Today, Ryan and Spencer are discussing Jughead 3, originally released December 30th, 2015.
Ryan M.: My name lends itself to nicknames. Since both my first and last names are easily shorted and morphed, I’ve never had the sort of nickname that doesn’t sound like my name. In middle school, I tried to get people to call me “R Money” but as we all know, you can’t give yourself a nickname. Jughead Jones does not go by a derivative of his birth name, so when the first page of Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s Jughead 3 ends with someone calling him Forsythe, you can tell things are not right in Riverdale.
Only two issues ago, Jughead had everything figured out. Now, he’s been outmaneuvered and can’t even win in his own daydreams. After Principal Stanger planted a knife in his backpack in the last issue, Jughead is expelled. While his father is able to outmaneuver Stanger and get it reduced to a suspension, our hero is in a dark place. His fantasy of saving the world from robot overlords doesn’t end in the usual victory. He has lost his mojo. Zdarsky is able to balance the smart alecky humor while Jughead goes through a bout of depression.
The issue opens the way the series did; with a series of panels facing a barely moving Jughead sitting in front of a video game. In this issue, the video game is all in his mind. There is something truly upsetting about the sequence above. In the first panel, Jughead’s shoulders slump as he looks into his empty hand. In the second panel, his fighting words draw a strong contrast to his hanging head. Henderson is able to telegraph Jughead’s defeat deftly. It is in the last of this series of panels that Jughead receives a further indginity. His mother calls him Forsythe.
All it takes is that one word, and he emerges from his sadness in a more recognizable form than a despondent Jughead Jones. He is a sullen teenager, ready to whine to his mom. We meet both Mr. and Mrs. Jones in this issue and they are instantly recognizable archetypes. Mrs. Jones took away the video game system not as a punishment for a crime she knows he didn’t commit. Instead, she doesn’t want him to waste his time. Their interaction was realistic and recognizable, but it does make me wonder. Where has Mrs. Jones been as Jughead has developed several primary unhealthy uses of his time? Doesn’t she remember two issue ago when he pulled an all-nighter to eat take out and play video games? Jughead’s father fits in a bit better with the Jughead we know and love. Mr. Jones is a fast-talker, a man who manipulates Stanger into easing his son’s punishment.
Zdarsky’s dialogue works in tandem with Henderson’s art here to reinforce Jughead’s parentage. Mr. Jones sets Stanger up in the first panel above with a smile on his face and a relaxed posture. You would almost think he doesn’t have anything up his sleeve. That is, until he sets Stanger up to either accept Mr. Jones’ lie or call him out and confirm his own guilt. It’s a swift move and is reminiscent of Jughead in the lack of tension throughout. Mr. Jones adds the extra bit of threat by mentioning the superintendent, but at that point he is gilding the lily.
Even with the reduced punishment, Jughead has lost control of his life. The drones introduced in the issue provide both a link to the R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. story and a metaphor for Jughead’s helplessness. In fact, Zdarsky and Henderson use the Lodge brand drone to transition between scenes.
We first see the drone as it flies past a worried Betty after her conversation with Mr. Jones. The art seems to be an arrow toward the next page. Betty’s head is angled toward the drone. The placement of the speech balloon gives emphasis to Betty’s musing to herself.
Spencer, what do you think about Jughead’s secret agent theory? While I don’t necessarily subscribe, the building and flying of drones seems like a weird (science?) class assignment. In addition to his parents, we get to see a bit more of the rest of the gang (Chuck, Veronica, Kevin, etc). At this point in the series, how do you feel about the world building going on? In general, how funny did you find this issue? I didn’t chuckle as much as previous issues, but when your protagonist is depressed, it’s bound to happen.
Spencer: Your analysis of poor, depressed Jughead is spot on, Ryan — in many ways he seems to have lost all control of his life. He plays imaginary video games, falls asleep in a diner where he can’t even afford a milkshake, avoids his friends’ texts, and even wanders close to school of all places because he’s so bored. It’s all very un-Jughead-like; he usually shows more grace (or at least determination) even in defeat, and I think we can attribute his current state to one significant fact:
Zdarsky’s Jughead takes immense pride in being able to get away with murder while never once technically breaking a rule. So of course Stanger throws him for a loop; not only does he make it look like Jughead broke a rule he never would, but Stanger cheats — breaks the rules he so strictly enforces — to do so. It’s a situation that must be especially humiliating, frustrating, and reprehensible to Jughead, which would explain why he’s taking his loss to Stanger especially hard.
As for Stanger, I don’t think he’s training the Riverdale kids to be secret agents, but I do think Jughead’s on the right track with that theory. My guess is that Stanger and his new faculty are either with the military, or being bankrolled by the military. It would explain their strict demeanor and new regimented teaching style, not to mention the obstacle courses, hacking classes, and drone exercises. Stanger and his crew are either trying to get these kids interested in the military, or looking for the best candidates for the military Flight of the Navigator style. Either way, it’s just another reason for Stanger and Jughead to be the worst of enemies — there’s nobody less suited for the military lifestyle than Jughead Jones.
Still, despite poor Jughead’s depression and the bleak odds he faces, I laughed plenty at this issue, Ryan. Maybe it’s not quite the laugh riot the previous two issues were, but Zdarsky and Henderson still jam-pack Jughead 3 with more jokes than many series could pull off in a whole year.
This panel is a perfectly executed, beautifully self-contained one-panel gag, but that’s not the only type of joke you’ll find in this issue. I got a good laugh at Mr. Jones consistently getting Betty’s name wrong, at the “new phone who dis” gag, and at Jughead “knowing” that Reggie was a robot (sure he did). Zdarksy and Henderson are getting pretty darn good at mixing humor and plot without either crowding out the other, and Jughead 3 is a fine demonstration of this skill.
Henderson’s art, meanwhile, is just as strong as in the past two issues, but I think what impresses me the most about her work in Jughead 3 is actually the colors. I enjoy Henderson’s choices throughout the issue, but there’s an impressive shift in pallets when Jughead’s fantasy scene begins. Just look at the contrast in the background between pages here.
Considering that the Riverdale kids were just flying drones a few pages earlier, for a moment it seems conceivable that the drone crashing through the window could just be another one of Archie’s klutziness disasters, but even before the thing starts transforming in the next panel, we have that heavily saturated, blood red background outside (not to mention the suddenly oppressive shadows) to let us know that something weird is going on. That red permeates almost every page of this flashback, giving it a decidedly different feel from the rest of the issue, yet still allowing the art to be recognizably Jughead.
That’s an essential skill for this title, because if there’s anything Jughead is, it’s consistently “Jughead.” Jughead Jones doesn’t change or compromise for anyone, and that goes double now that he thinks he has some dirt on Stanger, returning his lost confidence to him in spades. I can’t wait to see how Stanger’s unstoppable force deals with Jughead’s immovable object, especially now that Stanger’s plan seems to be revealing itself. Also, apparently next month’s fantasy sequence is going to be about Jughead as a pirate? Man oh man, I am all over that.
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