Disclaimer: I don’t read very many comic books anymore because I’m a dad with no money in the middle of nowhere. This is my first experience with the New Archie-verse.
Archie used to be the de facto stereotype of a young American male, and Jughead was always the weird off-center type of kid, the kind you don’t meet very often. Nowadays the Jugheads almost outnumber the Archies! Jughead is more relatable than ever, and Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s Jughead #1 gives layers to the hungry goofball and ends up giving cynical nerds like me a hint of a sense of purpose. Also, as someone who stepped away from comics for a while I was pleasantly surprised to see a character discover, confront, and solve a problem all in one issue! When did that start happening again?
Zdarsky has given himself a tightrope to walk in balancing Jughead’s struggle against authority with his detached cynicism. The “goofy loser fighting authority” is hardly a new idea, but in most of these other stories the cynic changes to a more sympathetic attitude before taking on The Man. Jughead takes on new Riverdale Principal Stanger by making hamburgers but never really notices that he’s fighting for student rights. For Jughead this is solely about getting to eat hamburgers at school. Even when he donates the proceeds to Betty’s charity campaign he never sees the bigger picture so he still keeps that cynical attitude about the rest of the world.
If Zdarsky can keep Jughead’s efforts to improve his world balanced with his negative assumptions about the way things work, it could make for some really interesting character work. That balance really resonated with me. Real human beings are much more complicated than even the most meticulously crafted fictional characters, but seeing one juggle his emotions instead of wiping one out in favor of another gives me inspiration to do the same.
The first image I saw of this new Jughead was Zdarsky’s drawing of him eating a hamburger. It’s the sexiest hamburger-related image I have ever seen (sorry, Hardee’s). Erica Henderson’s art is not as boner-inducing but still more attractive than the O.G.J.H. I actually found her faces a little challenging and nondescriptive at first but after a few pages it started to feel comfortable. They feel like realistic people but still with enough of their trademark Archie-ness to feel familiar.
Here’s my personal elephant in the room: the Game Of Thrones sequence. Jughead has a dream in the middle of the story in which he imagines the Archie cast as characters from the seminal HBO series (yes, I know it’s a book series, too. I’m not an idiot. I’m saying the influence here seems to be the show).
I hate pop culture mash-ups. Like everything in America, it was a cute idea but has now run rampant to where one T-shirt can make me hate two different franchises! Hooray for science. Most of these mash-ups are just blindly putting characters together for no other reason than that people will recognize it. I actually find it disrespectful to the characters as it takes away the power of their singular image to push some stupid orgy of “geekgasms.” I’m a one-character man, baby.
Yet every once in awhile a mash-up makes sense, and this is one of those times. The Archie characters are spliced with Thrones characters that really reflect their personalities and provide a little insight. Sure, I can see on a surface level why Archie would be Robb Stark, being the handsome good guy, but you can get more out of it, too, because he’s kind of conflicted about his position in life and will surely end up having his human head replaced with a wolf head. Plus, Zdarsky and Henderson don’t push the mash-up-ness too hard, making it more of a general fantasy dream with hints toward the specifics. And it was clever to make Betty, who is now established as a scrappy activist upholding a code, resemble Brienne.
There are plenty of clever moments in this issue. My favorite involves food (I’m fat). Jughead’s dream doesn’t come about by sleeping; it happens when he blacks out from panic over the cafeteria serving nutritious gruel instead of real food! This was my favorite scene in this issue. We’re used to Jughead as a cynical doofus but when he finally discovers an issue he cares about he BLACKS OUT from caring too much. As a cynical doofus myself I found this very inspiring and hope to one day find a cause that makes me faint.
The jokes here really work. There are a couple of laugh-out-loud moments but more importantly the lines feel right for the characters, and Henderson really sells Jughead’s almost-permanent sarcastic expression. The worst trap a writer can fall into when writing teenager dialogue is the pop-culture references. Kids may consume plenty of pop culture but they do not find a way to call people Jedi or talk about Buffy or Tetris or something in every sentence they speak. It just doesn’t happen. The few references here work and are funny and it never felt overdone.
Will I read issue #2? Damn straight. Even if Brian doesn’t give it to me for free to review.