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Review: ‘Jughead’ Vol. 1

Jughead vol 1Jughead Vol. 1
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Erica Henderson
Archie Comics; $19.99
Rated Teen

When Archie Comics decided to remake their red-headed company namesake in a brand-new comic book in 2015, it was a pretty drastic move, one entailing a new look, a new format and the courting of a new, wider audience. They turned to writer Mark Waid, one of the most reliable mainstream comics writers of the last few decades, and Saga artist Fiona Staples, a universally popular artist whose style could barely be further removed from that of the simplified, two-dimensional, almost coloring-book house style of Archie Comics.

It worked out beautifully, and the book’s popularity and quality has survived Staples leaving and passing the artistic duties off to another talented artist, Veronica Fish.

When it came time to launch a companion book to the new and improved Archie, this one starring the lazy, food-obsessed, comedic sidekick to America’s Favorite (and/or Most Generic) Teen, well, more idiosyncratic talent was called for.

Archie looked to Marvel and their burgeoning roster of humorous comics (funny books that were actually funny, if you will), and hired cartoonist-turned-writer Chip Zdarksy (who was writing Marvel’s Howard The Duck revival, and working on an Image comic that much of Archie’s traditional audience probably shouldn’t even know about, let alone read) and up-and-comer Erica Henderson, artist for Marvel’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which is probably their funniest book at the moment (and definitely my favorite).

It worked out every bit as well as Archie did, maybe even better, as the nature of Jughead and his sidekick status in the overall Archie narrative allowed for wilder, sillier, more imaginative and teen melodrama-free stories. For readers who skipped the serially published comics–and, obviously, librarians looking to stock their shelves with collections and graphic novels–Jughead is now available in trade collection, and it is fantastic.

The first volume contains the first six issues of the series, which comprised a single and complete story arc (and thus the trade reads like a novel, with a beginning, middle, and end).

Jughead finds himself at odds with Mr. Stanger, the new principal of Riverdale High, who has replaced their beloved Mr. Weatherbee. Blase about the change until Stanger goes too far and changes the cafeteria menu, Jughead soon begins to notice increasingly strange things about Stanger and his many new hires among the faculty, until he’s convinced that they are turning Riverdale High School into some sort of covert training camp for a brainwashed teenage military strike force.

Is Jughead crazy? Everyone seems to think so! And so it’s up to him and his reluctant pals to discover the truth, expose Stanger, and save the school. Zdarsky gives Jughead a very, very rich videogame, comic book and film inspired imagination and subconscious, so each issue/chapter includes an extended dream sequence related to the plot, as Jughead falls asleep and/or loses consciousness and reimagines himself and his classmates in a Game of Thrones-like fantasy world, or as pirates, time police, secret agents, and superheroes.

The usual rules of the Archie line are reversed here, too, so that Jughead is the star and Archie his occasional sidekick, while the rest of the gang–Betty, Veronica, Kevin, Reggie, Moose, Dilton–appear throughout, some eventually siding with Jughead against Stanger, others serving as foils.

Between the deadpan serious presentation of the ridiculous real-world conflict and the parody gags in the flights-of-fancy sections, Zdarsky packs the book with character-driven and structural gags, all of which Henderson beautifully executes in a style as far removed from Staples’ first issues of Archie as those were from the Archie Comics they were reimagining in the first place (like, its one thing for Zdarsky to write that school genius Dilton’s greatest ability is really dance, but it takes an artist like Henderson to pull it off with a fantastic dance sequence).

The individual issues of Jughead each featured reprints of classic strips from the character’s decades-long history, each introduced in a page of prose from Zdarsky, and those aren’t included here. In their stead is a generous helping of about 30 pages of back-up material, including character sketches, scripts, a gallery of variant covers, and the entirety of Archie #7, by Waid and Fish.

Overall, the new Jughead proves the primacy of the second banana.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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