As the number of cast members and dead bodies continues to grow, “Jughead: The Hunger” still hasn’t found it’s focus, despite some better dialogue and comedic moments. (Warning: contains minor spoilers.)
Written by Frank Tieri
Illustrated by Pat & Tim Kennedy,
Bob Smith and Jim Amash
Colored by Matt Herms
Lettered by Jack Morelli
This is it—the confrontation you’ve been waiting for! Werewolf Jug vs Werewolf Hunter Betty Round 2! The last one ended in a draw—this one may end one of their lives!
Back in the day, when “Jughead: The Hunger” was still just a one-shot anthologized in the pages of “The Archies and Other Stories,” I wondered aloud, in these very pages, “Who are Riverdale’s red shirts?” Not every horror comic relies on a high body count to build and maintain suspense, but it seemed like a safe bet with this one. I mean, we’re talking about one of the world’s most carnivorous teenagers. It’s kind of the only choice. My concern at the time was how the creators would find the sweet spot between killing off some of Riverdale’s most iconic characters, if only in this universe, and killing off total randos we don’t even know, much less care about. In order to make the book work, the stakes have to feel like they’re high. If there’s never any real danger to any of the core characters, there’s really no reason to care. Three issues into the series, that dynamic remains elusive and there isn’t a whole lot of tension.
It certainly doesn’t help that the issue begins with what amounts to a multi-page monologue from Jughead’s cousin, Bingo Wilkins, about all of his own near-death experiences and what it really, truly takes to kill a werewolf once and for all. Honestly, writer Frank Tieri does an admirable job injecting some humor into the scene while also revealing some key exposition, but it still doesn’t exactly throw us into the action.
The book’s middle section tries to raise the tension, but with the introduction of two more new characters and the additional backstory that entails, things remain bogged down. There’s a rather unsettling comedic bit with a bloody steak, but for the most part the point seems to be putting Betty’s Aunt, Elena Cooper, and Archie in the same room. Thankfully, Elena proves to be an interesting character, and clearly she will play an even bigger role as the series goes forward. Meanwhile, however, as in the previous two issues, Archie simply alternates between being mystified, mopey and melodramatic.
All of this is new to Archie, we get that. He’s never been a part of the generations long intrigue between Jughead’s family and Betty’s, but so far all he’s been is the confused, out-of-his-element outsider. There’s never even been a glimpse of the self-assured but klutzy jock-musician we know and love. He’s barely even an afterthought. Until the cliffhanger, that is, and by then it just feels forced.
Visually, the character designs are the highpoint. Cousin Bingo is definitely creepy, with dark, glaring eyes and a leering smile that suggests he’s enjoying his walk on the dark side just a little too much. The werewolves also excel, with the right combination of menace, barely contained brute force and animalistic mayhem with just a bit of kitsch to remind us this is all in good fun.
The colors, on the other hand, feel a bit uninspired. There’s a little too much red throughout, as though colorist Matt Herms was worried that things weren’t bloody enough for a horror book, so he simply started filling panels with crimson whenever it felt a bit slow. Similarly, too many of the scenes feel washed in a dark, dingy green. There’s a lot of action outside, in the woods and grassy fields, which certainly begs for green, but it’s also splashed about in many of the interiors, too. After awhile, it all sort of blends together in a muddy greenish mess of inside and outside, past and present, here and there. Someone made a choice to constrain the color palette, but the reasoning feels unclear. The effect got lost somewhere.Continued below
In the end this issue finds itself in an interesting place, despite the convoluted route it took to get there. Some of the backstory and exposition seem about to be paid off in issues four and five. Sides are being chosen, whether the core characters know it or not. Jughead and Archie will soon have momentous decisions to make and ultimately that’s what this book is really about: navigating friendships, allegiance, loyalty and “doing what’s right.” There’s definitely an interesting premise buried in here somewhere, there are just a lot distractions standing in the way. Hopefully, as the first concludes in the following issues, the book’s creators will cut through the clutter and finally reveal the story inside. It’s a bit chaotic at the moment. It needs to be simplified.
Final verdict 6.3 – The transition from one-shot to series hasn’t been pretty for “Jughead: The Hunger.” With too many minor characters and a lack of clear focus, the book needs to simplify and go back to basics.