A few years ago Archie Comics launched their horror line, now known as Archie’s Madhouse, with their debut title Afterlife with Archie, a quirky zombie tale that delighted in showing the gruesome deaths of more than half of The Riverdale Gang at the hands of some all-too familiar zombies. Afterlife exceeded everyone’s expectations in a big way. It was finely crafted, brilliantly plotted, intelligent, witty, fun, and above all masterfully conceived by writer Roberto-Aguirre Sacasa and comic artist-extraordinaire Francesco Francavilla. This success was followed by the thoroughly creepy and ultimately disturbing The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which made everyone’s favorite teenage witch into a morally ambiguous creature of tremendous power and wrath. In this re-imagining, Sabrina deals with horrors on a daily basis that would turn most of us into quivering sacks of jelly. The story at times summons shades of The Exorcist, The Wicker Man, The Omen and The Craft, frightening the socks off most stalwart readers, even us hardcore horror fans. Even though both titles have since fallen behind on their publishing schedules (although Sabrina is far more consistent than Afterlife) they managed to firmly ensconce Archie Horror among the other popular horror publishers of the modern era. Far from resting on their laurels, a third title was released in 2017, starting with a one-shot in March to introduce the concept and to tantalize the readers, and a first issue in October. Not surprisingly, it tackles the Werewolf genre (it was either going to be that or Vampires, since they’ve already done Zombies and Witches, right?) The book’s name? Jughead: The Hunger.
The story opens with the rather gruesome murder of one of the more famous adults of the Archie comics universe. The horrible demise of said adult is a beautifully grotesque (how’s that for an oxymoron?) set piece expertly crafted by artist Michael Walsh. Right away it sets the tone for the series, which is as far from Archie’s usual fun-lovin’ fare as Ethel is from becoming a cheerleader.
Immediately after this bloody opening we’re introduced to Jughead Jones, otherwise known as Captain Consumption, The Digestive Marvel, he of the bottomless stomach, the boy with the insatiable hunger. Pretty appropriate, right? I mean, Jughead has always been known as an indiscriminate connoisseur of all things edible. So, after reading the first few pages, you can’t help but put yourself in the mind of writer Frank Tieri as he keeps adding layer upon horrific layer to this disturbing tale. When first conceiving this story Tieri’s thoughts must’ve run something like this: “Sure, Jughead’s a glutton. But what if he was a glutton…FOR HUMAN FLESH? Why not add that to the menu?”
Sure enough, that very night, after a marathon All-You-Can-Eat Buffet at Silver Stables, Jughead heads home just as the full moon rears its sallow head, only to be confronted by resident egghead and diminutive geek Dilton, who wants Jugs’ input on the recent slew of murders perpetrated by he whom the papers have dubbed ‘The Riverdale Ripper.’ Jug feels a change coming on and tries to shake Dilton, but it’s too late. A horrific transformation takes place, seemingly taking it’s cue from The Howling.
The next morning Jughead wakes up to find himself covered in blood, with the gory remains of his late night snack lying at the foot of his bed. He completely freaks out and runs to Archie’s house, only to find that Archie and Betty are well aware of what transpired the night before. Apparently Archie witnessed the bloody events firsthand, and while he is willing to give his old pal a good talking to, Betty says hell no! and starts beating the crap out of ol’ Jughead, Buffy-style. (Turns out she’s the latest in a long line of Werewolf Hunters who’ve been tracking the Jones family for centuries. Who knew?) To Archie’s horrified amazement, Betty pulls a gun (presumably loaded with silver) and gets ready to turn Jughead’s brains into a splatter pattern of modern art. And that’s when things get really weird.
Betty suddenly does a double-take and hesitates long enough for Archie to convince her that there might be an alternative to violence. Being head-over-heels and all googly-eyed for Archie, she reluctantly agrees. Doing some quick Scooby Doo research, the trio discover that the herb Wolfsbane might cure Jughead’s lycanthropy, but as to why Betty’s werewolf hunting ancestors have never tried this before, we hear not a peep. Still, the Wolfsbane that they manage to snag seems to work; that is, until it doesn’t. The comic ends with Jughead on the run, a major member of the Riverdale crew turned into dogfood, and Betty more determined than ever to put Jughead in the dirt. Enter the next issue!
Jughead: The Hunger #1
Jughead managed to leave Riverdale with his canine companion Hot Dog and joins a circus, where he cleans up around the place and manages to attract the attention of cute-as-a-button carny named Abbey. Apart from the lions who want absolutely jack to do with Jugs and who seem mortally afraid of so much as a whiff of him, no one else seems to have noticed his inherent strangeness. The full moon is approaching fast, but this time our hero has a plan. A certain escape trunk formerly belonging to The Magnificent Maroni has come into Jughead’s possession, and with the help of chains found within he locks himself up at night in his trailer, for fear of ripping anyone else to shreds.
Meanwhile Archie and Betty are checking out burger joints along the highways and byways, hunting for any clues as to their dangerous (former) friend’s whereabouts. Betty is, as expected, armed to the teeth, and soon introduces Archie to her hick cousin ‘Bo Cooper, who is now in charge of Archie’s training. In their words they’re gonna “toughen him up” and school him in the use of all manner of werewolf killing paraphernalia.
Cut back to Jughead, who wakes up to a fresh dose of horror in the lions’ cage early one morning. Apparently he managed to ditch his chains and ended up doing something horrible <mild spoilers here> to one of the circus folk, a likeable character who was set up for us to care about but was then shockingly dismembered. The image of the remains of said character is enough to make anyone want to retch, including Hot Dog and Jughead, who realize that they have to run again. As Jughead enters his trailer to gather his meager possessions he sees that the chains are completely intact, which means that someone must have let him out. The story leaves us with this little mystery as events turn back to Riverdale, where Veronica Lodge gets an unexpected visitor of the monstrous variety, who huffs and puffs, but needn’t blow her door down.
All in all the art by Michael Walsh in the one-shot is superb, but in my opinion it takes a back seat to the penciling in issue #1, where Pat and Tim Kennedy’s moody pencils simply shine with dark luster. Credit should also go to Walsh and Dee Cuniffe, who administered the colors on the one-shot, and particularly to Matt Herms for issue #1. Their muted black and orange palette added a lot to the stark images of horror in both issues. The writing was fairly straightforward, handled in both cases by Frank Tieri, and manages to introduce the characters quickly and concisely. Almost everybody in the western world is at least vaguely familiar with the personalities of Archie and his gang, but Tieri adds a bit of extra depth to most of them with only a few lines of dialogue and narration. Case in point: Reggie’s anger, elitism and general discontent comes through strongly when vilifying Jughead for his so-called “disgusting” appetite in the very beginning of the story.
Reggie: “Inhuman! Embarrassing! Just plain vomit-inducing!”
Jughead: “Oh, so I get it now, Reggie…It’s kind of like how the rest of us feel whenever we’re with you.”
This is something the old Jughead in the regular Archie universe never would have said. Tieri thereby shows us that this Jughead is a fighter, someone who stands up for his dignity. The nonchalant cypher of a character is immediately replaced by a persona that seems more human, which is ironic for this comic, as it turns out Jugs is anything but. Still, good on Mr. Tieri for making us care about these Riverdale folk… that is, before he brutally snatches them from the pages in bloody chunks.
So heed my advice, dear readers. Go out, get yourself a copy of Jughead The Hunger. You’ll be in for a bloody good time.
Verdict: Big Bloody Thumbs-Up!