This time last year, if you had said to me I’d be going gaga over Archie and Jughead I would’ve laughed you out of town. Yet here we are and I’m obsessed.
When Jon Goldwater (son of the co-founder of Archie Comics John L. Goldwater) took over in 2009 he oversaw the overhaul of Archie and the rest of the Riverdale gang. The publisher has launched the oddball Archie Horror line—Afterlife with Archie is a gory delight—and the introduction of the series’ first openly gay character Kevin Keller—who married Clay Walker and became a senator in Life with Archie. They cranked it up to 11 with the summer of 2015 relaunch of Archie and lived up to that success with Jughead in October. If you’re already reading these 2 awesome series, come bask in our mutual adoration. If you’re not, have I got some recommendations for you.
In July 2015 Archie Comics relaunched its then 73-year-old series Archie. Archie is still about our favorite freckled ginger’s kooky friendships, fumbling romances, and teenage dreams. This go round, Archie and Betty start the series with their “atomic breakup” still wreaking havoc on their emotional lives and social circles. Their friends pester Jughead, Archie’s best non-Betty friend, about the mysterious #LipstickIncident that tore them asunder and plot ways to get them back together. Single for the first time in their lives, Betty and Archie explore their own personal interests and expand their social circles with new romances and new friends. Archie, meanwhile, has fallen head over horndog for Veronica Lodge, the daughter of a jillionaire who just moved to town. The story unfolds as Archie breaks the fourth wall to narrate his own life.
Writer Mark Waid (dude’s written for basically every publisher and character) and artist Fiona Staples (Saga) started off the Archie relaunch with Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn on colors and Jack Morelli on letters. On issue #4 Staples was replaced by Annie Wu, Andre Szymanowicz, and Jen Vaughn, but after that Veronica Fish was brought on as artist and Szymanowicz and Vaughn back on colors. Issue #6 just released on February 17, 2016.
Each issue comes with a reprint of a classic Archie tale and a handy foreword by Mark Waid. It’s a fantastic way to introduce a modern audience to Archie’s history without drowning them in stacks of old issues. Plus, that’s 2 comics for only $3.99.
In October 2015, Archie Comics released its relaunch of what was called Archie’s Pal Jughead for much of its two runs from 1949-1987 and 1987-2012. Like with Archie, Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson have updated Forsythe P. Jones the Third, aka Jughead, aka Juggie, aka Jug, but salvaged his quintessential traits. He still wears his ridiculous whoopee cap—an affectation so old school it’s now hipster cool—and his “S” shirt and retains his burger addiction. In Jughead, our titular hero doesn’t get tangled up in the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle but instead clashes with a new dictatorial principal determined to expel Jughead at all costs. Jughead is convinced the principal is using the school as a training ground for secret agents and he daydreams elaborate fantasies wherein he outwits his dastardly nemesis. So far Jughead has been a pirate, James Bond wannabe, a Game of Thrones character, and a Time Cop. Between flights of fancy and profound boredom Jughead indulges in myriad milkshakes and burgers from Pop’s.
The great/weird/weirdly great Chip Zdarsky (Howard the Duck, Sex Criminals, Batman and his Boys) is the writer for the Jughead reboot, and Erica Henderson (The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl) is the artist. Jack Morelli joins them as letterer. Issue #4 was published on February 10, 2016. Jughead also includes a reprint from its back catalogue of classics with a very Zdarsky-esque intro by Chip. I look forward to your spinoff series “Archie Presents: Chip’s Slammer,” Mr. Zdarsky!
To Pull Or Not To Pull
Fronted initially by two Eisner winning creators, this ain’t your grandpappy’s Archie, and that’s a very good thing. There’s a reason it made my top comics of 2015. Archie Andrews is still a clumsy, not so bright, popular, and well-liked teenager, but Riverdale and its inhabitants undergo a welcome and much needed update under the steady hands of Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, and Annie Wu. Much of the modernization rests in the artwork rather than the dialogue, but even with a hashtag plot the contemporary elements never overwhelm the fundamental Archie-ness of the series. The relaunch takes Archie’s issues seriously but stayed firmly on the right side of melodrama by keeping the goofiness earnest. The plot isn’t heavy by any means, but the combination of fantastic art, keen dialogue, and a large and well-developed supporting cast make each issue shine.
After being in a relationship with Archie since kindergarten, Betty uses her newly found free time figuring out what kind of person she is versus what kind of woman the world wants her to be. There’s some subtle yet important feminism foundation-laying going on with her and it’s handled with a deftness you might not expect from a series that’s been in print since 1942. Betty and Veronica both have the hots for the same guy, but they never catfight over him. Their relationship is closer to what Buffy and Cordelia had on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: rivals due to personal differences rather than boys. Veronica benefits the most from the update. She’s self-centered but never petty, arrogant but not a Mean Girl, and is rich without punishing those beneath her. It’s clear she needs Archie’s attachment because of her insecurities. Jughead’s trademark sarcasm takes on a sharper glint here, but never edges into meanness or bullying. He’s clever without being aloof and makes for a fine complement to his BFF.
