — Archie flips, and heads wins! (Thanks to some slight-of-hand and a two-headed coin. That Archie!)
You can probably guess the rest, although Riverdale has to work hard for their victory, as Dilton falls off the set and is knocked silly, reducing the team to just Betty, Veronica, and Moose. Ultimately, Moose wins the academic game for Riverdale, specifically because he remembers reading about the subject matter of the final question before, signifying that he is obviously overcoming his dyslexia. The power of the story is somewhat undercut by the revelation that the winning question is, in fact, a sports trivia question, not an academic one. In fact, this is the only question that Moose answers correctly, and since Veronica is not shown answering any questions, this means that Betty (the smartest person at Riverdale High not named Dilton) did all the grunt work. But, hey, teamwork’s important too!
After this, Moose more or less fades back into the general background of everyday Archie supporting characters, usually just turning up for sporting events, befriending Dilton, or smacking Reggie around. Just because.
These days, Moose’s more important appearances are in the flash-forward Archie continuity appearing in the Life With Archie magazine. “What if” futures of the Archie characters play out in both the Archie Loves Veronica and Archie Loves Betty storylines in each issue, now regularly written by Paul Kupperberg. These stories are set approximately 15 years after the stories of the teenage Archie gang. (Jughead’s little sister Jellybean is the clue. She’s still a baby in current-day stories, but in the “Loves” stories, she’s a full-grown rebellious teenager!)
In both storylines, Moose and longtime girlfriend Midge break up, and Midge ends up with Jughead, who is now running Pop Tate’s Choklit Shoppe, after Pop’s retirement. From there, events start to diverge. In the “Veronica” story line, Midge soon breaks up with Jughead and seemingly disappears from the storyline. Meanwhile, Moose has met and fallen in love with Ilana, a blind yoga teacher, who assists Moose with his anger management problems, bringing out the best in Moose. He gains confidence and enters politics, eventually becoming Riverdale’s plain-speaking mayor. And he makes such a political splash that bigger things (and offices) may be in store for him.
Over in the “Betty” storyline (which sticks closer to Riverdale High-type stories than the corporate intrigue of the “Veronica” timeline), Jughead and Midge are married, and she quickly gets pregnant. (Jughead? Of all people?) She is rapidly nearing her due date at this writing. Here, Moose seems to get the future that’s slightly more likely for him. When Mr. Svenson retires, Moose takes over his position as head custodian at Riverdale High, and he successfully gets the venerable old school through frequent renovations and mini-crisises.
“Big” Moose Mason may not always be the most popular character in Riverdale, but he does have some fans in high places. Moose is one of the favorites of popular comics writer Mark Waid. Mark briefly worked at Archie Comics in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, and had he not been called away with other assignments, there’s no doubt that we would have seen some classic Moose stories or cover gags by Mr. Waid! According to Mark, “I love Moose because the size of his heart is inversely proportionate to the size of his brain.”
That’s about the size of it!
KC CARLSON: Currently researching the Archie Comics characters’ family tree. That oughtta keep me busy…
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.