“This is not Mom and Pop’s Archie where they’re at the Chok’lit Shoppe sipping milkshakes together. This is going to be people getting whacked here. This is some serious shit.”
With those words, writer Frank Tieri — best known for his work at Marvel, including an extended run on Wolverine — gets to the essence of what Jughead: The Hunger is all about. Following a successful one-shot try out this past March, the first regular issue of the ongoing series that features art from Pat and Tim Kennedy hits stores today as part of the Archie Madhouse line of horror books (which also include Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Afterlife with Archie, titles that have experienced delays due to writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s showrunning duties on Riverdale). Not burdened with the responsibilty of bringing these iconic these characters to television on a weekly basis, Tieri has the time to craft his own twisted take on the Archieverse.
The story so far: Jughead’s insatiable hunger is partially due to the fact that the members of the Jones family have sufferd from lycanthropy seemingly for generations. But he is not the only one in Riverdale with a secret. Seemingly ordinary girl-next-door Betty Cooper is actually descended from werewolf hunters tasked with taking down the Joneses before they can ruthlessly slaughter their innocent victims whenever a full moon rises. The one shot saw the apparent demise of several beloved characters — including Reggie Mantle — while Archie, in typical Archie fashion, found himself suddenly bumbling through a new world he had no idea that was hiding in plain sight the entire time.
In the issue of Jughead: The Hunger that was just released, we see our crown-wearing hero taking work at a travelling circus in an attempt to put some distance between him and the only home he has ever known. He chains himself up at night for fear of harming anyone, but as his plans slowly unravel a surprising evil emerges in Riverdale while Betty enlists another family member to try to take down Jughead once and for all.
It’s a riveting story, one that wears its influences on its sleeve just like pins on Jughead’s ever-present beanie. While speaking to him at New York Comic Con earlier this month, Tieri is quick to cop to the pre-existing horror sagas that are flavoring his unfolding tale. “For the people who say it’s a tip of the hat to Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Yes, absolutely. Guilty as charged.” But its hardly the only pop culture product to have its DNA embedded in Jughead: The Hunger, including a certain John Landis werewolf film from the 1980s. “Literally if you read my script for the one-shot I call for an American Werewolf in London transformation,” he tells us, speaking of the first time we see Jughead becoming his hairy, flesh-eating alter ego. “That beautiful special effect where he’s transforming? Yes, there’s a definite influence.”
Which isn’t to say that Tieri’s storytelling isn’t also impacted by classic horror characters.
“When I approached them with this I said they have great stuff in their horror line. They have zombies, they have witches. But they don’t have a classic movie monster. This is my version (of that). I’m a big fan of the classic Universal Monsters — Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man. In the Wolf Man’s case it’s a tragic story. It’s the reluctant man who has this thrust upon him and does these horrible things but he doesn’t mean it. He doesn’t want to be doing it and that’s what we have here. It’s our ode to classic movie monsters.”
The added pathos of a character saddled with lycanthropy also opens up plenty of creative doors for Jughead: The Hunger to tell stories that are scary, action-packed and melancholy all at once. But will other types of monsters find their way into the pages of the comic?
“I love stuff like Frankenstein vs the Wolf Man, you know what I mean? And after I pitched it (Jughead: The Hunger) I joked and said hey who knows where it could lead? Jugwolf vs. FrankenMoose. Who knows? Yes, we could definitely have other monsters.”
Tieri told us that his favorite characters to write for in this series are Jughead, Reggie, and Betty, the latter of which is unlike any take on her that readers have ever seen before.
“I was always a Betty guy over a Veronica guy. I always felt that there was something underneath there that was worth exploring and that’s kind of what we do here. There’s sweet betty all American-girl but secretly she’s been this bad ass werewolf hunter all this time.”
Readers of Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina have come to expect a certain level of chills and violent gore, and the tradition is carried over into this latest horror title, a fact that Tieri is quick to point out. “The Archie Horror line gets pretty brutal” he tells us, punctuating his point by adding “if you read the one shot, right off the bat we chop off Ms. Grundy’s head.”
Whether killing beloved characters or slaying expectations, Jughead: The Hunger seems unafraid to take chances. This ideology has become something of an company trademark over the past decade, to keep readers interested by challenging preconceived notions about the kind of stories that can be told in Archie comics. Nothing reasonable seems off the table right now, and that inventiveness is infectious.
When asked about what we can expect from upcoming issues, Tieri gives us a tantalizing glimpse of what’s to come.
“In addition to seeing other werewolves and werewolf hunters, something is going on in Riverdale. Reggie might not be as dead as you thought he was and he may be gathering forces let’s say. Stay tuned on that. We’re not quite done with Reggie yet.”
Like Jughead, we are hungry for more.