The most updated aspect is the diversity. The Riverdale 4 are still white, but the supporting cast and background characters are a veritable kaleidoscope. Kevin Keller (gay), Sheila Wu (Asian-American), and Maria Rodriguez (Hispanic) play major parts in the drama of Archie, Betty, and Veronica. Even 2 of Betty’s suitors are non-white. A variety of body types, skin colors, and religious wear are on full display. And best of all is that representation is present and respected but never singled out. Zdarsky and Henderson keep the trend up in Jughead as well. Marvel and DC take note: this is how you do diversity without pandering or tokenism.
Although Fiona Staples was the artist only on the first 3 issues, she set the tone for the rest of the series. Riverdale has lost its antique cartoon feel for a more realistic take. Annie Wu and Veronica Fish continue the trend by keeping the style crisp and artistic. Colorists Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn utilize a cool palette with bright color splashes making the pages pop with vivid depth. Jack Morelli’s lettering is light and simple (but not plain) so that even through Staples, Wu, and Fish’s more complex panel layouts even a novice reader can still keep up.
Let’s be honest, a lot of my interest in Jughead came from Jughead coming out as ace. Somehow I’d missed the conversation last fall when Zdarsky first mentioned the possibility, so the announcement earlier this month caught me by pleasant surprise. All those Easter eggs in Archie suddenly made sense and I was hooked. Less than 5 minutes after freaking out on Twitter over the news, I already had a subscription into my local shop. Before Jughead, do you know how many openly asexual comic book characters there are? Not suspected or possibly, I’m talking fully out—no secrets, no shame, no “you just haven’t found the right person yet,” no being called frigid or emotionally dead inside, no being accused of being “wrong” or mentally ill. I can tell you exactly how many: 2—Tremor from Gail Simone’s The Movement and Alix from Sex Criminals (a Zdarsky/Matt Fraction joint). Jughead is the first ace character to headline their own comic book and not only is he asexual he’s also aromantic. And to top it off, his friends are totally cool with it. His sexuality is revealed casually but not offhandedly.
Chip Zdarsky tackled the issue at an “Archie” panel the 2015 NYCC saying, “I think something like asexuality is underrepresented, and since we have a character who was asexual before people had the word for it, I’m continuing to write him that way… [There are] a lot of asexual readers, and they want representation. We want to put out a book in which people that aren’t necessarily represented enough in media can see themselves reflected in it in a positive way, so if you have an opportunity presented on a silver platter like Jughead, really, I feel like your responsibility is to go with that and serve that underrepresented reader.” If you’re part of a minority, you feel down in your bones just how true that statement really is. I wish I had this version of Jughead in my teen years. If I’d known about asexuality back then, if I’d seen it so positively portrayed as it is in Jughead (and Archie, for that matter), that’s decades of depression, self-loathing, insecurities, anxiety, and painful personal choices I wouldn’t have had to suffer. Even now it sucks getting so little representation in media that doesn’t distort aces and aros as emotionally or psychologically troubled or in need of a good lay. So “ecstatic” doesn’t even begin to cover my feelings toward this new Jughead.
Outside Jughead’s orientation, Jughead the series is as captivating as Archie. Zdarsky’s Jughead is less the fool and more the kooky friend who sees more than he lets on but gets sidetracked on harebrained schemes. The plots about Principal Stanger taking away Jughead’s beloved greasy foods, ruining his streak of no detention, forcing him to participate in PE (a punchline set up in Archie), and possibly planting evidence to get him expelled are played out in increasingly absurd scenarios made even weirder with Jughead’s bizarro, pop culture-themed revenge fantasies. Archie is sincere but funny while Jughead is funny but sincere.
Chip Zdarsky is a singular voice in an overcrowded field. He is masterful at dry wit and absurdist humor. Jughead is simultaneously both silly nonsense and subversive satire. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the perfect vehicle for Erica Henderson’s talents, and her pairing with Zdarsky here is a close second. Her young, playful style is the exact fit for Jughead’s tone and Zdarsky’s script. Her expressions and poses push the punchlines to be even funnier than the standalone joke. Once again Jack Morelli’s lettering is in fine form, keeping pace with the panels and somehow also remaining as light and airy as the story and art.
Archie Comics is quietly doing spectacular work in the medium. All-ages doesn’t have to mean airheaded fluff, not if Waid, Fish, Zdarsky, and Henderson have anything to say about it. After Archie and Jughead, you can bet I’m excited about the upcoming Betty and Veronica series set to relaunch this summer with Adam Hughes (if it ever gets off the ground), and the gossip around the future Kevin Keller relaunch with Dan Parent and J. Bone sounds very intriguing. In the meantime, I’m going to go read Archie and Jughead for the third time this week.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.