[Editor's Note: Welcome to Archie's House of Horror! We're thrilled and chilled to team up with Archie Comics for this recurring column written by Jamie L. Rotante, writer and Senior Director of Editorial at Archie Comics. Each column takes a closer look at the terrifying themes and eerie inspirations found within the pages of the ever-expanding world of Archie Horror, with this month's column focusing on the macabre manipulation and gruesome groupthink in the new one-shot anthology Chilling Adventures Presents... The Cult of That Wilkin Boy, now available from Archie Comics!]
What is it about cults that makes them so fascinating?
Is our obsession with cult-based media a way to voyeuristically join a cult without actually joining one? So many beloved and critically acclaimed movies and television shows are about cults, from Midsommar to Yellowjackets. We relish witnessing, from a safe distance, the depths to which people will sink when their thoughts and emotions are manipulated by someone in power. It’s enthralling, and the horror stems from the fact that this is not a supernatural process; it is, unfortunately, all too true and happens more often than any of us would care to admit.
And yet we can’t look away.
I think, deep down, it comes from a longing for a sense of belonging for many. There’s something inherently appealing about having a “safe space” to link up with other like-minded individuals.
Until that space becomes corrupted, if that wasn’t always the goal from the start.
Fandoms can be a lot like cults. People come together with a shared interest, bonding over a mutual adoration for a person or topic. And just as much as fandoms can be safe spaces, they too can become corrupted, oftentimes from within. Fans can quickly turn on each other for having a different opinion regarding whatever or whoever they adore that’s been placed upon a pedestal. A cannibalistic situation can occur if someone starts to step out of line.
And when a crowd turns on you, the object of their once-devotion? That's when things can get especially bleak.
The Cult of That Wilkin Boy, a new one-shot from Archie Horror this week, turns that notion on its musically trained ear.
Before we dive into the crux of the story, I think it’s worth giving a little bit of history on the titular character. If you’re a diehard Archie Comics fan, you probably have encountered some That Wilkin Boy stories in your double digests. More recently, he’s also appeared in a different horror form as a fellow werewolf in the Jughead: the Hunger series (Bingo is canonically Jughead’s cousin). Woodrow “Bingo” Wilkin III debuted in 1969 in his very own comic, stemming from the musical success of The Archies. Bingo, a 17-year-old popular student at Midville High, is a sort of nega-Archie. He’s a cool, red-headed teen with a band named after himself. He’s got a girlfriend, the pretty, strong-willed, athletic Samantha Smythe, whose father despises him (and his dad). But unlike Archie, Bingo doesn’t get wrapped up in any love triangles. His eyes are on Samantha only, even if they have a Romeo and Juliet-type relationship thanks to their fathers’ fighting.
In the late 1960s, Archie Comics was not immune to the cultural changes of the time. Hippies were all the rage, and they started cropping up more and more within the pages of the comics. The series Madhouse’s mascot got a makeover and started popping up more and more in the Josie series. Eventually, he’d take over Madhouse and start yet another fictional comic book band as the drummer, along with his rag-tag group of friends, called the Madhouse Glads. That mascot-turned-drummer? Clyde Didit. That name might not mean much to you now, but it will once you’ve read The Cult of That Wilkin Boy.
But enough about Clyde, back to our boy, Bingo.
You might be wondering, what made us decide to choose the wholesome Wilkin Boy to be our cult leader? Well, it’s just that, he’s wholesome. He’s charming. He’s talented. Who wouldn’t want to follow in his footsteps? He’s also defined by his devotion. His goals never falter: he loves his girlfriend. He loves his band. He loves being a musician, and there’s very little that can stop him from achieving his goals.
That made it very easy for us to exploit.
What’s interesting about Bingo, though, is he’s almost a reluctant cult leader. Does he truly like the fame? The power? The influence? That’s hard to say. Sure, he’s proud of his achievements, even if it meant leaving behind his brothers in The Bingoes that helped him get that level of acclaim. But is the spotlight really something he craves and wants, or just something he’s afraid of losing?
A big crux of the story is far less about fame and fandom than a fear of irrelevancy. In our last installment of “Archie’s House of Horror,” I mentioned The Menu, which also thematically fits with this title. How far are you willing to go to keep the level of success you’ve achieved? And how much do you care about harming others who might impede that success?
That’s the beauty of horror; it doesn’t have to exist only to shock or disgust, it can tell incredible stories with depth, morals, and raise important existential questions. This can be seen in much of Jordan Peele’s work, with his social thrillers holding an ugly mirror to society, putting its very real ills on display. Movies like The Babadook teach us that grief isn’t something we should try to hide from or compartmentalize, but instead confront head-on. The Phantom of the Opera teaches us the difference between love and obsession. Carrie tells a radical story about bullying, and how hurt people hurt people.
So, what should readers take away from The Cult of That Wilkin Boy? Well, I’m not one to force a lesson on anyone; really, it’s up to reader interpretation. Maybe it’s to question the motives of the powerful and famous. Maybe it’s to avoid groupthink at all costs. Maybe, just maybe, it’s that pop stars are truly the ultimate evildoers. But that’s all just conjecture; make of it what you will.
I’d be remiss to end this without giving proper thanks to the stellar creative team on this title. The incomparable Cullen Bunn wrote this script, whose name should be instantly familiar to anyone who considers themself a horror comic fan. On art we have Dan Schoening, with Matt Herms on colors and Jack Morelli on letters. This is a full team reunion of 2022’s hit Chilling Adventures of Salem one-shot comic. Like Salem, this title deftly handles the supernatural with roots firmly grounded in the human experience, like that of existential dread and fear. It’s an honor to get to work with this impeccable crew again, and I’ll jump at any and every chance to get this band back together.
Until next time, but remember: Bingo was his name-o.
To learn more about The Cult of That Wilkin Boy and to order a copy of the new one-shot anthology, visit:
CHILLING ADVENTURES PRESENTS... THE CULT OF THAT WILKIN BOY O.S.
Bingo Wilkin is not just a world-renowned musician. He’s an icon. An iconoclast. A legend. A leader. He’s also a master of manipulation with fans and followers willing to do his bidding, now matter how evil it may be. Is too much ever enough when it comes to celebrity? The team behind The Chilling Adventures of Salem return with this psychological thriller about fame and fandom.
Script: Cullen Bunn
Art: Dan Schoening, Ben Galvan, Matt Herms, Jack Morelli
The Cult of That Wilkin Boy ONE-SHOT CVR A Main Cover: Dan Schoening, Matt Herms
Cover by Dan Schoening and Matt Herms:
Variant Cover by Robert Hack: