Today, Ryan and Taylor are discussing Jughead 1, originally released October 7th, 2015.
Ryan: Every character has a worldview. Conflicting worldviews can be enough to fuel an entire story. Sometimes, they allow for characters to be dismissed or reduced. Jughead Jones is Archie’s food-loving, girl-indifferent, and lazy best friend. Jughead #1 digs deeper into his way of seeing the world, retroactively justifying and deepening decades worth of burger and nap jokes.
We meet up with Jughead when he believes that he has it all figured out. He has the school lunch menu memorized, taught his body not to need sleep and has a loyal dog that can answer doors. Even when his principal is ousted, Juggie keeps a clear head. That is, until his lunch is swapped for gruel. Now, Jughead has lost his chill and it sends him into a fainting spell. He dreams of an Archie/Game of Thrones crossover and when he wakes solves the dual problems of Betty’s fundraising and the student body’s need to eat junk.
Chip Zdarsky introduces Jughead alone in his room, playing video games and accumulating more and more food refuse until it’s morning and time for him to go to school. On the surface, this is just what one would expect from Archie’s lazy sidekick with a bottomless stomach. Zdarsky quickly dispatches with that simplistic take and has Jughead reveal that he has figured out how to game his body and forgo sleep in favor of more gaming time without ill effect. This feeds into Jughead’s primary philosophy, one that is stated more explicitly later in the issue. He understands that the power structure is not built for him to have everything he wants, so he will instead work within the system to get the things he wants on a smaller scale. Usually his desires are food oriented but he is quite effective at getting them.
Despite not a lot happening on that first page, Erica Henderson’s art tells us a lot about Jughead. His ability to sit still, for one. His unending appetite and lack of care about appearances for another. Even the decor in his bedroom is well-observed. Everyone had that snake head lamp at some point in their adolesence. When the video game gets marriage-minded his face makes a small look of disgust. Yup, this is the same Jughead we know and love. It also raises questions about his parents. Mainly- where are they? I mean, their kid doesn’t move for twelve hours while ordering pizza and Chinese. More than all this, later we find out that Jughead didn’t know you could make your own food. Please let the Joneses be super-spies who never come home to their son. That’s a kind of neglectful I can enjoy narratively.
Because this is Jughead’s story, we get to see his friends from a different angle than in a Archie-centered story. In this issue, Archie is a bit of a worrywart and Betty acts as a foil. She is as passionate about change as Jughead is satisfied with his status quo. He is aggressively passive. His defeatist attitude about the power of Betty’s petition leads Riverdale’s Sweetheart to assault him. He doesn’t want to enter into a hopeless fight, he wants to engage in the battles he can win. After his confrontation with Betty, Jughead is given another chance to tell Archie (and the reader) about his philosophy. He says that the “world is out of our hands pal . You just have to make your own weird way in it.” Though Archie calls him cynical, there is something Buddhist in Judhead’s acceptance of the world. Jughead soon finds out that there may be something he is willing to fight for. In the first act of the issue, Henderson uses a variety of greens and blue for the background of each panel. When Jughead and Archie first hear about Mr Weatherbee’s dismissal, the panel is simply their shocked faces and a bright red background. It’s an effective way to show that this is a change to the established world for Jughead.
Even so, Weatherbee’s sad and hunched figure is not enough for Jughead to abandon his indifference. He refines his philosophy to be more about tunnel vision and taking care of personal needs but even this fails him when his lasagna lunch is replaced by gruel. We get our second red panel when Jughead runs to Betty and her crew of protesters for help. Jughead is more upset than we have ever seen as he staggers into the room and ultimately faints before a cynical Betty.
The red panel reappears later in the issue when Mr. Stanger confronts Jughead, but this time, Juggie has the upper-hand. His use of the school’s rules reinforces the philiosophy so clearly laid out by Zdarsky and Henderson. Jughead works just enough to get what he wants within the established rules and then he enjoys the fruits(burgers) of his labors
And then on the next page, we see him sipping a mead milkshake at the bar explaining that it would have been foolish to volunteer. Jughead refuses to be the kind of hero we expect. The GoT story that takes place mid-issue has some nods to the book-cum-HBO series, but it mainly serves as an alternate universe look at the gang. These brief flights of fancy that allow for the dynamics of Riverdale to play out in a variety of worlds are both a fun diversion and a way to play with the stakes of the story. Riverdale Jughead would probably react a bit more strongly to watching his best friend burn to death. Because it is in this world, he is free to eat from the hamburger tree with no melancholy. Plus, it’s just fun to see Betty as Brienne or acknowledge the grossness of Reggie and Veronica making out since they are “third cousins twice removed.” It also allows us to see the people of Riverdale the way Jughead sees them. He lumps Reggie and Veronica into the same semi-incestuous, exploitative, and wealthy family. Archie is distracted from “real issues” by thoughts of some girl. And Moose is a likable galoot with little to say.
Taylor, what did you think of the issue? Are you on board with my super spy mom and dad theory? How about Jughead’s savant cooking ability? Do you think this is the first of many hidden talents? Are you engaged by the promise of further conflict with Mr. Stanger?
Taylor: It’s hard to say where Jughead’s parents are. He, just like the rest of the “kids” at Riverdale High look older than they are supposed to be. This reminds me how the actors in every movie about high school are all actually in their 20s and sometimes 30s. I mean, just look at this face-off between Jughead and Mr. Stanger.
The two look practically the same age in this panel. This being the case, I can only assume that Jughead is actually an adult posing as a high school students. Sort of a 21 Jump Street scenario. Obviously that’s not the case, it’s just the way the characters are drawn. While it’s not a big deal, it is enough to distract me and it makes it hard to believe that we’re dealing with real high schoolers here.
The age of the characters are but one thing that bothered me about the art in this issue. Throughout the pages I was surprised at how little detail was included in each panel and how simplistic the drawings are. Take for example this scene from the Game of Thrones interlude.
The “dragon” guarding the infinite burger is crude and lacks any definition. The fire coming out of it’s mouth could be nacho cheese or steam, and the only way I know it’s not is the following panel. In that panel our heroes are drawn simplistically and with no detail on their faces. Things get better in the third panel but not enough to make up for the previous lost ground. All in all, I’m not sure if the crudeness of these drawings is on purpose or not. It could be that this part of this issue is taking place in Jughead’s mind, and therefore warped in nature. But it’s not clear if that’s the case and when I was reading I found myself distracted by this question and pulled out of the story.
Other parts of the issue similarly had me questioning what I was reading. When Jughead and Archie first make it to school they see Betty trying to get her classmates to sign a petition to save a local forest. Jughead laughs it off at the time claiming it’s no business of his and in the process completely disrespecting Betty and her just cause. Later, after he wakes up from his fainting spell, this happens.
Jughead decides to listen to Betty because she mentions that she makes food. This of course leads to Jughead cooking a bunch of hamburgers and then donating his profits from selling said burgers to Betty. What bothers me about this whole interaction is that Jughead dismisses Betty up to the point that she can lead him to food and show him where to cook. It makes me squeamish to say it, but it almost feels like an endorsement of women staying home to cook instead of being proactive outside of the home. Things aren’t helped by the fact that Betty needs a man’s (Jughead’s) help to save her forest. The whole thing just edges close enough to old sexist motifs enough to make me uncomfortable.
All of that said, this is my first time reading an Archie comic and maybe I’ve mentally preempted myself to read an outdated comic. Still though, there are enough distractions in this issue, from the art to the story, that make me a little hesitant to read an Archie comic again.
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