Today, Ryan and Taylor are discussing Josie and the Pussycats 1, originally released September 28th, 2016.
Ryan: As a longtime Archie comics reader, I’ve read quite a few Josie and the Pussycat stories. I remember the blond ditzy drummer, their shady manager, their frenemy with a white streak in her hair who was sometimes a literal witch, and the striped leotards. I couldn’t tell you much about Josie herself. She is a redhead and nice, I think? After reading Josie and the Pussycats 1, I still couldn’t tell you much more about Josie.
In this issue, The Pussycats form a band, have a bad set, break up and make up during intermission, have a good set and get the interest of a music producer. All of this while introducing the three band members, a nemesis and a wanna be. It’s a lot for any single issue and writers Marguerite Bennett and Cameron Deordio fall short on making the band’s founding member more than a prop for more interesting characters.
Josie is hard to understand. We meet her as she stands on stage at an empty bar singing without accompaniment (though we later find out she plays guitar). She imagines herself as a celebrated singer, but her reality is pretty depressing. Her friend Pepper suggests that Josie is a folk singer, but Bennett and Deordio don’t really give us much to work with in this scene. We know that Josie longs for adulation and her performances are either ignored or derided. Otherwise, she is passive to the point of ineffectual in the scene. It’s not necessary for her to emerge as a hero from page one, but we should know what she wants and be invested in finding out whether she will get it. Instead, she is just moping and blows off her friend who offers her a chance to get a group together and perform at the benefit. This leaves the scene with an interesting narrative question. Why wouldn’t Josie want to do the show? Instead of exploring Josie’s reasoning, we immediately cut to her begging Melody to join her onstage. It is abrupt and doesn’t tell us anything about Josie. Did she blow off Pepper because she doesn’t want an electric cello in the band? Is she only comfortable on stage with Melody? Instead of a character moment, we are left with a title character whose behavior is hard for the reader to understand.
Alexandra is the kind of person to appear at her former bestie’s open mic just to mock her, all the while carrying a notebook with Josie’s name on the top. A name that is circled so that we can’t miss it. It’s an intriguing part of the page. Alexandra’s expression implies some deviousness, so perhaps there is something sneaky happening. My first thought was that it was Josie’s notebook with songs she wrote, but would she have her own name on the top? By writing a scene in which she is an active, albiet mean, participant, Bennett and Deordio are able to make Alexandra dimensional.
Melody is also given a scene to play that allows the reader to get to know her efficiently.
Like Melody, Val is introduced efficiently and with enough background for us to feel like we know her. Mok communicates much of Val’s personality through her body language. Val has a stiffness to her posture and a seriousness to her face. She also has a more dry and dirty sense of humor. Josie here doesn’t seem to get the joke, and Val immediately downshifts to a more serious response. Mok draws Josie with a higher energy level here than in previous scenes. Her fist pumps and dynamic movements hint at a completely different girl than we saw in the earlier scenes.
Taylor, did you find Josie to be an engaging character? There is a lot happening once the story moves to the concert. What did you think of the way the plot was structured? I didn’t really get into character or world design. Do you think that the style worked for the story? Overall, what did you think of this as a first issue?
Taylor: This first issue felt like a whirlwind to me. Hardly had I been introduced to one scene than the next was beginning which lead to the story feeling quite rushed. At best, this means the issue has pacing issues and and worst it means it relies to much on deus ex machina. Indeed, for my liking too many of the events in the issue seemed coincidental and happening for no other than because the plot dictated they should happen. Take, for example, Val’s decision to join Josie’s band. One minute she’s a strange working at the animal shelter and the next she’s suddenly joining Josie’s band without so much as knowing anything about Josie aside from her name (maybe).
Another example of this happens again when Josie and her band perform for the animal shelter charity. After triumphantly performing despite Alexandra’s meddling, they soon learn that a famous music agent is in the crowd and wants to sign them.
To get to this point of signing a contract, so many unlikely events had to occur first in the issue. Melody finds a cat which leads her and Josie to the animal shelter where they meet an amazing musician who readily accepts their offer to join their band for no apparent reason. The animal shelter benefit also happens to be another lucky coincidence for the protagonists as without it they would have had no reason to ask Melody to join their band. The band just happens to sound amazing without ever practicing and this, in turn, leads to them being signed by a record agent who’s skulking around Riverdale. That all of these events align so succinctly in one issue makes them hard to believe. Forming a band is not this easy and Bennett and Deordio seem to overlook this.
All of this is to say that I have a hard time believing most of the events in the issue. If all of these coincidences had been presented in a tongue in cheek manner, I would be more willing to get behind them. Acknowledging the lunacy of a set of events goes a long way to getting the audience to accept them and I can’t help but wish that was the case here.
This gets back to an issue that you were talking about Ryan. The characters in this issue are underdeveloped to the point that it’s comedic, only I don’t think it’s on purpose. When Alexandra fumes at the mild success of Josie’s band at the animal shelter benefit she tries to sabotage the show by feeding lies to Melody and Val about Josie. In a fury, they approach Josie:
Melody is angry because she thinks Josie is trying to embarrass her by playing songs she doesn’t know well. But why would Melody think that Josie, her friend, would do that? And why would she believe Alexandra when she told her? Melody’s response would be reasonable had this been a subject touched upon anywhere else in the issue, but it’s not. Taken alone, it seems bizarrely out of place and I’m confused as to why Melody would be so angry. The same thing can be said of Val, but what’s even more confusing about her is why she joined someone else’s band if she wants to be the lead singer? Had the Pussycats been a band for a long time with Josie denying Val her spot in the limelight, it would make sense. But on the first gig, literally an hour after meeting? If anything, this scene makes Melody and Val look selfish and mean, which I don’t think is the intended affect.
Ultimately what these ghost in the machines moments do is relieve the issue of any tension. Any writer knows that a story relies on the use of tension. It’s important for the audience to feel tension when they think a story won’t finish happily. Likewise, good writers release this tension by either supplying a happy or sad ending. Here though, it never seems in doubt that things will end up happily for Josie and her friends. Throughout the issue it becomes clear that no matter what obstacles stand in their way, the ‘Cats will always prevail. The only thing is that they don’t prevail because they work hard or are good – they aren’t the agents of change in the story. Things end up well for them because they just do. There is no explanation for it, they are just lucky, I guess.
It’s a shame that this issue isn’t better than it is. Mok provides some great artwork and I love her use of asymmetrical and slanted paneling to keep different scenes interesting (as pictured in the panels in Ryan’s write up). And it isn’t only the art that is promising about this issue. Alexandra is already an interesting figure and if anything else, her motivations would be interesting to explore in this series. Additionally, some groundwork has been laid for the characters of Josie, Melody, and Val. My hope is that in the next issue things slow down and we get the chance meet all of these characters instead of just watching the events that are happening to them.
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?