Jughead, vol. 2
Writers: Chip Zdarsky and Ryan North
Artist: Derek Charm
Archie Comics; $17.99
The first collected volume of the new Jughead comic proved to be a perfect companion title to the new Archie comic, discarding the romance and teen drama to focus exclusively on the jokes and gags, as befits a title starring Archie’s comedic sidekick. And the second volume? It’s even better than the first.
What makes that remarkable is that the title was good from the start; it’s just getting better. As to why that might be, I would suggest two different factors: First, original writer Chip Zdarsky passes the torch to incoming writer Ryan North a few issues into this collection and, second, artist Derek Charm has replaced Erica Henderson.
While the new Archie Comics line—which currently includes five comics—has featured a bunch of great artists with very different, very distinct styles, Charm may be the best of them. I know appreciation of particular art styles is pretty subjective, so perhaps I should call Charm “my favorite” rather than “the best,” but allow me to make my case.
Not only does Charm have the storytelling chops as strong as any of the other Archie artists, and not only does Charm manage to marry the style of the traditional gag comic with more modern, more sophisticated, serial-format comic book-ing, his character designs (and renderings of those designs) occupy a perfect middle point between the Dan DeCarlo-esque Archie Comics house style of the last few decades (most recently exemplified by Dan Parent) and the recent redesign the residents of Riverdale got courtesy of Fiona Staples in the first few issues of the new Archie.
Charm’s art looks fresh and classic at the exact same time, making him maybe the ideal Archie artist.
This collection features five issues of the series. The first two issues are a two-parter constituting the end of Zdarsky’s run. Trying to rekindle his strained friendship with his girl-crazed best friend Archie, Jughead invites him to take a camping trip with him, only to discover that Archie only agreed to go for girl-centric reasons (there just so happens to be an all-girls camp near their site). In the woods, they must confront not only the tensions in their relationship but also the horrors of The Mantle Family Reunion (presenting them with a whole horde of Reggie Mantles of various ages and sexes) and a possibly teen-eating bear (which is a distant second to the threat posed by the Mantles, really).
That’s followed by Ryan North’s first three-issue story arc, in which Jughead meets Sabrina, The Teenage Witch (see the cover). Jughead, notorious among his friends for his complete disinterest in romance (albeit more notorious still for his obsession with food), has finally found a young woman whom he genuinely enjoys spending time with. It may have something to do with the fact that she’s the new burger mascot working at Pop’s, and every time Jughead sees her she’s wearing a burger costume, giving her the appearance of a giant talking hamburger with a woman’s arms and legs. Will Jughead like her as much when she takes off the costume and reveals herself to be a beautiful teenage girl? Of course not.
This leads to Jughead trying to fake his way through his first real date, with the unwelcome help of Archie, who turns out to be terrible at dating (despite some 75 years of sharing milkshakes with Betty and Veronica) and then having to deal with a jilted witch.
North brings his now-expected alt-text inspired jokes to the margins of each page, and as deeply weird as this story arc is, I have to confess that honest-to-God, hand-on-my-heart, the first chapter of it was among the very best single issues of a comic book series I read last year.
Because all things must end, especially good things, North is scheduled to leave Jughead in the near future, so enjoy his work on this volume (and probably the next) while you can.
As with other recent Archie Comics collections, this one includes pages of the (way too) many variant covers that they published with the comics as they were being released to comics shops, and a “bonus” comic in the form of the first issue of the new Josie and The Pussycats. It’s a particularly appropriate comic to find in the back of a Jughead collection, as the new Josie is every bit as dense with jokes as North’s Jughead is (actually, it’s probably denser still, thanks to writers Marguerite Bennett and Cameron DeOrdio’s allusion and pun-filled, highly affected dialogue), and if Jughead isn’t Archie’s best comic book series of the moment, than Josie is.