Archie put out a lot of crazy experimental comics in the early 90s, and while I love them all, it's Jughead's Time Police that stood out the most...and a lot of people seem to agree with me. It's the only Archie comic from that time period that is still talked about today, and it's the only one of the bunch that Archie has tried to relaunch in recent times. Its mythology was dense and rich, its worldbuilding was fascinating. There's really no other comic like it in the company's 80-year history, and it started with a little one-off printed in the late 80s.
First I have to explain what circumstances this story was posted under. Back when comic books shipped to places like supermarkets and drugstores in bulk, they couldn't just create one-offs and expect all the stores to order them. They would instead print a catch-all "variety" series and just give it different titles on the cover each month. Many companies did this including Archie, whose variety comic was officially called "The Archie Giant Series." On each issue would be "Archie Giant Series Magazine Presents" in small letters and then, in a larger font, the name of the comic story.
Archie would use the Giant Series to print special issues, as well as additional issues of series that had been taken off the monthly release list (Little Archie, Sabrina and Josie were moved to the Giant Series in the 80s). The most important thing about the Giant Series was that it allowed the writers to stretch their imaginations beyond the limits of what a normal issue of Archie was typically like. A Giant Series issue could be anything, and arguably, no one took greater advantage of that fact than writer Rich Margopolous.
Margopolous' stories for the Giant Series would often travel out of canon and stretch into fantasy, sci-fi or dramatic territories. I remember a multi-issue storyline from him where Archie investigated a crashed meteor and walked away with an item called the Celestial Sphere that would let him control matter by squeezing it and concentrating hard. He first wasted this power on an attempt to date Betty and Veronica at the same time (because what else is Archie gonna do), but in later chapters he attempted to do some good with it. His last wish was that everybody in Riverdale had a million dollars, which wound up crashing the economy. Archie had to admit he was no fit for the Celestial Sphere's power and packed it away in his closet, where it remains to this day (presumably).
In the summer of 1988 Margopolous wrote a Giant Series issue starring Jughead called "Back From The Future." While the title suggested a Back to the Future parody, the story itself does not resemble the movie at all, going off in its own crazy direction from the very first panel. Jughead is lounging at Riverdale's Pickens Park, waiting for current presidential candidate Senator Bailey to make a speech. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a redheaded woman in futuristic clothing materializes behind him in a plume of smoke. She introduces herself as January McAndrews, Marshal of the Time Police, and tells Jughead that for the next few hours, he is crucial to the flow of history.
As she explains, Bailey is fated to become the next President, and Jughead is fated to save Bailey from a speeding car...and time criminals are about to arrive that seek to change that. Over the next few pages the crooks make repeated attempts to assassinate Jug and Jan, and we're introduced to such wild concepts as "thought balloons" that fly the user to wherever they're thinking, weaponized rings that shoot hot lightning at their targets, "Jug-O-Meters" built for the sole purpose of tracking Jughead, and a gigantic "Warbot" from World War V that is supposedly unstoppable until Jughead just simply rams into it with a forklift. These constant, spontaneous events and endless dump of cool gadgetry would become staples of what was to be the Time Police series, of which this was the first chapter.
While on the run, January informs Jughead that in the future, he's a significant historical figure himself. There's an entire museum dedicated to his adventures. His face is on Mount Rushmore. She also says she's always wanted to meet him because...dramatic drumroll...she is the descendant of Jughead's best friend Archie. How the Andrews last name became Scottish by the 29th century is not revealed.
The criminals are finally caught when Jughead rigs a hologram machine to create hundreds of duplicates. "Noooo! We can't defeat that many clones of the great Jughead! We surrender!" they squeal. Everyone is taken to the 29th century, where January is informed that she should not have told Jughead about his own future. His mind is ordered to be wiped of the incident, and it's hard on Jan because, she confesses, "I've fallen in love with you." But Jug goes back to his time unaware, where he saves Senator Bailey as foretold. The final two panels show January watching Jughead sorrowfully from afar, and Jughead asleep....dreaming of January. He had not totally forgotten about her.
This left the story open to continue one year later, in 1989's "Unstuck In Time." This is where I entered it, picking the issue up from a supermarket. I had no idea the previous adventure existed, but that didn't matter. This was one of the best Archie comics I ever read.
Jughead is still dreaming about January, and can't figure out why. He writes about his reoccuring dream in his diary, and meanwhile in the future, January paws through the historical records of Jug's diary and finds the entry. She now knows Jughead likes her back and the mind eraser wasn't strong enough to destroy the bond they're forming.
