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Review: ‘Josie and The Pussycats Vol. 1′

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Josie and The Pussycats Vol. 1
Writers: Marguerite Bennett and Cameron DeOrdio
Artist: Audrey Mok
Archie Comics; $17.99

Josie and the PussycatsWhen it came time to add a Josie and The Pussycats ongoing to Archie Comics’ blossoming “New Riverdale” line of books—then consisting of the Archie, Jughead, and Betty & Veronica revamps—the publisher went with something pretty out there, even when compared to the plots of Jughead, which had already at that point featured a top-secret spy agency taking over the high school and a certain teenage witch wreaking magical havoc in Riverdale. Co-writers Marguerite Bennett and Cameron DeOrdio left the band line-up intact, gradually introducing the second-tier characters of the classic cast, but the style and tone of their comic was completely different not only from everything else Archie was publishing, but pretty much everything else that everyone else was publishing.

Though the band forms in the first issue, they become successful rock stars pretty quickly. They have a major label manager and are doing fashion shoots in Rome and playing a county fair by the fifth issue. The particular and peculiar plots, which fill an issue exactly (making this a rather rare comic that can be enjoyed equally in single issues or in trade) can be wild to the point of insane: A motorcycle race to get out of a bad contract, battling a DJ/exotic animal smuggler on Spring Break in Cancun, fighting jewel thieves in Rome, and, in the cliffhanger that ends this collection, being arrested for plagiarism.

But it’s the way the characters talk that makes the book so unusual. Bennett and DeOrdio waste no words in their dialogue; every line is a joke, or an allusion, or both. It’s affected, sure, but to such an extreme that it quickly feels natural, at least within the confines of the comic book itself. It’s more affected than your typical Joss Whedon script, but a little less so than, say, your typical William Shakespeare play. So, somewhere between those extremes of clever-speak, which is an interesting place to be, obviously.

As actors within a work of artifice, the characters are all self-aware of their medium and that they are playing roles within it, and they will talk in machine-gun pace about learning lessons via morals (one presented by cherubs holding a banner), the emotional arc of their relationships, and even what kind of comic book story they are in. Josie and the Pussycats‘ hyper-meta awareness extends to every aspect of the book, even the lettering of sound effects: When they re-route a bass into the engine of a motorcycle in order to give it a turbo-boost of speed, the sound effect it creates is “COMIC BOOK SCIENCE!”

Mok’s art strikes a perfect balance between cartoon expressionism and realism, with just enough of the latter to sell all of the visual and verbal gags as things that are out of place, creating the necessary friction for successful comedy. She is also quite adept at drawing pretty young people and cool fashion, which is a skill more necessary in a book like this than it might be in most other comics.

The initial story follows Josie McCoy, a singer-songwriter playing an open mic night to an audience of two: The barista at the coffee shop hosting it (and thus required to be there), and Josie’s frenemy Alexandra Cabot. When she hears about a local battle of the bands to benefit an animal shelter, she enlists her best friend Melody and a veterinary tech that works at the shelter to join her in creating a band. They do, to pretty much instant success, thanks in large part to the cute manager that takes an interest in them, Alan M.

There are certain fraught aspects of doing a Josie and The Pussycats narrative in 2017 vs. 1963, when the late, great cartoonist Dan DeCarlo created the characters, or in 1970, when the television cartoon debuted, some of which we already saw Hollywood wrestle with when making the 2001 live-action film.

Rather than the typical dumb blonde stereotype she was created as, Melody is here kind of brilliant…she’s just operating on a different wave-length than her peers. She’s the silliest of the three, and the one most likely to break the fourth wall or operate the furthest outside the already rather loose bands of the narrative. The main difference then is that jokes are never really at her expense, but she’s driving them.

Alan M. is no longer the hunk in the middle of a Josie/Alexandra love triangle, and he too is given a bit more agency, being transformed into something of an amalgam of his previous role and that of Alexander Cabot, who here doesn’t get introduced until the final pages of this trade paperback.

As for Alexandra, her feuding with Josie is a bit more nuanced than simply being her rival for a boy’s attention, or jealous of Josie’s fame, and is among the first volume’s more touching through-lines. As wild as it is, as silly as it is, as outright comedic as it is, there’s still a fair amount of honest, touching drama amid all the jokes, making this perhaps the crown jewel of Archie’s expanding line of new books remaking their classic characters.

As is so often the case with Archie Comics trade paperback collections, this one features not only the first five issues of the series but also a “bonus” chapter, essentially a sample issue of a comic that can be found in another collection. Here it is Jughead #9, from writer Ryan North’s run with Derek Charm on that book. It’s a fairly appropriate inclusion, given that if Josie is Archie’s best comic book at the moment, Jughead is its second best.

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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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