Jughead as Thurber Man attending Degrassi High

Jughead is best when his story stops being THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY and attempts to be Degrassi High. I preferred Volume 2 of Chip Zdarsky’s Jughead over Volume 1. It felt a little deeper than the first. More thoughtful. Volume 1 felt unimaginative despite the Jughead’s fanciful daydreams. It was formulaic and overly reliant on a James-Thurber-daydreams-of-a-hapless-human plot template (eg. a stressful real-world situation would occur and Jughead would respond by dreaming himself into a hero role). This would have been OK, if there were catalysts in the dreams that called Jughead into real-world action. But they didn’t. The dreams were superfluous, revealing nothing to develop Jughead as a character or provide clues to that would jar Jughead into action.

Wikipedia credits James Thurber with the invention of the “daydreams- of-a-hapless-human” template through his short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” This includes Ralph from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Ralph was my first exposure to it. Wikipedia’s THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY entry credits Thurber with inspiring Chuck Jones to create Ralph. It also cites a Today in Literature post referring to Mitty as “the archetype for dreamy, hapless, Thurber Man.”

In Volume 1 of Chip Zdarsky’s Jughead comic, Jughead Jones is a derivation of the “Thurber Man” – brave knight, superhero, super spy – you name it and Jughead Jones is it to tackle Riverdale High School’s new, more authoritarian principal. The appeal for me, however, was this version of Jughead, who on the outside seemed to be a slacker but on the inside was a “plotter” – someone akin to a wholesome grifter who (as he states multiple times throughout Volume 1) “loves the rules” for the challenge of seeing how far he can bend them. I would have preferred more snarky retorts and clever workarounds from Jughead instead of simply being plopped into one of his flights of fancy.

Volume 2 was deeper with a more satisfying story. I shared the opening pages with my son, asking, “This look familiar?” The adventure in Volume 2 begins when Jughead’s father pushes him out the door, encouraging him to “go outside and do stuff.” We laughed at its familiarity. Like Jughead my son is also a big gamer.

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Happily, no daydreams were depicted in Volume 2 (though there is witchcraft). Jughead does actually go outside and “do stuff” with Archie, who grudgingly agrees to spend some quality time with Jughead in the woods like they did when they were children. However, their plans are rudely dashed when its revealed that their weekend is happening right in the middle of a Mantle (as in Reggie) family reunion. In addition to jet black hair, all the Mantles seem to share the same bullying character trait.

But as more is revealed the Mantles aren’t the true antagonists in the opening story of Volume 2 – It’s Jughead’s best friend Archie! He has ulterior motives for joining Jughead in the woods which widens a rift between the two friends. The remainder of the story is spent repairing that distance between childhood friends. This relationship conflict between Archie and Jughead was by far more interesting than any of the daydreams or conflicts in Volume 1. I wanted more though. I want Degrassi level conflict but through an Archie Comics lens. 

Jughead is his own worst enemy in the second half of Volume 2 when we’re introduced to Sabrina (who is featured on the cover). Leaving Sabrina under the suspicion of being a witch instead of establishing it as fact in Jughead’s universe might have been a way to address adolescent issues of bullying. It might have been more interesting to have Sabrina the victim of coincidence and circumstance leading to her peers believing she is a witch rather than depict her powers outright as real.

In both volumes 1 and 2, Jughead claims he is asexual. With Archie being his opposite – a stereotypical girl-crazy teenaged boy — there’s the potential to build some interesting conflicts between the two friends. The tension from the two childhood friends developing different interests and sitting on different rungs on the social ladder were touched upon in the first half of Volume 2 and I hoped that it would have continued through the second half. Through a “Degrassi lens” this aspect of the story might have been an interesting exploration of peer pressure and growing out of your friends. Unfortunately, the story never ventured beyond the superficial.

Volume 2 provided a more interesting story about relationships (friend and dating) where Volume 1 walked from one daydream to another. I am hoping Volume 3 provides a little more depth and sophistication.

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