Examining historical footage and photographs, January notices something she hadn't before -- Jughead can be seen in them. She visits the Jughead Museum and notices something even more peculiar...one of the beanies on display is giving off a curious hum. She has a professor inspect the hat and he tells her the badges on the beanie are actually thought-activated time devices...way too advanced for their current time,. Yet the beanie is from hundreds of years in the past? Confused, she decides only one person would be able to shed light on this: Jughead himself. Besides, she's been looking for an excuse to visit him anyway.
January appears in the park and Jughead recognizes her as his dream girl, and rushes over to her. She informs Jug of their past adventure and explains why his memory was wiped. Then January gives Jug the beanie and tells him "Since you had it, it means that you are fated to have it." One would assume it would be dangerous to give Jughead a thought-activated time travel device without even telling him how to use it, and...it indeed is. The next few pages depict Jughead chaotically surfing through time. Jug is shot at by the Red Baron in World War I, falls into the ocean and is rescued by the captain of...the Titanic, teleports into the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and spends a few seconds as a Roman gladiator. There are an unusually large and varied number of scene changes here, drawn amazingly by artist Doug Crane (who had a background in animation).
Finally when Jug teleports into the American Revolution he stops time-skipping, because January catches up with him there. Whatever they're about to do next, they're interrupted by the approach of British Redcoats, and have to hide in a bush. They realize the bush doesn't provide much cover and they'll be seen. January decides to reveal herself and pose as a Rebel spy to take the attention off Jughead, as he's important to history.
Jughead has to save her life, but he can't accomplish that alone. He must go to Washington's encampment and coinvince him to cross the Delaware river the next morning with his men. That would be Christmas Day and George is skeptical. Realizing the turning point of the war is at risk of not happening, Jughead decides to reveal everything: he pulls a dollar bill out of his pocket and shows Washington his own face. "You win this battle, General! America becomes its own nation and you become the first President!" He's convinced, and he crosses the Delaware on Christmas, taking the British camp -- and rescuing January in the process.
Now they can go home. Back in Jug's room, January makes him swear an oath to protect history and time's proper flow. He swears it, and by taking the oath, is deputized into the Time Police. There is then a note from the editor asking readers if they want to see more Time Police adventures (this note is removed from all reprintings, leaving a blank space).
That wasn't the only edit made. I have no idea why, but when "Unstuck In Time" appeared in digests, it was bowlderized to remove all romantic references between Jug and Jan.
Page 1: top panel zoomed in, bottom two panels deleted, lovely title design ruined
Page 2: dialogue changed, "love" changed to "fate"
Page 9: more romance erased; extra nature scenery added by uncredited digest flunkie to pad the difference
Page 21: ENTIRE PAGE REMOVED; smoke added around Jan on Page 20 to make her look like she's teleporting early, followed by a small "END" sticker
Fortunately, the original art was restored when this and all other Time Police stories were collected in the trade paperback Archie published in 2018. Archie's track record with trades is spotty, but this one is excellent (and still available): all the content is there, the paper is high quality, and the price is affordable at $10. They even remembered the one-page filler material that was slipped into issues to fill space and digests usually ignore. It is a good thing this exists, because I do not have "Unstuck in Time" anymore. Half my Jughead's Time Police collection was at my mom's and half was at my dad's, and anything that was at my dad's was lost. I hope an issue pops up in a longbox at a comic convention someday. Until then, I'll have to bend the trade book over my scanner to illustrate some of these summaries.
A mere WEEK after "Unstuck In Time" hit shelves, a Time Police short story appeared in the regular Jughead comic: "How Jughead Lost His Pants Saving The World." January narrates the tale of Jughead traveling to 17th century England and getting chased by a dog. He climbs a tree to escape, but the dog manages to bite a giant hole in his pants. He's stuck in the tree until everyone leaves the area, and he's hungry. Good thing it's an apple tree....but Jug drops the apple he just picked and it lands on the head of the guy who was sitting under the tree. Fortunately the man was Isaac Newton, and Jughead saved history by inspiring him to write his theory of gravity. To commemorate the event, his ripped pants were preserved in the Jughead Museum.
I had this issue too, and this little story would have been easy to overlook. The guys behind the trade did their homework.
We wouldn't see January or the Time Police again for another year. At the time, Archie Comics was on a massive "new series" spree brought on by the speculator boom, and it greenlit TWO new comics based on Margopolous stories printed in the Giant Series: Jughead's Time Police and Explorers Of The Unknown. Margopolous would be the exclusive writer for both, but one month before the Time Police returned in its own series, January showed up randomly in an issue of Jughead. It was the only time during this era that her appearance would not be written by her creator.
