Story by: Chip Zdarsky
Art by: Erica Henderson
Colors by: Andre Szymanowicz
Lettering by: Jack Morelli
With this issue, things officially have taken a turn for the unsettling in Jughead’s war with Principal Stanger as Jughead’s “school as an espionage training camp” theory only begins to make more sense with every action from Riverdale High’s new staff – which indeed is concerning, given how absurd and unrealistic that theory sounds.
You have to hand it to Chip Zdarsky, who’s written up a dilemma that may or may not be what it really seems but is, most importantly, hard to predict. With a plot like this, one would generally expect it to wrap up as a misunderstanding, but even if that is the case it’s not at all transparent what their situation’s story really is, nor an obvious explanation for Stanger’s malicious behavior toward Jughead aside from him simply being a malicious and abusive person. Which hey, may well be the case regardless of if Jughead’s right or wrong about his hypothesis! It’s a tough situation to be in, and you can see the effect of stress Jughead no matter how irreverent or cynical he presents himself – Zdarksy does so well with subtly showing us what Jughead doesn’t express in traditionally recognizable ways through a combination of dialogue, lack of dialogue, and obviously his actions, which speaks immensely to what a good fit Zdarsky is to write this character. Jughead would be an easy character to reduce to his simple and most infamous traits – his love for food, his lack of interest in dating, his laziness – but he comes off funny and odd very naturally and without seeming like a caricature, assisted beautifully by the expressions and body language provided by Erica Henderson, who is a similarly perfect fit to be illustrating this book.
As an aside, since this month finds me writing both my Jughead and Archie reviews more or less simultaneously, I’ve had the additional pleasure to take my time thinking about and discussing both these issues, not only individually but as they relate to each other. If it seems hard to reconcile the fact Jughead has an entirely different school staff as Archie does, consider: obviously both titles ostensibly share a universe, but with such a tightly knit overlapping cast the natural way to differentiate Jughead from Archie is to allow each title character guide the plot in different directions – then if you further consider that Jughead takes place a few months down the line from Archie, it really adds interesting nuance between books to how the characters interact and how it might be speculated their dynamics can evolve.
Writing it all out like that, I know I’m overthinking things, which is why I won’t analytically elaborate on this tangent any further… but it’s a fun thing to think about. These may be two very different books, but by no means are they incompatible – although I will say I hope that Archie takes a cue from Jughead when it comes to including Kevin right at the forefront of the book and giving him a consistently active role in the story. I’ve commented before on Jughead’s usage of supporting characters as well, and while some of the cast still feels a bit jarringly underutilized thus far, I imagine that, too, is a result of wanting to keep the two titles distinct from one another and not step on or contradict any upcoming plans the other book may be working toward. Jughead is also, to some extent, a more internal book, which is underscored by the gimmick of using fantasy sequences each issue – a very fun and effective gimmick, I will add – so I would say it definitely has a good excuse to take its time incorporating the rest of the cast in a greater, more “telling” sort of way.
This month we find Erica joined on art by Archie colorist Andre Szymanowicz, who applies his usual subtle yet dynamic touch that really brings the drawings to life without diverging from the overall look Erica has achieved in previous issues. The bright background colors pop behind Erica’s bold, stylish linework, and Szymanowicz proves – not that there should be any doubt – he is more than up to the task of bringing Erica’s always fantastic fashion full circle with spot-on palettes and color combinations, and Erica herself proves (again, not that there should be any doubt) what a good eye and drawing hand she has for hair and clothing style. Her designs on the Sunnyside gang and the Super Teens are so charming and wonderful, and the best part is how they still stand-out next to their Riverdale counterparts; visually, there’s nothing lazy about these character concepts, she’s really made them their own people with their own personal aesthetics – although kudos go to the entire Jughead team for allowing Reggie to finally make out with himself – and brought her own sharp touch to the classic superhero personas and costumes that longtime Archie fans will probably recognize to the point I almost want an entire spin-off about Betty’s evil Ultra Teen doppleganger.
In fitting superhero fashion, the issue concludes with an homage to the classic Spider-Man No More moment, and the tone of the cliffhanger gives the impression that this story arc will see resolution within the next issue or two. Like I mentioned going into this review, it’s actually pretty hard to guess where the plot is going to go; the tension and intrigue has been very effectively yet inscrutably built up by now, definitely leaving the reader hungrily craving more. Until next time!