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For the last few years, Archie Comics has completely reinvigorated itself by attracting top comics to the stalwart publisher of young adult comics, then allowing that talent to update classic characters to the modern day. Josie and the Pussycats #1 is no exception. Writers Marguerite Bennett and Cameron Deordio, alongside artist Audrey Mok, have taken the Archie spin-off girl-band into the 21st century with all of their charm and fun intact.
If you’re a life-long comic-book reader, at some point you read Archie Comics and their spin-offs. And I’m a life-long comic reader. The digests sold in supermarkets and drug stores were pretty much required reading on long car trips or vacations. And those digests would feature contemporary stories alongside old Archie strips first published in the 1950s and 60s. So, though the strips were corny and occasionally laughably outdated, they also maintained this incredible sense of whimsy and charm. When Archie Comics began its “New Riverdale” line, what made them work so amazingly well was that they were able to push the comics in new directions and modernize them completely without ever sacrificing that familiar cornball whimsy that typifies the universe.
Bennett and Deordio’s story here is a perfect example of that. The issue introduces Josie, Valerie and Melody as modern girls, each with a distinct personality, and shows them hastily coming together to form a band. Over the course of the issue, we see them meet and form the band, climaxing in their first very modest concert and an encounter with a record producer. The speed of the narrative is, of course, ridiculous. The amount of things that occur in this one issue are bonkers. But, that is exactly the way that narratives happen in Archie Comics, and have for all time. These strips were never beloved for their narrative complexity, and this issue definitely follows that trend. But that is a huge part of what makes Josie and the Pussycats #1 feel authentic and worthy as the new version. If it had been completely unlike its predecessor, then it would lose all of the warmth it has, even if it would have felt more innovative.
What allows that familiarity to not be a negative is the freshness that Bennett and Deordio bring to the characterizations of the Pussycats and their supporting cast. They feel well realized and more complex than Josie and the band were in the past. None of these characters would be out of place in any other YA comic made today, and that complexity helps endear them to the reader quickly. They feel like real people living in 2016, not throwbacks to a time when the kids hung out at the Malt Shoppe (was that ever a thing, really?).
The art by Audrey Mok is also a big success, too. Using a style clearly influenced by manga and anime, Mok brings a delightfully wacky energy to the issue that helps sell the heightened emotions of the story. There’s a great sequence that sees Melody rescue a stray cat that is (and there’s not a better word for it) adorable. That quirkiness is perfectly pitched to be endearing without being cloying. The end result is an issue that looks like something wholly contemporary but feels not unlike the classic strip as drawn by the legendary Dan DeCarlo.
Josie and the Pussycats #1 is another hands-down success for Archie Comics, who continues to be in the midst of a creative renaissance. Not content to cruise on a wave of nostalgia, the issue feels vital, witty and packed with enough charm to bring anyone on board. And that’s why it’s earned a solid 8.5/10.
Josie and the Pussycats #1 will be released Sept. 28, 2016.