Instead Nate Butler, the man behind Archie's crazy "Hot Dog" series from the same period, would write "The Good-Bye Girls," a story that mainly existed to write off Jughead's 1980s girlfriend Joani Jummp and restore his classic status as a girl-hater. Jughead's Time Police would be the exception to this. January materializes into Jug's bedroom on Page 7 to speak cryptically about his future and then teleport away. The appearance is an odd one.
One month later, Jughead's Time Police hit the big time with its first regular issue, and this striking cover:
Whoops, that's the back. (But it was hard to forget that either.) Here's what the front looked like.
ISSUE 1: A YEN FOR SPAGHETTI
Jughead has a history test coming up, and he figures he'll ace it if he goes back in time and witnesses the events themselves. But he stops himself right before he disappears, worried that such abuse of power could be a violation of his oath as a Time Police deputy. To make sure he never strays from the moral path again, he writes a dumb poem:
The river of time must forever flow
Why this should be, I do not know
All I can say is, it has always been so
To change but a day brings nothing bur woe
Now get this: at the end of the issue, when January decides it's time for Jug to learn the Time Police's official motto, she starts reciting the same poem. It turns out in her century they excavated Jug's paper from the ruins of his house (without knowledge it was his house) and thought the poem was so good that they adopted it as the Time Police code of ethics. This culture worships Jughead to the point that they'll fawn over anything he's written without even knowing he wrote it. I should pause here and point out this is not the kind of series in which you should stop and think about logic, or you'll be driven insane. This is true for most time travel stories but it's especially true here.
I guess the implication is that Jughead is destined to perform many amazing feats for the Time Police, but right now he's just a rookie kid. Case in point: he falls asleep while wearing his time travel hat, it activates, and he sleepwalks into the event he's studying, changing it. The next morning, his house has been erased from history and he wakes up in Pickens Park. January poofs into his vicinity post haste, explaining that a gigantic time rift is rewriting history, and if they can't fix it before it reaches the year the Time Police was founded, the entire organization will cease to exist.
If it's already claimed his own time, Jughead asks how he can still be alive. January tells him his beanie shielded him, but if the rift gets to its unknown creator, he too will vanish. They have no choice but to travel to the source of the rift: 18th century China, and the palace of Kubla Khan. The explorer Marco Polo is visiting, and he is destined to bring back elements of Chinese culture to Italy, like spaghetti. Unless a sleepwalking Jughead shows up out of nowhere and eats the spaghetti before Polo can even see it, which is what happened. Jug is mortified.
To fix the issue, they cook a new plate of spaghetti themselves and serve it to Polo -- but he rejects it. They don't have the culinary skill to present him something that will impress him enough....so Jughead simply skips back to his own time, orders Italian takeout, zips back and gives it to Polo. Wait...how can there still be spaghetti? Because Jughead says "My hunch was right! Someone ELSE brought it to Italy!" Erm, okay. Like I said, don't think about it.
ISSUE 2: A RIVERDALE JUGHEAD IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT
Jughead has been cast as a knight in a school play, and he's stuck at rehearsals wearing a full suit of armor when January shows up backstage. She tells him a Time Police officer has gone rogue and is now recklessly changing the past. Hot Dog gets involved in this one by running into Jug and Jan mid-teleport.
They appear in 13th century England, and immediately run into Patrolwoman Le Fay, or as she's now known around those parts, Morgan Le Fay. She's stolen techy time doodads from an even further future to make herself unstoppable -- the first thing she does is zap Jug and Jan's time-travel devices to make them non-functional, and then uses one of those Lightning Rings to blow them to kingdom come. They hide behind a rock, but it's only a temporary solution.
Apparently Jughead's prop shield is strong enough to deflect one of Le Fay's attacks back at her even though we just saw it reduce a boulder to pebbles. Le Fay retreats and disappears for now. Jughead asks Jan what they're supposed to do without their timepieces. Jan tells him they should go see Merlin, who was actually the founder of the Time Police and traveled back to this time when he retired. And as this issue reveals, the entire Arthurian legend was actually people from the future with magic-like technology and the peasants couldn't tell the difference. Also, dinosaurs are coming back VERY soon:
In the end, Le Fay is caught and arrested when the Time Police goes back to the moment she stole the weapons in the first place and nabs her then. (I said not to think about it.) As for the "stranded" situation, that resolves itself when Jughead discovers his hat has self-repairing properties. Jug and Jan disappear, and Merlin drops this bomb:
I thought for certain this meant Merlin was the true creator of the time-travel beanie. It's probably what Margopolous wanted me to think.
ISSUE 3: TO BEANIE OR NOT TO BEANIE
The first two issues of Jughead's Time Police were rendered in Rex Lindsey's slick, waxy-looking style, but he was taken off the book as of the third issue, and replaced with Gene Colan for the rest. If you know about comic book history in general you might be surprised to hear Gene's name being used in reference to an Archie book -- he had done plenty of work for superhero stuff in the decades prior. For whatever reason, he was drawing a lot of Archie around this time.
Colan's style was rough and sketchy, with lots of solid black areas and unusual camera angles. Even his panel layout was unconventional, often leaving giant portions of some pages blank. Whether all this looked good or not depended on who was handling the ink. I spoke badly of Rudy Lapick a while back, but in this case, he was a good match. Conversely, Jon D'Agostino could work wonders with every style EXCEPT Colan's. The cleaner an inker you were, the worse a job you'd do with Gene Colan's pencils -- his lines could not be tamed, and attempts to straighten them out would come off lumpy and warped.
In this story Jug and Jan have to attend a mandatory "Interchronal Meeting" with all other officers. Meanwhile, Hot Dog has Jug's beanie and he's using it to run through time haphazardly, visiting Revolution-era America and ancient Egypt among other places.
The worldbuilding in this issue is awesome. Jug and Jan are in a giant auditorium surrounded by thousands of Time Police members. Jug notices a balcony full of ususually dressed people and Jan explains they're from a future far beyond her own, attending as "Observers" -- they cannot speak or else they will change their own present. Esok of Atlantis, a high-ranking afmiral of the force, speaks from a trapezoid-shaped balcony floating in midair. These kinds of scenes never happened in "Betty And Me."
Suddenly Admiral Esok is informed of a time disturbance, and he conjures a hologram of the incident. It's Hot Dog! Jughead sinks into his chair.
"NO CANINE HAS EVER DISRUPTED HISTORY BEFORE!" Esok yells in rage. January speaks up, solemnly offering to retrieve Hot Dog and then resign from the force. Jughead won't let that stand, as it's HIS dog, and says if she goes, so does he. Esok rejects both their resignations but orders them to repair the error.
Thing is, Hot Dog ended up saving time. When he was in Revolution-era America, he wound up inadvertently notifying Paul Revere to the presence of the Redcoats (note: Paul was not the only person who rode that night, but barely anyone seemed to know that back then). When he was in Egypt, he spooked a cat into landing on the Pharoah's lap, inspiring the Egyptians to worship cats (Hot Dog really hated causing this one). It turns out Hot Dog is actually a hero, whether he was trying or not, and the Time Police apologizes.
ISSUE 4: ONE JUGHEAD TOO MANY
This is the only dud issue of Jughead's Time Police. If you ask anyone about it, all they'll remember is that there's a scene where Jughead and January have to eat an entire jar of peanut butter together.
No sandwiches, no beverages, an entire jar of peanut butter straight from the can...or everyone in Riverdale will die. We'll get to why in a second, but it's by far the most bizarre scene in the series, and the only thought in my head through the whole sequence was "OMG JUST DUMP IT DOWN THE SINK." Jughead sort of explains why he isn't doing that...peanut butter is food, and he can't bear to waste food, especially delicions food.
The story starts with Jughead practicing his drumming when another Jughead, this one a few hours older, appears in his room and tells him they're about to "unleash the greatest time paradox in the history of the Time Police." Jughead insists he would never do that on purpose, but Slightly Older Jughead says he'll have no choice if he wants to stop the flood. "WHAT FLOOD?" Slightly Younger Jughead yells. Older Jug says he'll understand in due time, and hands Younger Jug his completed science report, since he won't have time to do it.
Jughead meets up with January in the future and demands to know about this "flood." She admits Riverdale suffered catastophic damage in Jughead's time due to a dam bursting. They know this because they found an empty jar of peanut butter buried where Riverdale used to be, with an article inside about the dam breaking. "Well, then we have to stop it," Jughead insists, and January points out the Time Police's entire reason for being is to preserve history exactly as it's written. "But what if we kinda maybe created some kind of paradox where the dam never actually burst?" Jug suggests. Jan is weirdly open to this despite it being a violation of her oath.
Jug and Jan travel back to his time, where Jug simply picks up a pay phone and calls the police, telling them "the dam has sprung a leak." In no time, a construction crew has arrived to fix it..and that's that. Except for one problem...if the dam never actually burst, where did the newspaper clipping come from?
There's only one solution....they'll have to create the clipping themselves. Jug uses the computer lab at Riverdale High to print out a convincing article in newspaper format. Next they need a jar of peanut butter...and if there's anything crazier about the scene I already mentioned, it's the fact that after they finish off the jar, they notice that the lid is the wrong color, and that an already empty jar of peanut butter is sitting in the glass cabinet with the correct lid. Womp womp! The important thing is, they have all they need and they bury the jar right where the archaeologists are fated to find it. The last thing Jughead does is teleport back to the past to tell his drumming self about the plan.
