The last year or so of Archie comics has been defined by one thing: the supernatural. Not only did we get Afterlife With Archie, which saw Sabrina the Teenage Witch dabbling in necromancy and inadvertently bringing about a zombie apocalypse that saw Jughead ripping out throats at a school dance, but it was so popular that we got a separate ongoing series about Sabrina dealing with the Lovecraftian horrors that result from witchcraft.
To the casual reader, this might seem like it's a pretty big departure from the usual Archie storylines about sharing milkshakes and having too many dates to the movies, but those of us who really know Archie Comics know that it's been there all along. Or, at the very least, it's been there since 1962, in that story where Betty Cooper literally sold her soul to the Devil so that she could make out with Archie.
Listen, I'll be the first to admit that I'm a complete sucker when it comes to Christmas comics. I love 'em, and the more heartwarming they are, the better, whether it's a thoroughly predictable ending where someone does a good deed for the less fortunate or a passionate, starry-eyed speech about peace on Earth and goodwill to others. I love that stuff, and as a result, I've never been a fan of Christmas stories that go dark. Call me a sap if you will, but in most darker Christmas stories, there's a cynicism that I just don't find all that appealing.
Every now and then, however, I run across a holiday story that's not just dark and not just cynical, but so utterly, shockingly grim that I end up completely fascinated by it, and this week, that is exactly what has happened. Everyone who has ever tried to make a jaded, pessimistic holiday story needs to step aside, because I have found the darkest, most shockingly violent Christmas comic of all time -- and it's a six-page Archie story from 1958.
There are a lot of reasons to love what Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla are doing on Afterlife With Archie. There's the genuinely scary, atmospheric horror, the compelling character work that plays off the idea of horror movie archetypes, and the dark comedy that's inherent in taking America's favorite squeaky-clean teens and dropping them into an exceptionally violent and disturbing apocalypse. As for me, though, I'm mainly just in it for the deep-cut references to Archie's past.
The latest issue delivered on all four fronts, as the gang departs Riverdale in an efort to escape the massive zombie horde led by Jughead -- a phrase that is truly a delight to type -- but there's also something else about it: It has a strong late contender for the best line of dialogue of 2014.
It isn't yet clear just how Archie Andrews will exit this mortal coil in the "Death of Archie" story starting in next month's Life with Archie #36, but one thing that's pretty clear is that the cover art is going to be pretty spectacular.
Archie Comics unveiled most of the covers for issues #36 and #37, which feature illustrations from artists such as Fiona Staples, Francesco Francavilla, Walt Simonson and Jill Thompson back in April, but Adam Hughes' cover wasn't finished yet. Now it is, and it's a moody, evocative image centering on a glass of soda left with no one to drink it. Is it perhaps a clue that Archie died of kidney stones or type-2 diabetes? That we'll have to wait to find out, but we can all see the full cover right now.
Over the past few years, Archie Comics has been taking a shot at telling a few more serious stories. Life With Archie in particular, in which Archie's alternate future marriages are detailed, has dealt with a lot of serious stuff, including Cheryl Blossom moving back to Riverdale after a failed stint in Hollywood so that she could be closer to her family while she underwent treatment for cancer...
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