Erica Henderson and Chip Zdarsky’s incarnation of this classic Archie book launches the titular sidekick as the most unlikely of heroes. Zdarsky revives Archie’s sarcastic, egocentric best friend with his distinct brand of petulant humor. Though it may be classified as a ‘kids’ comic, Jughead potentially offers the most enjoyment for a different demographic. That is not to say Jughead lacks the intrinsic, whimsical joy found in other Archie books. Rather, Zdarsky’s not-so-subtle allusions are simply more likely to be appreciated by an audience familiar with mature pop-culture content.
Upon learning that the new principle, Mr. Stanger, has mandated only “high-nutrition gruel” be served at the cafeteria, Jughead dramatically falls unconscious. In an indulgent and unconventional poke at a certain popular fantasy drama, Jughead’s dream narrative, titled “Jughead in Game of Jones,” features stock characters in sublimely ironic roles. In his dream, the now former principal Mr. Weatherbee becomes the “Master of Principles” baring an uncanny resemblance to another scheming “Master of Whisperers.” Archie as John Snow is just as splendid as it promises. In this dream, Jughead embarks on a don quixote-esque quest to obtain endless “dragonburgers.”
Zdarsky deviates from narrative conventions with the kind of sheer eccentricity that stops you in your tracks. He demands a light-hearted approach from his readers, seducing them with his charismatic, oddball antics. This naive, self-serving Jughead reminds me of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. Jughead is likewise aloof, and the best comedic turns arise when his childlike perception of reality are dispelled. When Betty informs Jughead that she packs her own lunch, he exclaims with delightful wonderment, “YOU CAN… MAKE FOOD?” Naturally, his ensuing home-economics education reveals a previously unforeseen talent that dually solves the gruel issue and helps Betty’s fundraiser to save the forest. Jughead’s heroics bring a surprisingly instructive issue to light. When Betty hugs him, floating hearts and all, shouting, “Jughead’s a Hero!” he states with clear uneasiness, “Uh, yeah, but like a lone wolf hero who doesn’t like to be touched.” Here Jughead again diverts from the expected.
This kind of instructional jibe runs throughout Zdarsky’s work, appearing in his more “adult” books Kaptara and Sex Criminals. More and more frequently, comics seem to be doing an important job representing characters who speak up when they feel uncomfortable. Though it’s just one line, it’s one that can make the difference between static storytelling, and fresh, forward thinking content.