This issue is also notable for being the only time January meets the regular Archie gang. Betty says hi, Archie says Jan looks "somewhat familiar" (she's his descendant) and Reggie tries to hit on her. For his trouble, he gets a giant holographic monster appearing behind his back while January laughs. You would think this would all be memorable, but the peanut butter scene kind of drowns anything else out.
ISSUE 5: WILL THE REAL COLONEL PICKENS PLEASE STAND UP?
It's never been defined where exactly Riverdale is, but my guess is someplace near the East Coast...it's close to the beach, and a crucial battle of the Civil War took place there, where Pickens Park stands now. It's named after a Northern colonel who successfully fended off the Confederacy before losing his own life in retaliation. Jughead's Time Police has the premise to examine this moment in Riverdale's history close-up, as well as throw a surprising twist on the whole thing.
While studying the histoical battle, Jughead notices he's IN one of the old photographs....and he doesn't have his beanie on, meaning he's trapped there. He decides to rescue himself, only to be captured by soldiers who suspect the "S" on his sweater stands for "South." They confiscate his hat, creating the scenario he came there to prevent. Now it's up to January to rescue him, and the first thing she does is open a stasis pod in the future, where a really old Jughead comes out.
The old man is a clone, put in the freezer for emergencies once the real Jughead retired (in the future). If this wasn't off-putting enough, the Old Jughead Clone starts flirting with January (ick). Jan asks him how Jughead got out of the situation he's currently in, and he says HE went back as well to get him out...so he'll be doing that now. But not as Jughead...
That moment made my jaw drop. Pickens had been a part of Riverdale's backstory for a while...the revelation that he wasn't real solidified Jughead's Time Police as one of the coolest books Archie would ever put out.
"Pickens" does not actually die either; Old Jug Clone teleports right before the mortar that's destined to kill him hits impact, creating a convincing crater. And now you know the REST of the story.
ISSUE 6: BRING ON THE JUGHEADS
Even before Jughead's Time Police was a proper series, the big mystery was "Who created Jughead's time beanie?" Margopolous was pretty certain this would be the last Time Police story he would ever be paid to write, and he was correct, so he wrapped up that mystery as quickly as possible. Turns out Jug and Jan created the beanie themselves...by traveling to the far future, having it made for them, then traveling back and putting it in the Jughead Museum for January to find. Kinda weak, but the best he could do, having been cut off so early.
The rest of the final story involves Morgan LeFay escaping prison and seeking revenge on Jughead by eliminating his younger self. As Little Jughead is about to devour a piece of pie, LeFay teleports in from behind him and hits him with a time-freezing device before he can notice anything. Jug and Jan, having been alerted of this emergency, arrive at this point to stop her...but she's well-prepared, freezing January too and blasting Jughead to bits with her Lightning Ring.
Or, she only THINKS she blew him up. Jughead time-warped just in time, to about a week removed from the present day. There, he recruits another Jughead to his army, and they both go back and grab a third Jughead from weeks earlier. All three of them return to Little Jughead's kitchen where they gang up on Morgan, overwhelming her.
The thing for Morgan to do at that point would have been to time-travel herself and pick up a dozen more Morgans to counter this, but she doesn't have time before she's defeated by...pie. Jughead suddenly realizes "Isn't this the day my pie mysteriously vanished? Now I know HOW it vanished...." He picks it up and throws it in her face, and she's disoriented long enough to be arrested once more.
Having accomplished all this, Jughead returns to Pop's Chocklit Shop in the final few panels and picks up a burger like nothing happened. Presumably, Jughead has had many more adventures with January that we never got to see. Instead he's been playing it cool the whole time, passing off as a gluttinous slacker.
Very few of the new books Archie put out in the early 90s would last past six issues (or one year on a bimonthly schedule). There's no way to truly know how badly Jughead's Time Police sold, but they published a note from the editor in issue #3, and it went like this:
I guess this message is open to interpretation, but personally, I didn't take it as a good sign.
No one appreciated The Iron Giant or Freaks And Geeks when it really mattered either. We're fortunate that there's as much of Jughead's Time Police as there is. The title is so well-known now that Archie created a new limited series not too long ago...though it was NOT a continuation of the original and just did its own thing (and for some reason contained a fully authorized appearance from Jenny Lewis on one page). Though the new version by Sina Grace has some sharp dialogue, it doesn't have that captivating, ethereal feel that whisks you to another world the way the original did.
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