When is a first issue not a first issue? That, my friends, is one of the key questions you have to ask yourself repeatedly when it comes to Silver Age comic books! Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Josie And The Pussycats #45 awaits!
JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS #45
Writer: Dick Malmgren
Penciler: Dan DeCarlo
Inker: Rudy Lapick
Letterer: Bill Yoshida
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Publisher: Archie Comics
Cover Price: 15 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $120.00
Previously in Josie And The Pussycats: Though the first appearance of Josie McCoy and her sweet but occasionally clueless friend Melody Jones dates back to December of 1962 (cover dated February 1963), Josie spent most of the first decade of her comic book life as a gender-swapped Archie. The brainchild of cartoonist Dan DeCarlo, Josie dealt with the schemes and unrequited affections of Alexander Cabot III, her beatnik nitwit boyfriend Albert and a third friend named Pepper who served as the brains of the outfit.
Then, came Don Kirshner. With the success of The Archies as a cartoon series and faux band (‘Sugar, Sugar’, though rejected by The Monkees, was an unexpected hit), Hanna-Barbera Productions contacted Archie Comics about more Archie music madness on television. Thus, were Josie And The Pussycats born! Of course, there are still a few things left to be hammered out…With original third girl Pepper phased out of the book, Alexander’s twin sister Alexandra (who, yes, looks like Veronica Lodge with highlights) took over a Reggie Mantle-style frenemy role, but her refusal to cooperate with Josie and Melody seems to put a stake in in-universe creation of the Pussycats, even before things get off the ground. Fortunately, Alexander is desperate to earn Josie’s affection, and has a plan…
Alexander’s discovery ends up being the missing piece of what would become a key piece of Archie pop culture history, the keystone of the Pussycats and I’m not just saying that because of my profound crush on Rosario Dawson, who played her in the otherwise-terrible film adaptation in the 90s: Valerie!
Valerie Smith and/or Brown, depending on the writer, finishes off the power trio of Pussycats and also convinces the girls to let Alexander be their manager, even though he’s still sorta creepy about Josie’s affections…
Oh, yeah… Alexandra also has magic powers. Didn’t I mention that? Apparently, thanks to her cat (who is the reincarnation of a long-ago member of the Cabot family who was a practitioner of witchcraft), she can occasionally channel arcane forces and uses them mostly to punish those who displease her. I can find no evidence that they ever explicitly tied this ability to DeCarlo’s other cute girl creation for Archie, Sabrina Spellman, but it’s clearly drawn from a similar well.
Here’s something important you need to know about comics, Faithful Spoilerites: Ain’t nobody draws a cute girl like Dan DeCarlo. In the hands of a lesser artist, Josie’s leotard could have been inappropriate as all hell (these are high school girls, after all) but Dan somehow manages to make the whole look adorable and also presage generations of cat-girls. The stage outfits are the final bit of Pussycats lore, locking the whole thing down, but on the night of their first gig, Alexandra vows to use her naughty magicks to sabotage them before they can attract an audience…
Fortunately, even ensorcelled, the group’s voices are sweet and harmonious, and the crowd accepts their animal noises as all part of the show, loving the group’s look and gimmick. You almost feel bad for Ms. Cabot…
With the ever-enigmatic Alex having disappeared from the book some time before, Josie’s affections turned to new kid in town Alan M., whose resemblance to Fred Jones from Scooby-Doo cannot be ignored. Knowing that Hanna-Barbera’s influence is somewhere behind the scenes, it’s easy to assume that this was intentional. Alexandra also has eyes for the muscular ascotted teen, using her powers to make him love her. Oh, did I mention that Melody can break her spells with a simple snap of the fingers?
Yeah, that’s also a thing. Modern Archie readers who marvel at the success of their horror titles and the grown-up tales of ‘Life With Archie’ would do well to remember that insane plot-developments have long been de rigueur for the teens of Riverdale, Greendale and points west. With a third point for their triangle, Alexandra and Josie are now free to use their respective abilities which, once again are “well-scrubbed teenage beauty, musical talent and a genuine sweetness” and “arcane ancestral magicks of unknown provenance.” Thankfully, this is an Archie book, so the ladies are somewhat evenly matched…
Alexander, ever the spoiler, is so disruptive in his pursuit of Josie’s affections that the teacher is forced to shift the arrangements again, putting Alan M. squarely in between Josie and Alexandra in a literal sense as well as figurative, causing Alexandra to once again lash out and set up the inexplicable scene on this issue’s cover…
Quoth Dieter: “ANTS! ANTS! ANTS! NOW’S THE TIME ON SPROCKETS WHEN WE DAHNCE!” As this issue closes, DeCarlo and Malmgren have deftly assembled the requisite elements for The Pussycats as modern audiences recognize them, built out of an entirely different humor strip. The cartoon spawned by this issue’s shenanigans ran for nearly a decade (though, in H-B fashion, much of that was reruns) and appeared on all three of the then-extant networks, and Valerie has the distinction of being the first African-American cartoon regular. Thus, the answer to “When is a first issue not a first issue?” is “SYNERGY, 1960s STYLE!”, which doesn’t keep Josie And The Pussycats #45 from being a well-done introduction to the characters and settings, featuring much stronger characterizations and tighter plotting than many funnybooks of the same vintage, featuring Dan DeCarlo’s wonderful art, earning a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars overall. Even if you take into account the ‘Outer Space’ years, you have to love Josie, Melody and Valerie.
Both the Cabots are pretty terrible, though…