Prior to its recent standing as one of modern comics’ most narratively progressive properties, and despite my mother’s lifelong attempts to influence me to the contrary, I was never a big Archie man. But I was always a Jughead guy. I mean, how could you not be, really? Forsythe Pendleton Jones III, aka Jughead, is THE blueprint for the adorable idiot savant; the quintessential slacker-type, who, for almost 75 years now, has been straight-up faded af, such that he took trips where no other character had gone before! That, and his insatiable hunger for both hamburgers and loyalty, make him a stalwart example of top-shelf sidekickery, the like of which is often imitated, but rarely duplicated. And yet, I had my doubts about this newest Archie-verse revamp, not least because, unlike the rest of the internet, I have yet to be suitably wowed by either individual at the helm of its creative team. But I have to admit that, despite a few hiccups, Jughead #1 may just be the thing that convinces me of Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s individual and collective hype. Take that, Tumblr!
At first eschewing his civic duty to
rock that booty take care of the environment, at the behest of the ever-passionate Betty, Jughead, in his first new solo adventure, is soon thrust into uneasy action, as that which threatens Riverdale’s green spaces also imperils his most... nay, only... precious commodity: free food.
Apart from the benevolent juvenility you’d expect from both this title and its writer, Jughead #1 does a great job in one particular area: Jughead. For all of his endearing qualities, Our Man Jones is, at least at first glance, something of a selfish prick; and he always has been. Here, not only does Jughead brush off Betty’s (admittedly a bit naive) attempts at protest, he also (in a state of delirium) lets both his best friend and his most hated enemy burn to death. But when his own hunger is jeopardized, he is quick to make things right. Of course, as always, he inevitably reveals his true character and, in his own way, saves everyone’s collective day, while this time bucking the machinations of a newly-appointed and tyrannical high school principal.
And it’s pretty great. Somewhat surprisingly, while still heaping on a decent dollop of punnage, Zdarsky slows his comedic roll for much of this first issue, focusing he majority of his humor on suitably building up character in the goofy, all-ages Archie Comics tradition. He’s obviously got a reputation for being a funny guy, and he often is, but it felt like Zdarsky’s humor here was better tempered, a more natural fit than in some of his other books where it feels like he tries a bit too hard. In a way, it makes sense he would identify so well with this character, given that some might argue he has been (perhaps incorrectly) labelled the Jughead to Matt Fraction’s Archie. But this, I would argue more than any of his other solo books, best shows his promise as a solo writing talent.
Of course, Zdarsky isn’t going it alone here, joined on art by Erica Henderson, whose style, thanks to the cult-like fervor over her Marvel hit, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, is immediately recognizable. Unfortunately, however, her designs in Jughead #1 aren’t. Some of that is understandable - commendable, even - in a book that brings an old classic into the modern age; but while I do love how her comedic timing is able to match Zdarsky’s own, and the way her style inextricably helps craft the book’s simple-yet-fun story, I feel she may have missed the mark on a few of her characters.
As a comic book institution, Archie needs to maintain most of the integrity of its visual past; and to be fair, Henderson does a great job of merging her style with that of the book’s traditions, in characters like Moose, Archie, Mr. Lodge and especially the titular Jughead. But many of the book’s other secondary characters are downright unrecognizable, like Mr. Weatherbee, Miss Grundy and most importantly (given her standing within the Archie mythos), Betty. (Even Jughead at one point has to ask “Hey, is that Betty?”)
I get that Henderson has drawn Betty with a more representative female body type, and the teachers to make them look less like a human dumpling and an octogenarian asparagus, respectively; I also appreciate that this is her interpretation of the characters, but here they don’t even contain a whisper of their ageless charm. This break was made all the more evident thanks to editorial’s very cool decision to run the OG Jughead #1 from 1949 as part of the issue’s backmatter, which shows just how far removed the characters look by comparison.
Obviously, design is going to be a thin line to walk with anything so visually iconic as this cast, but these admittedly few examples bothered me, even as a casual Archie reader, especially when set against Fiona Staples’ more deft treatment of the characters in the main Archie book.
At the end of the day, though, and despite some of its stylistic tics, I really enjoyed Jughead #1. It did exactly what it needed to do, which is: be fun. And with the promise of ridiculous misadventure (the most outlandish examples of which - i.e., teachers becoming superheroes and indeed Jughead’s Time Police - were always my favorite part of old school Archie Comics), I’ll be sticking around to join Zdarsky and Henderson as they guide everyone’s favorite manic pixie hamburger guy forward; stumbling, bleary-eyed and hungry for more.
Jughead #1 Writer: Chip Zdarsky Artist: Erica Henderson Publisher: Archie Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 10/7/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital