Review of Josie and the Pussycats #1

Archie Comics is having a big year. It's the 75th anniversary, and not only did the book get a big and highly publicized relaunch, but the book is also getting a live action series called Riverdale (premiering on the CW January 26, 2017), written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the chief creative officer for Archie Comics. The comic company has relaunched two of their pre-existing titles and premiered several new books based on main characters in the Archie world. We can now choose from the adventures of frenemies Betty and Veronica, rich boy Reggie, and two horror titles (!): Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (the teenage witch). The character of Jughead, Archie’s food loving best friend, also got his own self-titled book this year. That book made a lot of waves in the LGBTQ geek community when Jughead was revealed to be openly asexual. Asexual representation in the media is even rarer than bisexual and transgender representation, so this was really big and exciting news to a lot of people.

Continuing with their book relaunches, Archie Comics relaunched Josie and the Pussycats on September 28. Josie and the Pussycats has a long history that covers several media. Many people know the original animated girl band everyone wanted to be in (sorry, Jem and the Holograms) from the 1970–1971 Hanna-Barbera animated show. The original book itself had a long run, from 1963 to 1982. Most millennials probably know the Pussycats from the cult favorite 2001 movie starring Rachel Leigh Cooke, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson as Josie, Melody, and Valerie.

In terms of cultural impact, it's worth noting that Valerie was the first Black female character regular on a Saturday morning cartoon show, which was a victory on the screen and behind the scenes: Hanna-Barbera (the cartoon studio that also gave the world The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and Scooby Doo) wanted the Pussycats to be an all-white group but Danny Janssen, co-owner of La La Productions, the studio responsible for the musical recordings for the show (the Pussycats were created to be a female animated version of The Monkees — a fictional band that creates real music), refused to recast Patrice Holloway with a white singer/voice actress. Hanna-Barbera eventually gave in when Janssen threatened to walk away from the whole thing if they made Valerie white. Interestingly, all three of the Pussycats will be Black women on the upcoming CW show. Take that, Hanna-Barbera!

The 2016 run comes with a solid team behind it. The writers are Marguerite Bennett (DC's Bombshells) and Cameron DeOrdio, with artist Audrey Mok. I assume Archie Comics knew that it was important to have a female writer and artist for this book. Issue #1 revisits the Pussycats' origin story. We get to meet the characters, see how the band is formed, and be there for their first official gig (a charity fundraiser for an animal shelter). The book is very NOW and very 2016 without having to drop a ton of pop culture clues to tell you this. The aesthetic of the world tells you that it’s happening now. I love the art so far. It's adorable. There's definitely a Manga/Anime influence that can be seen in things like the characters' facial expressions when they're experiencing a lot of emotion.

My favorite of the variant covers

I already love all the characters. Valerie, Josie, and Melody clearly retain the core of their characters that fans will recognize from the comics, cartoon, and movie, but there are some really nice changes too. The most obvious is Melody. I would say the core of her character is sweet and ditzy. With DeOrdio and Bennett at the helm, they retain the sweetness but subvert the blonde stereotype. This Melody reminds me of Phoebe Buffay from the show Friends. Not so much dumb but quirky, perky and on their own wavelength. Bennett and DeOrdio's Melody is an over-extended super altruistic college student with a lot of interests. In a clever scene where she's on a date with a smarmy and clearly douchey hedge-fund manager, their conversation would lead you to think that Melody is the airhead people assume she is and that she has been in previous iterations. Her date is explaining money investing to her and Melody tells him that he's so smart and that she doesn’t have time to learn stuff like that. Eyeroll, right? But then she proceeds to tell him (and the audience) that she's a college student who visits old people on Mondays, has classes all day on Tuesdays, and swims, and plays soccer and tennis on Wednesdays (presumably for her school), and teaches orphans to read to Thursdays. Later in the book, she randomly tells Valerie and Josie that she can recite Anna Karina from memory. Definitely more Elle Woods than Rose Nylund.

A cover from the original comic run. This is probably how most people remember Melody.

Josie is an indie musician trying to make it, very unsuccessfully, in a town that does not appreciate her Fiona Apple-like lyrics (Josie, get out of that basic town!) and girl with a guitar solo act. She begs a too-busy Melody to play with her (which lets us know that Melody is also a musician), but it’s their chance meeting with Valerie, a beautiful, dark-skinned, natural haired veterinarian with a killer voice, that makes Josie realize what she and they could be… together.

I think it's incredibly cool that this Valerie is a doctor. I doubt this is something any of the previous projects would have even considered: "Hey! Let's make the Black girl a doctor! Um…." Based on the fact that Valerie is an established professional, I think we can assume that she's older than Melody and Josie (who read as early 20s). We are told that Valerie is a great singer (Josie says better than her) who by her own admission does not "get along well with others." Josie is not the only one who has to learn how to go from soloist to member of a group. Josie is in awe of Valerie from the moment she lays eyes on her. This bit is what completely sold me on the book. Like, I read this and went: "Welp. I guess this is going on my pull list."

Josie: Valerie, level with me. Are you secretly a creature from a plane home to the platonic ideal of aural beauty who has deigned to take a corporeal form due to some sort of celestial falling out?

Keep in mind that this is literally the first thing Josie says to Valerie in the book. I can already tell that I'm going to be shipping this. Please send me your suggestions of what the ship name should be (and let me know if there is already a ship name, fandom, and fanfic and/or fanart!).

In terms of more obvious queer elements, there is a background line by Melody that makes me think that she might be the child of either two same-sex parents or a parent who is transgender. She refers to her "daddy" with a feminine pronoun. She says, in response to Valerie saying she hopes her dad isn't there (at the concert) to see her in the outfit she's wearing: "I hope my daddy is here to see this. She'd be so proud!" Let’s hope the writers both follow up on this and introduce some openly LGBTQ characters (aside from Jughead, who inhabits the same world).

My final verdict is that I think this is going to be a very fun title that you'll look forward to every month. I think it will satisfy pre-existing fans and get a lot of new ones.

Melody, Josie, Valerie and Lord Cute-ington, Duke of Kittenshire (Melody named him)


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Niala Terrell-Mason's picture
on November 29, 2016

Hey, I'm Niala! I'm black, bisexual, super liberal, a Unitarian Universalist (I'll wait while you Google that), and a long time fangirl. I love fan conventions, Marvel, Star Trek, fan fiction, Tumblr, Harry Potter, most of the shows that Fox cancels and books. I work in a public library and I am a grad student pursuing a masters of divinity in interfaith chaplaincy (aka someone who does religion for a living). I hope you think I'm funny.