Jughead #1: The Real Star of Archie Comics

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Those of you who have read my Archie reviews will have noticed that I am a big fan of the character known as Jughead. Indeed, the smooth, cynical but sensible sloth has been the breakout star of the reboot thus far, stealing every scene that he is in. I have noted previously that the updated version of is appealing because despite appearing to be a fool, he is quite a contemplative and mature character. A solo series gives us the chance to get to know Forsythe Pendleton Jones III a bit better, but does it live up to the high standards placed on it by its parent series?
Jughead#1chipVarIt’s worth saying that am a big fan of Chip Zdarsky. Zdarsky’s work on Sex Criminals (along with the fantastic Matt Fraction) has been revolutionary, engaging audiences in a way that few other independent comics have. Marvel’s Howard the Duck on the other hand, has proven that Zdarsky is one of those rare talents in modern comics who is as great an artist as he is a writer. He has made no secret of his affinity for the character. All he wanted was to draw a variant cover and instead, he was offered writing duties on the first spin-off which was originally planned to launch as part of the now infamous Kickstarter campaign.

This is definitely aims being more overtly comedic then the main Archie title. Whereas the humour is played pretty straight in that series, one could almost expect Jughead to come with its own laugh track. Less slice of life comedy, more 3 camera sitcom. Our man is quick and witty throughout, making his old pal Archie seem dull in comparison. The plot focuses around Jughead’s campaign against school authorities. He is initially quite skeptical towards campaigns because as a self-stylised “realist” he accepts that the world will never be perfect. Part of that is undoubtedly motivated by his own laziness. However, as comedy naturally dictates, Jughead is forced to care when the new principal replaces the normal cafeteria food with  gruel. Wackiness ensures as our hamburger loving hero proves as resourceful as ever in his attempts to return junk-food to the student masses.

At times the characters seems to be more over the top than what has been found in the main book, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Were this to be exactly like the main Archie title then there would be little point to it.It’s an entirely different animal from Archie entirely and the line will be all the better for it. Zdarksy brings his own comedic sensibilities to the series and most of the jokes hit their target whether through clever,funny dialogue or the sheer absurdity of a particular situation. The issue features an amusing Game of Thrones parody in the form of Jughead’s daydream, but its inclusion will probably go over the head of younger readers. It also raises a different question as to who is the target audience for the relaunched Archie Comics brand. It’s arguably a bit of an odd choice for a first issue,unless pop culture non-sequiturs are to become a staple of the series. There are some jokes that rely heavily on an existing knowledge of character dynamics within Riverdale, but some of them have yet to be introduced in the reboot and thus, can be confusing.

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Unfortunately, I struggle with the art which is something I haven’t experienced with the Riverdale reboot so far. To be clear, it’s not so much a problem with the new house style (I have no nostalgia for classic Archie), indeed Fiona Staples has done an amazing job on the core Archie book. There is an awkwardness to the facial features which is quite jarring. While Jughead and Archie manage to get off lightly, a lot of the female characters are drawn with unnatural expressions. There seems to be a desirability between the designs of Betty and Veronica in this book and those found in core Archie book.  There is an overall lack of detail which makes the illustrations feel quite plain. There is some imaginative work to be found in the Game of Thrones section, but I will fully admit that this may be a failure on my part to connect with Henderson’s style, as her work on the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is quite similar, but it doesn’t change the fact that the interiors are often hit or miss. I’m sure there might be many people out there who are fans of this approach but, much like the work of Chris Bachalo, it just doesn’t speak to me.

Jughead Issue 1 is a good first issue, it sets up the premise well and is packed full of clever jokes. It introduces those uninitiated to some of the nuances of the character and shows us the crazier side of Riverdale high. If you are looking for a lovable character and a series that doesn’t take itself too seriously then Jughead is for you.

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Gary Moloney
Some would say that he is a mine of information, too bad most of it is useless. You can read his own comic work over on garymoloney.tumblr.com. Follow him on Twitter @m_gearoid.

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