Story by: Chip Zdarsky
Art by: Erica Henderson
Lettering by: Jack Morelli
Things really begin to take a turn for the bizarre in this month’s issue of Jughead, and I say that in the best way possible. We last left off on the unsettling yet still mysterious note of corruption and abuse of power the new Riverdale High staff – or rather, the new principal and gym coach – have imposed over the school. Jughead spares no expense with his conspiracy theories, which are a bit too out there for his friends to get on board; Jughead can’t help but feel betrayed by this dismissal, which is what drives this month’s drama down its sturdy tracks.
What I like best about the writing in Jughead #4 is a lot of little things, although since it’d be a crime not to mention Chip Zdarsky’s dialogue, I’ll begin with that: Jughead’s paranoid ranting is a lot of fun, but what I love most is how the source of conflict between him and his friends plays out – it’s not hard to see why they have trouble believing his wild hypothesis, but at the same time there is still so much about the situation that clearly doesn’t add up, either. Whether or not Jughead is right about the specifics almost doesn’t matter, it’s simply the fact that he’s the only person who finds it completely obvious that something is weird about the changes at Riverdale High beyond a mere change in faculty. This, of course, becomes much more obvious by the end of the issue, although the larger mystery of what’s really going on continues to leave us in suspense just one step behind.
As usual, the fantasy sequence delivers without disappointment – Jughead’s pirate fantasy is depicted gorgeously, muted colors working opposite bright yellows and deep reds. It’s impossible enough to not stop and appreciate Erica Henderson’s art, but what I love about the way Zdarsky uses Jughead to interpose fantasy and reality is how dramatically it forces readers to see just how versatile and talented an artist like Erica is when they see the contrast between Jughead’s normal life and the multi-genre epics of his imagination. Her use of color is subtle but stunningly evocative, and I will continue to mention and applaud the attention to fashion she pays in every review I write. These kind of details do matter! Clothing speaks to each character; how they dress and/or how they are dressed shows us without telling us a little bit (or a lot) about them – it’s a characterization tool much like their haircut or their word choice is.
Keeping all that in mind, there is still no easy way to segue naturally into how much I want to acknowledge just how gorgeous pirate fantasy Quartermaster Veronica Lodge is, so I’ll just thank Erica silently (thank you! Thank you!) and move on.
What also stood out to me in this issue, on a smaller note, is the attention paid to supporting characters this time around. Dilton finally steps out of the wings of New Riverdale and finds his feet, despite misgivings, assisting Jughead in getting to the bottom of things. I love Dilton, I can’t wait to see more of Dilton, and maybe more of Moose as well! Most significantly is the spotlight Kevin gets, and while this is not new to Zdarsky and Erica’s Jughead title, I very much appreciate his inclusion in Jughead’s “inner circle” and am excited to see more from him, too. I would be remiss not to mention his conversation with Jughead about sexuality earlier in the issue, which highlighted not only the fact that Riverdale High has a low percentage of out gay students – which always seemed to be the case, especially given that Riverdale itself is not enormous, but has never been clarified specifically – and then officially canonized Jughead’s asexuality by plainly stating it in words.
I wanted to address this conversation last even though it happens quite early on in the issue, and also thank Chip Zdarsky for following through on Jughead’s asexuality not just with outside confirmation, but by making it evident in the comic itself. “Word of God” (so to speak) can have value, but it can also lend itself to a lot of “invisible” representation when something about a character is declared officially by a writer, but never actually comes up remotely in evidence within the work itself. Jughead is a character for whom asexuality makes a lot of sense for – in fact it seems only natural, given the leading interpretations on how Jughead views relationships – even though, no doubt, there are already some arguing that sexuality (and all that in implies) has no business coming up in an Archie comic, despite the fact Archie at its center revolves around a love triangle… and with Jughead in particular, incidentally one of the most popular Archie characters by far, he has always meant something significant to readers who felt similarly about relationships, romance, and/or sex, as well as a significant amount of gay readers in the many, many years of Archie that predate Kevin Keller. Archie Comics has been setting an impressive standard for inclusiveness in the past few years, making changes and additions and improvements that make Riverdale as a whole more diverse, welcoming, and accessible to everyone, and it’s wonderful to continue to see this reflected in the talent they are bringing on for the New Riverdale titles and other projects; Archie – and of course Jughead – continue to lead the way through their excellent and dedicated example.