Jughead: The Hunger Has No Bark, No Bite, Some Fleas
Frank Tieri (w), Michael Walsh (a)
March 29, 2017
We all know that Jughead is super hungry, but what if he was hungry for… human flesh? No, we’re not talking about zombie Jughead. You can find him in Afterlife With Archie. This comic is about werewolf Jughead, which is like, so different. If you think werewolf Jughead sounds kind of lazy and possibly not good, you’d be right.
Have you ever hated a comic so much that every positive review of it makes your spine curl and compress with disdain? That’s how much I hated Jughead: The Hunger. It’s not appropriate to roam the internet screaming at everyone who liked the thing that you hate. We bury these sorts of urges because they are cruel and pathetic and just plain rude. Yet, they still remain, don’t they? Isn’t there a part of you that wants to stand up in the middle of an internet discussion and howl WRONG WRONG YOU’RE WRONG? Or maybe it’s just me.
What tips this comic over for me, from “ugh” to “why, god, kill it, please” is the sheer hackery on display. Werewolf Jughead is an obvious enough concept — he’s a teen boy driven solely by his insatiable hunger. I would be surprised if classic Archie comics hadn’t already done a Were-Juggie story or three. Given that, the execution of so simple a concept should be something special. If I, and every one of you reading this review, can imagine a Were-Juggie story, fully formed and in colour, in the seconds it took me to process the phrase “werewolf Jughead,” the eventual published comic must be something more than that basic ass yarn. It has to do more than shamble through the motions of mysterious animal attacks, strange memory loss, and an unusual family history. It must do more than show up at the party in a dollar store costume and holler W E R E W O L F J U G H E A D, M A N.
Sure Frank, we get it.
Jughead: The Hunger shows up but it doesn’t do much more than that. This is a comic that stands in front of the punchbowl demanding you acknowledge its conceptual cleverness before you can get yourself a drink. But this comic is not clever and it is not good. It begins, obviously, with an animal attack. Then we learn that, oh no, there have been several animal attacks and the town is getting nervous. Meanwhile, Jughead is hungrier than ever and has developed super senses and gaps in his memory. An attack. A defence. A surprise antagonist. A little cannibalism — dismount. Every beat in every werewolf story is here, except the good ones.
The art doesn’t help, either. It’s fine, but serviceable in the sense that it lacks memorable panels or page layouts, strictly business in its muddy palette and just-the-facts storytelling. There’s only one page of the comic that stands out and that’s thanks to simple replacement of a heart rate monitor line with a word. That bloody “thump…thump” does more to create suspense and tension than does anything else on this page — to the point where I think all that thinking and speaking is superfluous. Jughead doesn’t need to tell us his heart is beating hard and fast — Walsh told us, with that heart line. We don’t need Dilton’s dialogue, which is clearly filler, not even meant to teach us something about him, or Jughead, or to ratchet up the tension — Walsh tells us that with his body language. I called the art serviceable, but being not so familiar with Walsh’s work, I wonder if Tieri is holding him back.
But let’s get to the core problem of the book. The problem that dogs so many of Archie’s strange failures, like Betty & Veronica and the Riverdale One Shot — why does it exist? Money, of course. The chance of making some cash is always nice, but what is this comic actually about? What is its purpose and who is it for?
Werewolves aren’t interesting because they turn into oversized beasts and eat people once a month. They’re interesting because of the real personal struggles they may stand in for, the social struggles they may represent. In Ginger Snaps werewolves are about puberty and responses to patriarchy. The whole monthly monster thing syncs up well with expectations around female puberty. The whole consuming teenage boys thing syncs up well with our desire to rend and consume the patriarchy. In Teen Wolf, god help me, werewolves are used similarly to explore a boy’s response to puberty, power and toxic masculinity. The first seasons of the show have Scott learning to control his power at the same time he must learn to be a respectful and kind young man. These are both examples of purposeful use of a monster mythology, and I chose properties of vastly divergent quality to demonstrate this essential point — even a hacky teen show is made a bit better when the showrunners know why they made their lead a werewolf in the first place.
Or consider werewolf comics. Anathema is a fairly generic werewolf story in sum, but it’s a lesbian werewolf story a reason. Rachel Deering’s heroine, Mercy, is “a tortured person who walks the fine line between good and evil.” Being a werewolf is part of that, permanently destabilizing her nature and introducing an element of monstrosity that she can never eliminate. It also serves to contrast her with the book’s villains, men whose monstrosity is entirely personal and internal. Then there’s Feeding Ground, which uses werewolves to comment on human smuggling and the Mexican-American drug trade. In this comic, werewolves are contrasted with human “coyotes” who smuggle people across the border, willing to risk the death of their cargo if it means making a buck, and with corporate America, willing to degrade and abuse their local Mexican workers. Werewolves are metaphor and mystery and an integral plot element too.
In Jughead: The Hunger werewolves aren’t about anything save misfortune. It’s a shame that Juggie is a werewolf because he eats a couple of okay people and then of course he must die. But this sudden affliction does not tell me anything about Jughead himself. His brief reign of terror in Riverdale reveals nothing new about the town or the people who live in it. There is, somehow, no pathos in Jughead’s greatest pleasure — eating — twisting itself without his volition into something far beyond his control. There isn’t even a mean joke about his love of meat finally going a little far. There is just a strange one-off reference to Buffy, with Betty revealed as a secret werewolf hunter, some predictable protectiveness from Archie, and a complete absence of most of the rest of the cast. Just as there is no reason this need be a werewolf comic, there is no need for it to be an Archie story — this reads more like a one-off AU fanfic you post on Tumblr late at night when you’re baked, but never bother to upload on AO3 because you know it’s not really that good. Our very hungry lead, supposedly Forsythe P. Jones, aka Jughead, doesn’t even read like Jughead.
The cover of this comic is a tease. It’s meant to lure in readers of Afterlife With Archie and viewers of Riverdale. But Jughead: The Hunger isn’t much like either of those properties, each of which have a clear sense of purpose and identity. Don’t be fooled — this comic isn’t worth your time or money.