a KC COLUMN by KC Carlson
It’s weird to think that I’ve been doing these columns for Westfield Comics for close to 10 years now. The only reason I’m bringing this up is that I’ve decided to write about Archie Comics’ new Josie and the Pussycats series, and quite frankly, I couldn’t remember how much I’ve written about the series in the past. Using Johanna’s handy-dandy index of my columns at the Comics Worth Reading site, I discovered that I’ve only substantially written about it once — specifically to discuss the contributions of the strip provided by Josie DeCarlo (wife of artist and co-creator of Josie, Dan DeCarlo) at the time of her passing in 2012. (Dan passed away in 2001.)
I have a predilection for championing comics’ “cult” characters over the obvious stars. I prefer Legion of Super-Heroes to Superman and Josie and the Pussycats (first introduced as just “Josie” or “She’s Josie” in 1963) over pretty much all the other Archie titles (except for maybe classic Little Archie). I love best the older (1960s) Dan DeCarlo-drawn series, but this new series has real promise, assuming it calms down a bit. This new Josie and the Pussycats series is by Marguerite Bennett, Cameron Deordio, and Audrey Mok. Those first two are the writers and the latter, the artist. Also, if it’s not clear, the first and last are women, and the one in the middle is a guy. After years of comics made by and for only men, I’m excited to see a greater range of creators working these days.
“EAST, WEST, NORTH, OR SOUTH, GUARANTEED TO ROCK THE HOUSE”
Josie and the Pussycats isn’t your usual Archie comic book. Panel three of the first issue is captioned “Win Some, Booze Some. Riverdale” as we see Josie bombing on stage of a local dive bar (named Win Some, Booze Some). Although that’s an unusual setting for an Archie comic, it makes sense. In the real world, music — the kind that the proto-Pussycats aspire to — largely takes place in dive bars — at least until you’re successful.
The feisty bartender, named Pepper, ejects the only paying customer in the bar for not paying attention to Josie on stage. Longtime Archie fans know Pepper as Josie’s feistiest friend from the early days of the Josie comic book, before she disappears without explanation when the band concept takes over the book in the late 1960s. There are several things going on in this scene that have never taken place in a traditional Archie comic book — like it’s set in a bar! and the characters are actually rude to each other.
This title is also a bit more mature than the traditional Archie comics of the past. It’s not obviously mentioned, but here the Josie characters are a few years older than the concurrent high school Archie characters. There are clues throughout the issue: Josie and Melody are roommates. Most of the characters have jobs (or aspire to have them). Their parents are not shown. They are allowed to work in dive bars. Nobody talks about school. In issue #2, they drop whatever they’re doing to go “on tour”. They are young adults, out on their own.
It also should be noted that, like the entire new Archie comics line, this once traditional comic for children is now rated Teen — mostly for dialogue, double entendres, and such. It’s not especially harsh, but if you’re older and remember reading the Archie line as a kid, it’s an initial shock to hear more mature dialogue coming from these iconic characters. Again, because the Josie cast is several years older than the other Archie characters, some of their dialogue and expressions are slightly more mature than you may be expecting.
FRIENDS AND FRENEMIES
Also here is the debut of Josie frenemy Alexandra Cabot, one of the Riverdale rich elite. She appears in several scenes in the first issue, interacting with many of the main characters, as we watch her jealousy of Josie slowly build as she attempts to twist characters to come to her way of thinking. It will be interesting to see how she’ll be used in the future, as the series so far seems to be headed beyond Riverdale into professional show biz. It remains to be seen how some supporting characters will adapt to that change.
Of course, Melody and Valerie are introduced. Melody is still as sweetly ditzy as previous, and now she’s Josie’s roommate. Melody is even more obsessed with small animals than she used to be, especially abandoned ones, which leads us to meeting Valerie, who just happens to be working at the Riverdale Animal Shelter. After Melody causes an incident by falling in love with every animal in the place, only Valerie can calm the excited animals by singing to them. Her awesome voice means an offer to become a Pussycat is extended and accepted — leaving the three just six hours for some serious woodshedding before a charity concert in the park.
