I know what you’re thinking: You’re review an Archie comic? Really? Afterlife with Archie is not your typical Archie comic. It is like no other Archie comic I have ever read. Most of the Archie comics I have in my collection I would hand to my nephew and let him read them. This one? Well, sure, but seeing as how he is 6 years old not just yet. Afterlife with Archie truly is something different, something unique and it has done what I had though was impossible: It made me – someone whose last purchased Archie comic was Archie Meets The Punisher almost 20 years ago – shell out some cash and pick it up.
The cover picture alone and the title says it all: Riverdale gets drawn into a zombie infestation. The first issue truly sets the stage for the remainder of the stories – how the infestation begins. It starts as something as simple as wanting to help a loved one. That’s how it always begins. An innocent intent which spreads into something a tad more sinister, basically restating that every road is paved with good intent. The preview gives this part away so I don’t feel bad about saying how it begins… Jughead’s beloved canine companion, Hot Dog, is hit by a car and is killed. (Yes, we all loved the dopey dog who was the only character to have as big – if not bigger – of an appetite than Jughead.) Jughead turns to the only individuals who can help in his hour of need: Sabrina and her aunts, the witches of Riverdale. Although they do what they can, it is simply too late; their good magic can only do so much and Hot Dog is too far gone to save. Sabrina feels for her friend and decides to help him and his broken heart (note that I said good magic earlier…) If you want to know what else happens to begin this story, you’ll need to pick up the issue.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has done an amazing job in bringing this story to the page. It’s not your 8-or-so page Archie story with his old jalopy breaking down; it’s not Jughead hiding from Big Ethel; it’s not Moose going after someone for trying to score with his girl, Midge. Well, OK, it’s a little bit of all of those things. But this is the first time – at least for me – that I recall a truly epic story taking place in the Archie universe. Sure, Archie has had some crossovers before – the aforementioned Punisher crossover, as well as more recent crossovers with Kiss and with the cast from Glee (which was written by this same writer) – but those were finite in nature. Based on the interview at the rear of the book, this is an ongoing series. And this is not your parent’s Archie universe. It’s dark, very dark. Sabrina’s aunts are absolutely terrifying in what they become. Betty and Veronica are no longer the (more or less) innocent characters I remember from before. No, they are a tad cattier (if you can believe it) but the situation is the same as it ever was. It’s the characters we all know… but now in a situation that just makes it even more horrific because we all know the location. It’s one thing to see random characters turned into zombies that have had 10 minutes of screen time somewhere; it’s entirely another thing to take characters many of us grew up reading and thrust them into such a situation.
My only complaint about the story is absolutely me being an uber-nitpicky nerd. I wouldn’t even go as far as to say it’s a complaint, but just something that perhaps passed through editing that should have been caught. Riverdale’s brain boy, Dilton, is talking with Chuck about horror movies (very reminiscent of scenes from Scream). That piece seemed just a little cliché, but still worked within the confines of the story. My problem was that they were talking about horror movie monsters, and they spelled Freddy Krueger’s name wrong. As I said, it’s nitpicky, but I read the stories I buy and it jumped out at me. Not enough to detract me from the book, but there it is.
The art by Francesco Francavilla is dark and brooding and is what this book needed. Your standard Archie art style would not have done this book justice, and I am so glad that they went a different route for the art. The characters look less cartoonish, which is fantastic. The color palette is amazing and truly suits the scene – there are no real bright scenes, as there are no real bright circumstances. The brightest elements of the story originate around Sabrina’s aunts trying to restore Hot Dog, and that is simply the magical energies being channeled. I truly do not think that any other art style for this book could have been done – it’s dark and gritty, but you still know who the characters are. You may need the cues from the discussion between characters at first (at which Jack Morelli did a great job in delivering the lettering and not blocking the action in the panels) but it all works out.
This was probably a book I wanted to like but was afraid I wouldn’t, and I didn’t. I loved it. I think Miss Grundy is going to turn out to be the hero in the long run, based on a flashback scene, but because of that scene I’m also expecting to be proven wrong. Seeing Archie in his Captain Pureheart costume at the halloween contest was a brilliant way to acknowledge that character from the past but not making it the focal point. If you want something fun and different but yet familiar at the same time, pick up this book.