“Jughead” #1 takes the titular character and reinvents both the format of the series and the character without disrespecting the work that came before it. Much like Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ fantastic “Archie” relaunch earlier this year, this debut issue is a clear and focused effort by the company to retain its status as the quintessential American teenage comic book. Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson work together really well, as Henderson often enhances Zdarsky’s punch lines with her expressive art, relying a bit more on hard edges than her more rounded character work in “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.” They establish the new visual style of the universe and offer modern, stylish takes on these classic characters.
Zdarsky’s characters read very well on the page, each having a pretty clear voice within his comedic rhythm. Jughead himself carries the story well with a laissez-faire confidence in his own quiet lifestyle of food and video games. He’s an idiot savant, fainting twice from an announcement regarding school lunch and then inventing the perfect hamburger several pages later. The moments of intelligence are comedically heightened enough that it feels earned and not forced, and that’s even with the momentum taking a several page break for a cutaway fantasy story in Jughead’s mind. Zdarsky bids farewell to an old character and introduces a new antagonist into Jughead’s life, who interprets the hero’s actions as a direct threat to his authority. This sounds dramatic but it’s very entertaining, making this a great sitcom companion for the dramady of “Archie.”
Henderson’s character designs are fantastic and everybody’s style is on point. The artist influences the story with more than just good fashion sense; her expressive facial expressions enhance the script, a great exclamation point to many punch lines. Her panel layouts and perspective choices casually guide the reader’s eye across the page with a good visual pace that keeps up with the many jokes Zdarsky writes. Jack Morelli, who lettered “The Infinity Gauntlet,” assists Henderson’s pace, tailing and pulling word balloons along with the art so the reader’s eye doesn’t have to slow down to catch the dialogue. It’s an underappreciated skill of lettering, of which Morelli is a vet.
“Jughead” #1 is yet another great debut issue for the updated Archie Universe. The publisher is taking some stylistic chances and they have really paid off in issues like this. An entire line that was considered past its prime has revitalized itself with a new energy and an updated creative voice. These are the types of fun, stylish and relatable comics that open the medium up to first-time comic readers.