Archie Andrews isn’t the cool one anymore. Jughead Jones is.
Ever since Archie Comics rebooted their iconic milieu of Riverdale to be more modern and complicated, Jughead Jones has been stealing just about every scene he’s appeared in. This week, he starts headlining his own ongoing title, written by Sex Criminals co-creator Chip Zdarsky and drawn by Erica Henderson, artist on Marvel’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Their efforts, combined with those of the creative team on the main Archie comic, make Jughead Riverdale High’s standout character.
Traditionally, part of the core conceit of the Archie universe is the idea that Archie is the one to envy and admire. He’s got two girls fighting over him, gets into wacky or dramatic scenarios and flirts with small-scale rockstar status. Jughead was the goofy best friend/sidekick, always hungry and ready with sardonic, sometimes corny observations. Those personality traits are still in place but Zdarsky sharpens them all to a cutting edge.
See, Jughead isn’t the franchise character for the eponymous publisher. That gives creators a wide latitude to do all manner of things with him; Zdarsky takes full advantage of that. Jughead serves a laconic too-cool-for-school foil for everybody in this first issue: he laughs off the notion that he needs to sleep and shrugs at Betty’s conservationist protests. But then a corporate suit type guy named Stanger takes over as principal and changes the cafeteria’s main offering to a flavourless Soylent-alike paste.
Jughead can’t stay aloof anymore…
and then a fantasy adventure send-up takes over the comic for a few pages.
When things snap back to reality, Jughead has one big epiphany that leads to another hilarious sequence.
He gets his revenge against the new stick-up-his-butt principal, of course. And that victory is telling because it shows how the axis of cool in Riverdale has shifted heavily towards Jughead. One could argue that Archie Andrews is a progenitor of the cool-teen archetype that gave us characters like Ferris Bueller. But he’s more hapless in the new modern-day version, blown this way and that by unforeseen quotidian vicissitudes. Now it looks like Jughead Jones is going to be the man with the plan. Mess with his hamburgers at your peril.