Story by: Chip Zdarsky
Art by: Erica Henderson
Lettering by: Jack Morelli
This upcoming Wednesday (October 7th) our beloved Archie relaunch finally becomes a shared universe, with the release of the eagerly awaited Jughead #1 – and I’m not exaggerating when I say the hype for Jughead has been incredible. Justifiably so; not only do writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Erica Henderson seem like the perfect team for the title based on the energetic charm and humor they bring to their other works, but Jughead himself is also one of Riverdale’s most beloved characters – at least he’s the favorite of almost all of my Archie-aware friends, and again, for good reason. Jughead as a character has developed over the years within classic Archie in an almost divergent progression from his peers, one that absorbed the traits various writers favored in him to give him a unique sort of nuance and clarity that stood apart from the four other main characters, who are nuanced in their own ways, but the point is one I think everyone can agree on: Jughead is different.
I was not nervous about Jughead, although I was very curious to see how a new title would fit within the new universe Archie #1 and onward has established because, unlike the shared universes maintained within Marvel and DC, Archie has been a very linear narrative so far. Jughead works well with those parameters while still doing its own thing, the execution of which is clever in of itself – it embraces the classic style of shifting focus from the titular character (Archie) to spotlight the various narratives that do not necessarily involve him directly but still unfold around him, but in a reinvented way; we know already to expect continuity from the relaunch, but Chip and Erica’s Jughead, which immediately fits in with the tone, personality, and environment while still offering up plenty of its own surprises, is when it finally really sinks in.
Erica Henderson’s art, for instance, is incredible. I’m a big fan of her style, which is distinct and lively – it works great for an offbeat character like Jughead, and Chip Zdarsky’s script also makes sure that her dynamism isn’t wasted on Jughead just lazing around… although her art direction and his dialogue makes even those sequences fun to read. The character designs are cute and charming, the fashion a delight, and her expressions are out of this world – what I said of Fiona Staples’s Archie art holds true here too; what really sells me on Henderson’s Jughead is that, as a huge Archie fan myself, I can recognize how Henderson’s love for the characters shines through in every visual choice – each hairstyle and intriguing outfit (Betty, Veronica, and Kevin’s stand out as particularly awesome) – in a way that really separates the characters from their archetypes and reminds us not only that they’re teenagers, but what kind of teenagers they are. Zdarsky, too, really makes this script his own; the dilemma introduced in this issue is a relatable but engaging one, and he highlights how distinctly unique Jughead’s response to change is… he brings us Jughead who is passionate and driven on his own terms, who can both wear his emotions on his sleeve and operate on an internal level that his friends see almost nothing of. It works alongside Archie but is also quite a departure from Archie’s accident prone, romance-tinted perspective; true that he may be a voice of reason or if nothing else, alternative counterpoints, to his friends, Jughead also exists within his own independence, where he does things his own way without allowing the influence of others — or relationships, notable too as Zdarsky has stated he intends his Jughead as asexual — to sway him for long.
The fantasy sequence in the middle of the book is stellar, fitting into the comic without jarring the tone whatsoever even if you weren’t expecting it – it enriches the tone if anything, and I’m thrilled to hear that more will be incorporated into the title by way of reinterpreting the many AUs Jughead has starred in. It’s wonderful for Archie fans to see how thorough and heartfelt this relaunch aims to be by letting almost nothing go to waste, and it’s wonderful that newer readers get to be familiarized with these characters and references in a modern, accessible way.
It almost seems too easy to comment on the humor, but it still bears mention – and yes, it’s funny, too! If you combine slapstick and absurdism, tone both down a little then add effortless wryness to the top, that is how I might describe the tone Chip and Erica have struck here, and it makes for a great combination. Refreshingly, it’s funny in a way that anyone can enjoy – it isn’t cruel or inappropriate, which is important for an all-ages title, while still being mature enough that it isn’t just easy, random humor either.
Jughead #1 is worth your time, if you’re new to the characters or creative team and weren’t convinced already. “Accessible” is the keyword of this relaunch no matter how you layer it, and while I will always say that being an Archie fan helps in the sense that you might recognize something – a character or a reference made – you don’t need to have even heard of Archie to pick up this book and enjoy it just as much.