It feels pretty hack to start a review by talking about Archie Comics as if you’ve never heard of it. If you know anything about American comics then you probably know the name Archie because that brand is ubiquitous as one of the few comics that is readily available outside of comic shops and book stores. My introduction to Archie was actually a Jughead digest my mom bought me in a grocery store checkout line because the kids needed something to distract them on a long car trip and she knew Archie. But all the brand awareness in the world doesn’t translate into sales when you have to contend with weird distribution systems and the evolving market for comics specifically and print media as a whole. So Archie Comics did what a comics publisher does when it wants a sales push and decided to reboot their line this year after receiving acclaim for a series of titles (Life with Archie, Afterlife with Archie) that respected the history of the material while also pushing it into new directions and genres.
While critically well-received, the recent reboot of Archie reads like an imitation of the ‘90s teen movie that would make the book feel quite dated if it weren’t for the fashion forward character redesigns deftly executed by Fiona Staples. There’s nothing broken about the Archie line and it doesn’t need updating so much as a makeover which is something that Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson pull-off magnificently in Jughead #1.
The perfect fit for a title like Jughead #1, Chip Zdarsky is primarily known to comics readers as the writer on the humor Howard the Duck and Kaptara as well as being the co-creator and artist of the incredibly funny Sex Criminals. Look a little deeper and readers will notice that Zdarsky doesn’t just wear a Garfield costume because it makes his butt look nice but because he has a deep and abiding love for the comic strip. He approaches this comic in part like a comic strip with pages like the one that opens it that tells a single, self-contained joke while also splitting the book up into different parts. There’s great economy to the storytelling in this book as it takes on an interesting structure in which one story is split apart with a fantasy sequence that recaps the first part and informs the reader of how the second one will resolve.
The true genius of Jughead #1, for as funny as it is, might be the casting of the creators on it since Erica Henderson already seems in lock step with Zdarsky in their approach to the book. Henderson has recently met mainstream success as the artist on the New York Times Bestseller The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl where she enlivens that book with her playful, animated style. She wonderfully bridges the traditional Archie style with the aforementioned fashion forward redesigns by Fiona Staples to create a book that looks like an Archie Comic that learned to dress itself better. Betty wears a teal romper in this issue that made my jaw drop because it was something I never expected to see in an Archie comic but was absolutely the sort of thing one could see her wearing. Henderson gets to stretch her muscles even more as she illustrates the book’s middle chapter fantasy sequence that allows for even more outlandish action and visuals.
It’s worth noting that while Zdarsky captures the tone and characters of classic Archie, this comic doesn’t actually read like something that could have come about without the reboot. Zdarsky’s writing is plenty playful with the underlying concepts, poking fun at them without making fun of them, and injects a level of self-awareness to the project. The more humorous bent to Jughead allows the book that wiggle room as it simplifies the approach to character and focuses on delivering jokes based in those characters and their established dynamic.
Jughead #1 is about as good as a first issue gets. For existing and new readers, it tells you all you need to know and that is that Jughead Jones really likes hamburgers.