Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s “Jughead” is clearly trying to be different from previous incarnations of the character, where he was portrayed as Archie’s goofy, bumbling best friend. That’s a good call, and something I appreciate. In reading “Jughead” #3, though, it’s hard to keep from feeling like the duo are leaning on a crutch that is no longer necessary, and it’s actually starting to hinder the book.
At a glance, “Jughead” #3 is very similar to the previous two issues. We get part of the issue set in the real world — in this case, following up on Jughead’s expulsion from Riverdale High — and then an extended fantasy sequence that is tangentially connected to what’s just happened. The first time around, it was pretty funny, if slightly forgettable. With this third descent into “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” territory (this time involving secret spy groups), it’s actually somewhat annoying. The reason? The real-world story is far more interesting.
Zdarsky’s story about Jughead’s ongoing battle against the new principal is a lot of fun. I like how Jughead’s father has gotten pulled into the fray, and how Jughead is clever enough to avoid further punishment even as Principal Stanger zooms in to dish out more. Depicting Jughead as an offbeat but clever guy is a great move for the character, and his tactics to try and come out ahead are entertaining. So. when we see Jughead go back into a fantasy world, it’s frustrating. They don’t advance the plot, and the parodies themselves have gotten less interesting with each new iteration. I can understand it being used to try and pull in some extra readers at first, but — at this point — I’d rather see them go away. Zdarsky has developed a fun take on the character — his attempt to play a videogame with an imaginary controller is a perfect cold-opening to the comic — and it doesn’t need these diversions to spice things up. It’s already gotten to the point where the comic is better without it.
Henderson’s art has a slightly exaggerated style, something that works well for the offbeat world of Jughead. Don’t confuse exaggeration with a lack of ability, though. She’s very careful and deliberate here; look at how Jughead and his father look very similar without being carbon copies of one another. When it comes to chilling looks in comics, search no further than Principal Stanger; who knew a comic book character could make you squirm in your seat and make you feel like you were a teenager all over again?
“Jughead” #3 is good overall, but it’s the real-world sequence that’s great. Hopefully, the fantasies won’t stay a part of the title for too much longer; Zdarsky and Henderson have given us a take on the character that doesn’t need anything to prop it up. Jughead is a good modern hero for modern times under their capable hands.