The concert doesn’t go that well, with lots of improvised (and nonsensical) lyrics and (visually hinted) bum notes. The crowd is restless and rude and includes Alexandra, who seems to be the only person present to be inspired by the band. Unfortunately, she’s inspired to hate them.
What keeps Alexandra interesting as a character (beyond what would otherwise be the one-note rival role) is how deviously clever she is with her manipulations. Both Melody and Valerie are inspired to turn on Josie within a few minutes of talking with Alexandra, who raises doubts about the band in them both. Thankfully, the proto-Pussycats are all rational people, able to work out their differences before their second set — which, as we’ve seen in all great musical stories, is SO completely awesome that not only is the crowd totally blown-away, the band is invited to meet a “most renowned and talented music producer — Mr. Alan M.”
Long-time Josie readers know Alan M. (the M. stands for Mayberry — or at least it did…) as the sweetly dimwitted, seemingly super-strong, guitar-playing hunk who became the road manager for the Pussycats, as well as the third part of the romantic triangle which included both Josie and Alexandra. In this new series, it seems like he’s going to be nothing like his previous incarnation (excepting maybe the hunk bit). So far, he’s the slightly mysterious music executive who directs the musical future of the Pussycats. But…
ISSUE #2 PREVIEWED
…We’re not going to learn that right away, because Alan M. does not appear in Josie and the Pussycats #2. (Available TODAY!) Sure, he’s constantly mentioned behind the scenes in this new issue, but the bulk of #2 features the Pussycats on Tour!
It’s not a glitzy superstar jet tour just yet. But they have a very nice bus (which seems designed to have all three girls sleeping in one huge luxury bed), which they will probably need, since the tour seems to include every dump around where the bar fights draw more interest than the band.
However, the plot turns completely nonsensical in a matter of pages. The Pussycats have “accidentally” (thinking they are signing autographs) signed a contract indenturing them to play perpetually in a dive bar in the middle of nowhere. The resulting series of events includes hoodlums, a drag race, “comic book science”, and a weird desert vision.
My head was spinning. I’m sure glad there’s a Frank Doyle/Dan DeCarlo Josie reprint in the back which features the old lunkhead Alan M. and crazy-obnoxious Alex Cabot, who hasn’t yet appeared in the book, but will probably be reinvented in a way that’s a surprise to old fans when he does.
I want to like this book a lot, but I’m finding the stories so far a little too much all over the place. Many of the situations resolve due to the “because I said so” writing rule rather than through character. The origin issue (#1) had things happen exactly when they needed to happen, just because it was trying to get to where the characters needed to be. In other words, we knew we were going to get a trio of girls with a cat theme in a band, and the writers seemed to have worked back from there in too little space to make the sequence of events plausible.
I also (and this is surprising for me to say) thought there was too much “happy ending” for a first issue. Luckily, a bit of reality set in (eventually) in issue #2. It’s much more interesting watching characters struggle for their successes, rather than having things served up to them on silver platters.
Since this is a reboot of an existing property (a few of them, if you count the comic books, cartoons, movie, and even the music), we already pretty much know where everything is generally going. What will make or break this series is how well the struggle for success is depicted — for better or for worse — and how the characters will rise up to climb that ladder. I see enough good stuff here on which to build, but I’m reserving judgment on how well the authors handle it and whether I will agree with their approach in the future.
If I could offer up a two-sentence piece of advice, as an old retired comic book editor, it would be: As much fun as it is to come up with wacky/funny character and situation bits, great storytelling requires having the story be the primary focus of each issue. And if you’re true to your characters, they’ll be there for the fun character bits and shine even brighter with a great story to anchor them!
KC CARLSON: Reading and collecting Archie Comics for over 50 years. You need something to read beyond superheroes. Special thanks to Josh Crawley from Westfield: East for the loan!
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. “Hot lips, we’ll give you that. Stone foxes, that’s a fact. Josie and the Pussycats.” (Less heard lyrics from the movie version of the famous theme song, as was the title of this column. You did know that there were two distinct versions of the theme song, right? The original TV theme and the rewritten version for the 2001 film. Which is greatly underestimated. It was ahead of its time in satirizing immersive marketing and an overload of commercial culture. And you’ve got to love Parker Posey and Alan Cumming teamed up as the jealous bad guys!)