'Jughead: The Hunger' hits stores this week

Cover from ‘Jughead: The Hunger’. Art by Michael Walsh/Archie Comics

By Brad Sun. Of all the press release-ready gimmicks the fine folks at Archie Comics have dreamed up over the years, placing the Riverdale crew in the grim and gruesome world of horror has surely yielded the most artistically successful results.

Something about the devilish mashup of classic grindhouse tropes with the equally iconic archetypes of the all-American gang just rings true. And seeing these wholesome small town friends deal with grisly life and death scenarios has been an irresistible, nostalgia-tinged pairing of seemingly unending possibilities. Jughead: The Hunger is the latest such genre-bending cocktail and follows the winning recipe dutifully. Indeed, all it takes is a (pun intended) killer premise, in this case turning Jughead’s infamously insatiable appetite into bestial bloodlust. The comic nearly writes itself.

This is actually something of a problem. Like a ravenous lycanthrope, the clichés come fast and furious in this newest one-shot. Genre savvy readers, presumably the core audience of these books, will be able to anticipate just about every plot turn from the back cover synopsis alone.

'Jughead: The Hunger' hits stores this week

Interior page from ‘Jughead: The Hunger’. Art by Michael Walsh/Archie Comics

What’s more, running through all these familiar beats in a single issue leaves the story feeling very compressed. At less than forty pages, Frank Tieri’s script at times reads more as a checklist of well worn werewolf tropes than a properly paced story. But even if The Hunger isn’t bringing much new to the genre, there’s nothing wrong with a classic werewolf yarn, given the (pun intended) proper execution.

As with other successful Archie horror books, Tieri smartly plays his premise more or less straight, keeping the jokey winks at the reader to a minimum. But Michael Walsh’s art is the real hero here. A splendid mix of tight drawing and scratchy inks, it grounds the story in a credible, lived-in setting, while still keeping the iconic look and feel of Archie and his crew intact. The coloring, by Walsh and Dee Cunniffe, completes the moody atmosphere of this alternate Riverdale, with a surreal palette that casts everything in eerie purple shadow, even in the daylight.

But it’s all about the vibrant reds when it comes to the inspired moments of monstrous murder. Sometimes tinted deep orange, other times an almost pretty shade of magenta, they work in tandem with Walsh’s clever staging and inventive use of sound effects to elevate the otherwise functional script to more memorable heights.

Archie Comics/$4.99

Script by Frank Tieri.

Art by Michael Walsh.

Colors by Michael Walsh and Dee Cunniffe.

Lettering by Jack Morelli.

6 out of 10