One thing I love is when a Double Digest seems to be held together by a gentle unifying theme. Before we dive in, let me admit freely that it’s possible I’m just reading way too much into things, but we all need a hobby.
Let’s start with the cover. What is really going on here? Sure, it’s a classic gag about Jug’s insatiable appetite and chronic poverty, but let’s look a little deeper.
Is Jughead playing a harmless prank, or is it a metaphor for something much darker? Pop is obviously having to hustle business a little more during these tough times. The sign about free ice cream on your birthday is a new addition, and there is a new and hastily made advertisement in the window. Clearly the soda shop business is not recession-proof.
While Archie and Betty yuk it up, there is a real fiscal consequence for Mr. T. Ice cream ain’t free, not even in Riverdale. Of course Pop has to play along with Jug’s transparent charade, he knows the power of a negative review from Riverdale’s most famous mouth.
And what a ridiculous charade it is. A hat and some balloons? Really? If you’re going to defraud someone who has been nothing but good to you, at least put in some effort. We can safely surmise that Jug gave it some gusto the first few times he worked this scam, but he’s clearly just going through the motions.
It breaks my heart that all Archie and Betty do is laugh. They’re complicit in the embezzlement, and they find it hysterical. And why not? They’re so busy operating on the surface, they have no view of the consequences. They don’t see Pop’s classic-Hollywood tuxedo as part of a bid to improve the business and weather the storm (And seriously, with the shawl collar that matches the cummerbund, Pop could be serving soda in a Busby Berkeley movie.). Nor do they see anything wrong with Jughead, who is doing this to get his mitts on yet another needless luxury consumable. Oh, the humanity.
A bold statement about the death of ethics, values and personal responsibility. A clear portrait of a callous younger generation exploiting the hard work of earlier generations with no thought to the consequences of their actions. They simply laugh like hyenas. Jughead and his droogies.
I think it’s safe to say that one of the main themes we’ll be dealing with is superficiality and appearances. Jug commits petty larceny through a superficial con, and his friends are too shallow to see anything but the funny hat. This goes hand-in-hand with personal responsibility, which is a thematic mainstay of Archie.
The lead story, “Feathered Friends”, falls in line nicely with these themes. Archie needs money to date Veronica, and rather than, you know, work for it, he decides to hunt a missing parrot and get the quick cash reward. Despite the fact that he knows nothing about birds, he’s confident he can “wing it”. Rimshot. Of course this doesn’t work, but Archie does land the parrot once he changes into a pirate costume. So the quick and easy path is dependant on your outward image, it would seem.
“Party On” would seems to fall in line as well. Mary has just cleaned the house, and Archie wants to have his friends over. Fred and Mary agree, since Archie’s a good kid with good friends. The next morning the gang all come back to clean up so Mary doesn’t have to. So the key the domestic happiness is for both generations to treat each other respect, and for people to clean up their own messes.
“Ploy Plight” is a total bulls-eye. Dilton want’s Arch to help him get girls, and Archie offers up some shallow tricks and schemes. All of which fail miserably. Who’s that pulling into the parking lot though? Why, it’s Superintendent Hassle with a bus full of female scholars, all of whom are dying to meet the brilliant Mr. Doiley. Don’t bother with superficial games, it would seem that eventually you will meet people who appreciate you for who you really are.
“The Good Skate” scared me for a bit. I thought it was just going to be a classic slapstick strip with no tie to the theme, what with Archie roller skating to school so he wouldn’t be late then crashing into The Bee and sending them both into the school pool. The second last panel pulls it out of the fire though. Archie has no concern for Mr. Weatherbee (not to mention the papers he was holding or his suit), he’s just worried that his skates will rust. And all this happened because Archie can’t be bothered getting up on time.
“The Switch” is a one page bulls-eye. Archie wants Fred to lend him money for gas, but Fred refuses, telling Archie he has to learn to economize. This seems to get through to the boy, who says Fred is right and he needs to save money. The solution? He’ll take Fred’s car. It never enters his train of thought that Fred will eventually pay for that gas, he just knows he doesn’t have to.
“Club Kids” is heavy on the main theme. The girls call the boys neanderthals, so the guys come to school dressed like cavemen. Grundy blows her top because they aren’t wearing pants, but can’t punish the boys because their costumes convinced Superintendent Hassle (getting lots of play this issue) that he needed to give RHS more money for technology. The most important element, to me, is the idea that you can support any outlandish claim (for instance that your school is actually living in the stone age) as long as your appearance backs it up.
“Shady Deal” is right on the money. The story is all about Archie looking for some shades that will make him cool, and after he spends all his money on some sun glasses that he immediately destroys, Betty reminds him that clothes don’t make the man.
“It’s Show Time” is a graphic example of the physical and emotional abuse that awaits anyone who gets involved with a shallow, self-centered person. Veronica’s behaviour is taken to the extreme here in order to illustrate the point.
“Star Struck” is about the fall after your (or Archie’s) ego gets over-inflated.
“Dance Crazy” features the most beautiful Veronica I’ve ever seen. The story is about how people react to someone acting different to the norm in a completely harmless way (Archie can’t stop dancing). We see shame, embarrassment, violence and finally the anger of an authoritarian crackdown. Conform. Now.
“Quiz Whiz” has Archie lose his shot at easy street through his lack of responsibility. Awesome!
“Don’t Rock the Jukebox” is all about Archie playing games with semantics to screw over Hiram. And what did Hiram do to deserve this? He gave Archie an antique jukebox so Arch could have a 50′s party. Those things are worth lots of dough! And why does Archie decide to abuse Mr. L.’s largesse? Because he was worried about his image. Slam dunk.
“Wrestle Maniacs” may as well be called “Never Judge a Book By It’s Cover”, but that’s fine. It fits in nicely with the rest of the issue.
“Happy Times”, on the other hand, could well be called “Cripplingly Horrible Realizations About Life As An Intelligent And Aware Person”. To sum up, Dilton realizes that happiness is a fantastical construct, and the closest he can get is to disengage his mind and lead a life of frivolity. Sigh.
“Fake Me Out to the Ballgame” is another perfect 10, thematically. Archie spends all his time trying not to show Fred his (bad) report card, because then he won’t be allowed to go to the baseball game. In the end it all comes out, and Archie’s total lack of awareness prevents Fred from going to the game too. Poor, poor Fred.
And lastly we have “Great Expert-tations”, the closing story. In it, Archie decides he wants to be a school supply expert at “Rulers”, the store he works at. He then proceeds to put no thought, planning or effort into this new role he created for himself, resulting in poor service, disgruntled customers and (I would think) a drop in sales. After some blind luck keeps him from getting fired, Archie is reassigned and still seems to have no idea how colossally he failed.
All in all, a lot of stories tying directly into our main theme. I love these non-event Double Digests, they seem to have more sophisticated arcs than their big flashy cousins.
A good solid 7.5 for Archie’s Double Digest #207.