Today, the Ryans are discussing Jughead 2, originally released November 18th, 2015.
Ryan M.: Nobody likes a smart ass. Of all the things adults said when I was a kid, this may be the most full of shit. Everybody like a smart ass. They are funny! They say what they want without worrying about decorum and, in doing so, disrupt the mundane. The truth is, what “nobody likes” is being disrespected. And to tell a sass-filled kid that they have the power to undermine you is to further offer them power. In Jughead 2, the new regime at Riverdale High is struggling to regain the upper-hand over King of the Smart Asses, Jughead Jones.
The issue starts with Jughead hanging at Pop’s, mooching a milkshake and bragging about his ability to avoid detention. But, irony being what it is, that’s where he is the next day. His detention-nap is interrupted by Time Policeman January McAndrews and he travels to the future to save the world. Wait — did that seem abrupt and sort of insane? Well, it reads that way, too. Even if you were a fan of Jughead’s Time Police adventures, this plot turn is fast and requires a page of exposition.
Jughead is very quick to understand the rules of this particular time travel story and immediately devises a plan of attack. This genius-level thinking serves to poke more holes in his facade of a dumb slacker who doesn’t know what Harvard is. Jughead may be a lazy joker with a bottomless stomach, but he is also a tactical genius, especially if a plan will get him closer to some food. Writer Chip Zdarsky also makes a tactical narrative decision that pays off quite nicely. By having Jughead and January train in secret, we get to skip the montage of their week of planning and practicing and we just get the fun of watching that plan in action. Later, we get the same fun of being a spectator to the execution of Jughead’s plans as he out-thinks the obstacle course.
While Jughead’s quips make for most of the issue’s humor, Erica Henderson’s art also enhances moments of comedy. After the Time Police adventure, Jughead wakes from his nap to find that his teacher had also fallen asleep. It’s an amusing premise, but the key to the moment is the way it was given space. Henderson offers two long, skinny panels to allow the moment to breathe. In both, the background of the classroom is gone. It’s just these two men, both fresh from midday naps, agreeing to disavow what they know.
These kind of horizontal panels are used sparingly in the issue. Another instance involves Reggie Mantle’s sole line of dialogue, if you don’t count his megalomaniac descendant. Jughead seems willing to murder Reggie in order to save the future, but he also makes Reggie the butt of his jokes without those stakes. In Reggie’s only moment to demonstrate his character, he responds to Jughead’s jabs with a fairly accurate accusation and a side of tame name-calling
I guess what I’m saying is, Jughead may be the bully in this scenario. Jughead is smarter, funnier and has more friends. After their interaction, Reggie is clearly upset and Jughead remains unflappable. If we don’t see Reggie do something awful in the next few issues, I may resort to a head-canon of him sitting across Pop’s watching the gang have fun, trying to hide his tears in his malted while Jughead smirks.
Jughead finally loses that smirk in when the principal confronts him with the contraband knife. It’s a little ambiguous as to whether the knife was planted or Jughead just thought he might have to slice up a hamburger later, but either way, this is a challenge that no amount of sass will overcome. Aside from poor Jughead’s stricken face, the scene in Stanger’s office has a very serious feel. The window seems to be the only light source, leaving the shadows of the blinds across Stanger’s face. By changing the lighting and the style of the scene so dramatically from the rest of the issue, Zdarsky and Henderson grant this moment gravity. The final page features the knife in the foreground at an angle even with Jughead’s jawline. Out of context and without the dialogue, this could be a scene out of a much darker comic.
Ryan, did you find that last scene as effective as I did? How about the Time Police portion? Now that we’ve seen it in both issues, will the Jughead takes a nap/hits his head device get old? Do you like a smart ass?
Ryan D: While the final turn of the issue did come a little out of left field, I thought it served two purposes quite well. First, the discovery of the weapon on Jughead dramatically raises the stakes of the issue from “being inconvenienced by crummy health-food” to “expulsion and possible jail time”. This event will force our Smart-Alec to prove that his tactical prowess goes beyond video games and scheming an obstacle course. This boost is needed to make the plot seem urgent and to give the characters’ conflicts import, but I am surprised that a volta of this magnitude takes place only two issues into the series. Where does this leave our pointy-nosed protagonist to go from here? I think a reverse-Shawshank Redemption issue of Jughead trying to break IN to school could be very fun to read in the hands of Zdarsky and Henderson.
Second, the creative team seems to constantly be having fun pulling the tried-and-true Archie-types (you know, archetypes of Archie) into the modern age, but there is something intrinsically 1950’s, West Side Story about that switchblade stiletto with bayonette-style blade. Archie Comics, in the past, has asserted its commitment “to keep Archie properties reflective of the current world of teens and teen media”, a mission statement which seems to be served well by the past two issues in Jughead. In particular, I found the “changing of the guard” from Mr. Weatherbee to Principal Stanger to be a particularly modern and pertinent inciting incident. Along with the oft-times controversial updates to “a more modern curriculum” and all of the headaches that come with them (I’m looking at you, standardized testing), the new lunch program which had Jughead in a tizzy back in issue 1 seems to mirror quite well the uphill struggle which the National School Lunch Program faces as it tries to implement a lunch which limits fat, sugar, salt, and caloric intake in public schools. The beautiful thing about the world of Archie is how timelessly Americana the setting is, making these changes stand out all the more and allowing them to stand as stronger plot devices and catalysts.
Another enduring high school tradition rears its lovely head in my favorite panel of the issue:
This beautiful, top-down, sun splashed panel brings back memories for anyone who ever ran Track in high school, or those who similarly failed to live up to a coach’s standards, fondly reminding me of the runner’s battle cry, “Our sport is your sport’s punishment.” I only wish the rest of the page was also imbued with the shadow’s dynamic granted by a setting sun; nonetheless, I think that the slim vertical panel on the left lends to the page a wonderful composition, establishing that every other panel happens concurrently and in response to the 2.5 mile run. I just feel bad for those kids, though. Their running form is not only inefficient, but also dangerous. Perhaps the Phys Ed teacher (no PE teacher who works with students over the age of thirteen says “gym class”, Chip!) should pay more attention to that than using a scant school budget on an unnecessary military-style obstacle course. Is no one else furious about this? No?
To respond to Other Ryan’s question regarding the repetition of Jughead’s fantastical dream sequences from issue to issue: While I am, personally, unsure as to how much more mileage Zdarsky can get out of these detours, I doubt they are going anywhere. It seems as if these play an important role for the title: they both add insight on the character of Jughead in regards to what he values and how the gears in his head turn when he uses his brain on the actual problems for which these dreams are allegory, and make commentary on how heavily multimedia influences Generation Z. The time dedicated in this reverie to Jughead explaining the junk science around the time travel seems perfect to me, though:
As director Rian Johnson said in the DVD commentary of Looper, “No time travel in any movie ever makes sense. It’s complete balderdash, and it’s just a matter of tricking an audience into believing it makes sense”, and Zdarsky’s comedic timing knows well-enough to throw some junk science at the intricacies of being a chrononaut and moving the hell on.
Lastly, do I love a smart-ass? Well, sure, as long as they are not pointed at me, and is written by a creative team as charming as Zdarsky and Henderson, or is Paul Rudd. Even someone as ill-versed in Archie as I am enjoyed the high-energy characterization brought to the pages and characters in this title. While some research tells us that smart-asses may have an advantage when it comes to intelligence, it seems as if Jughead will need his cleverness firing at full force to escape the next few issues unscathed. I’ll tune in to see whether or not one-liners and sarcasm are enough to subvert school hierarchies and return the status-quo.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?