In 2012, Archie Comics stopped publishing Jughead, their monthly showcase of the adventures of Riverdale’s coolest teen. For the first time since 1949, the character had been without his own solo series. Making matters worse was the fact that the girl-avoiding, burger-chomping youth was the first casualty of the zombie outbreak in Afterlife with Archie. So yeah, Jughead’s had a rough couple of years.
Alas, that is all behind us now as the character once again takes center stage with Jughead #1, a flat-out hilarious rebirth of character that will be seen as one of the year’s best comics.
Written by Chip Zdarsky (bringing the same quick wit to Forsythe P. Jones as he did Howard the Duck) and illustrated by The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl‘s Erica Henderson, the book isn’t so much a bold reinvention of the character — although it is set in the same universe and timeline as Waid’s current Archie reboot, meaning that Jughead’s tragic back story of being a rich kid whose family lost their fortune is likely intact — as it is a reminder of what made people love Jughead so much in the first place. He is a character who is driven by hunger, laziness, and making an artform out of doing not very much at all. Indeed, his eyes only ever fully open when he is outraged, usually about something food-related.
The story concerns Jughead squaring off against Riverdale High’s new principal, Mr. Stanger, when he decides to implement a new nutrition plan at the school that takes away the familiar foods Juggie has become accustomed to. Upon this threadbare plot Zdarsky piles plenty of humor, including an early gag when Jughead has an enthusiatic Hot Dog delay Archie from trying to get him ready for school and a lengthy Game of Thrones spoof that is as surprising as it is funny.
But perfectly suiting its laconic lead, the story action isn’t in a rush to get anywhere, instead taking its time to leisurely lay out Jughead’s solution to his school’s burger crisis. (One that is more than just a little reminiscent of the storytelling of the Frank Doyle/Samm Schwartz days, still the high-water mark of Jughead and Archie stories in general).
The book is also a glorious thing to look at. Erica Henderson’s blending of realism and expressive, almost cartoonish details is the perfect contrast to Zdarsky’s words. And so the way Ms. Beazly drops some gruel onto a shocked Jughead’s plate or the framing of a burger he created in a Home Economics class becomes fantastic visual gags in their own right. Her work here is clearly in line with that being done by Fiona Staples on Archie, but with a skewed perspective that takes you inside Jughead’s world.
With an issue-ending teaser promising the return of the Time Police, Jughead #1 is a textbook example of how to revive a classic character through the writing of someone who truly gets the source material and adds his own eccentric flourishes. You may be surprised by how much this comic makes you laugh, but longtime Jughead fans won’t. They’ve been waiting for this day for awhile.