By Ryan North & Derek Charm
Archie’s line of comics have experienced a fair amount of resurgence lately, first with their acclaimed horror title Afterlife with Archie. Following on this success, they turned their attention to more tradition iterations infusing them with A-List talent along the lines of Mark Waid, Fiona Staples and Adam Hughes plus rising stars such as Marguerite Bennett, Annie Wu and Erica Henderson. After Chip Zdarsky wrapped his run on Jughead, Ryan North took over writing duties last month with #9. On Wednesday, his second issue hits the shelves confirming that North’s goofy, upbeat sensibility was a perfect match for the series.
Last issue, North played with Jughead’s longstanding burger fixation by having him develop a crush on Pop’s new mascot: a woman with a giant burger for a head. Each day, the burger would greet Jughead, recommending whatever odd-ball promotion Pop’s was offering that day. Eventually, Jughead worked up enough courage to ask burger lady out on a date only to discover to his disappointment that she was really a normal looking teenager. Oh and also named Sabrina. Yep, that Sabrina . . .
So, #10 opens with Jughead and Sabrina out on a date. Jughead does not engage in this type of activity too often and he is panicking royally. He makes desperate attempts to rope Kevin and Archie into lending a hand while Sabrina keeps excusing herself to the lady’s in order to whip up another spell which might ease the tension. Nothing works. Well, except for a plate of nachos, which Jughead rhapsodizes about in a naturally charming manner. North does a great job of conveying the characters’ personalities easily without reducing them to stock figures. It would have been easy to make them comical sketches, yet they feel more full-bodied than that. Expert character has been a highlight of North’s writing for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and it carries over to this title as well.
North also brings to Jughead his own wacky sense of humor. This is seen most immediately in his use of footnotes throughout the issue. As in Squirrel Girl, these notes can offer embellishments on the plot (“Nobody cares that in MY fantasies me and the giant burger get into sitcom-level hijinks on the regular”) which can grow hilariously meta (“ . . . and yes, nothing could possibly go wrong by [Sabrina’s] combining supernatural powers and teenage feelings. Nothing”). In addition, North lends Jughead a positive ambiance. When post-date Sabrina feels slighted, she tries cursing Jughead with a series of spells, only they all backfire. Each time Sabrina thinks she is cursing Jughead, the situation works out in his favor. This upbeat, jocular tone will be familiar to readers of Squirrel Girl, however, it never feels like lazy repetition. North may be using some of the same story tools, yet, the final product is its thing.
As with Henderson, North has an able artistic collaborator in Derek Charm. There are many visual gags in this issue (Chip Zdarksy high school biology teacher?) and Charm executes them all with finesse. Charm has a smooth, cartoony style which fits well with the aesthetic of Archie while maintaining his own flavorings. He has a knack for capturing facial expressions, especially amidst the fantastical events unleashed by Sabrina’s magics. The best illustration of this is when Sabrina fills a restaurant with swans carrying roses in the beaks, while pelicans bath the diners in rose petals. Archie and a waiter stand in complete awe as the birds gracefully glide by them. Others diners coo their affections, while good old Jughead whistles to himself as he reads something on his phone. It is an endearingly absurd image which sums up quite well the book’s high-spirited appeal.
Overall this was an enjoyable read which should please not only longtime Archie fans, but readers like this reviewer who have little previous experience with the franchise.
PS: “Great things happen when you’re relaxing on a dog.”
PPS: Charm’s rendition of Sabrina’s cat Salem is absolutely adorable.