By Marguerite Bennett, Cameron Deordio, Audrey Mok & Kelly Fitzpatrick
“I was reading Machiavelli at age 11. My gym teacher had to politely dissuade me from playing dodgeball.”
A few months ago, Archie expanded the scope of their recent revival with a relaunch of Josie and the Pussycats. Having gotten the band together in the debut issue, writers Marguerite Bennett and Cameron Deordio quickly sent them on the road and away from the familiar environs of Riverdale. The initial chapters were fun rollicks, full of Bennett’s trademark charming character work and meta-humor. These traits continue in full force for #4, wherein Bennett and Deordio’s references range from Homer to Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull to Zach Snyder’s Superman movies (as is “Damnit Melody, crime fighting isn’t in our contract! None of our moms are named Martha!” Seriously, David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio are never living down that one). However, in the midst of all these madcap hijinks, Bennett and Deordio are also crafting an ever deepening portrait of female friendship and empowerment. Last issue saw Josie confront some of her failings towards Alexandra, a scorned childhood friend. The latest installment offers up lessons about romance and self-worth. Josie is shaping up to be not simply an entertaining comic, but an affirmational one as well.
#4 finds the Pussycats in Rome for a photo shoot arranged by their manager Alan. When an assistant forgets one of the costume jewels, the trio heads off to return it, only to find the shop in mid-robbery. Hence ensues the above mentioned crime fighting along with plenty of puns. It is a delightfully outrageous sequence which expertly conveys excitement, character beats and humor in a handful of pages. Credit for this should be shared with artist Audrey Mok for her free-flowing layouts and clear figural work. Her ability to illustrate the outrageous with a straight face makes her art a great match for the script.
Once the overwhelmed crooks have been returned to the mantelpiece, Bennett and Deordio settle into the main focus of the issue: the simmering romance between Josie and Alan. Developments in this area were teased last issue but derailed due to a t-shirt cannon and similar distractions. This issue though, Josie and Alan resume their flirtatious cooing. Alan guides Josie through his view of Rome, which includes meandering through the Coliseum at dusk. Josie’s sense of being swept off her feet is aptly illustrated by Mok with a dreamy splash page capturing the two at the height of infatuation, gazing deeply into each other’s eyes, as rose petals drift around them. As with much of the series it finds the right balance between cheeky and sincere.
It has been quipped that the course of true love (let alone the puppy variety) rarely runs smoothly, which is indeed the case here. Intentions are misunderstood; each party makes assumptions which did not match the other’s. Bennett and Deordio put Alan in a situation where he could easily have come off as a sleaze. Instead, they let the reader see his perspective while simultaneously validating Josie’s anger. Neither party is inherently bad; they simply misread the signs. An even more important lesson, though, comes when Josie has a heart-to-heart with her bandmates. The other women offer comfort, sympathize and rage (did Melody see the recent Broadway revival of The Crucible during a New York stopover?). One of the strengths of this series is how Valerie and Melody are developing as characters in their own right. This is especially true of Melody. Bennett and Deordio have found a way to riff on the traditional “dumb blonde” aspect of her personality while also subverting it. After all, Melody is the one making all those literary allusions, at one point sighing in exasperation “Is Alexandra the only other person in this [comic] who reads?”
Such strong character work is the core of Josie and the Pussycats, giving it a heart beneath all the quips and puns. In the end, the most important lesson Josie learns in #4 is not about men per se but herself, specifically how she needs to define herself by her expectations not theirs. This independent spirit combined with the entertaining storytelling is what makes Josie such a great addition to Archie’s recent streak of successes.