Buy This Book: ‘Afterlife With Archie’ #1
If you had asked me six months ago whether we, as a culture, ever needed another story that took a familiar story and added zombies to create wacky supernatural hijinx, my answer would've been a quick and definite no. It's a premise that's been done to death, shambling resurrection and death again, and when October rolls around, you can't swing a dead cat that feasts for the flesh of the living without hitting some bold new reworking of the zombie formula.
If, however, you then asked me if I wanted to see a zombie story about Archie and the gang written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla, I would've probably done some pretty quick backpedaling. That is exactly what I want to see, and now that Afterlife With Archie is finally on its way for a spoooooky Halloween debut, I can confirm that it's every bit as fun as you want it to be.
Much like The Punisher Meets Archie, "Archie dealing with the zombie apocalypse" is a concept that sells itself. It's almost one of those situations where you don't actually need to read the comic because the story that plays out in your head as soon as you hear the title is pretty much perfect already -- almost. The fact is, what Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla are doing here is definitely a comic that oughtta be read, if only to see how well it all comes together in this first issue.
Part of it is how remarkably easy it is for the Archie characters to slot into the roles that we all recognize from horror movies. It makes sense that they would; Archie (the company) has spent decades making Archie (the character) and his friends into the eternal teenage archetypes. In the process, they've become the exact same kinds of stock characters that always seem to be in the middle of it whenever supernatural evil is unleashed upon the world to devour and/or slash them for as many sequels as the franchise can take. Stop me if you've heard this one, but in this zombie story, there's the Jock, the Brain, the Schemer Who Will Inevitably Turn Against Them, the Nice Girl, the Mean Girl and the Hapless Teen at the center of it all. It's not really surprising that they'd have so much overlap -- comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin, after all, and both succeed by surprising the reader with setups and punchlines that twist expectations -- but Sacasa's script takes that and just smoothly shifts them over into the genre next door.
Also, it's important to note that Archie already had an actual spellcasting witch prone to magical disasters. So that one's a freebie.
That's not to say that Afterlife With Archie's characters are exactly the same as the versions that you'll recognize from the Double Digests. The cores are still there, completely true to what's been established, but as you might expect from a story that drops Riverdale into a nightmare of undead cannibalism, their familiar personality traits have been ramped up to their logical -- or, I guess, completely illogical -- extremes.
Hilda and Zelda aren't comical cartoon witches, they're terrifying, clawed spirits of vengeance who cart Sabrina off to Hell for unleashing dark forces on the world. Reggie's not just a conniving prankster, he's an amoral, sketchy creep with circles under his eyes from staying up all night cleaning Hot Dog's blood off the grille of his car because he was too "messed up" (from Moose handing him a beating) to drive home safely. Betty and Veronica aren't just competing for Archie's affections, they snipe at each other with vicious, acid-dipped barbs and lure him away from each other with that most lasting Halloween tradition, the Sexy Costume.
It's everything about Archie taken to this moody, blood-soaked extreme, and Francavilla's art hits that note with absolute perfection. I've been wanting to see Francavilla draw an Archie book ever since he tackled the characters during one of Comic Twart's theme weeks a few years back, and his work here lives up to every expectation that I had.
Like Aguirre-Sacasa, Francavilla's take on the cast is decidedly rooted in the established characters -- everybody looks exactly like they should, just done up in Francavilla's style rather than the DeCarlo-inspired designs that we usually see -- but dropped into the same kind of moody, dramatically lit world that he drew in his great Detective Comics story with Scott Snyder. He creates an atmosphere that would be perfect in any horror comic, even beyond the novelty of seeing it in the usually bright and cheery Riverdale.
In short, it's an absolutely gorgeous comic -- even the shambling horrors are rendered with a lush style and depth that proves exactly why Francavilla's one of the best guys going.
On the off chance that you need to be sold on the actual story and not just the plot and the talent involved, the first issue is a pretty fantastic setup. The basic gist of it is that Reggie runs over Hot Dog just on the eve of Halloween, and Jughead, distraught over the loss of one of his two best friends, goes to Sabrina to see about getting Hot Dog magically healed up. Unfortunately, it's a little too late for healing, and when Sabrina tries to meddle with Forces Beyond The Understanding Of Mere Mortals And/Or Teenage Witches, everything goes real bad, real fast. Jughead gets bitten and by the time he staggers over to the Riverdale High Halloween dance -- where Vampironica is working her seduction game on a Pureheart-suited Archie -- we're looking at a full-on apocalypse.
Normally I shy away from a straight plot summary in a a review, but the reason I bring all of that up here is because it's exactly what you expect to happen. In fact, this is the same information that Archie and Aguirre-Sacasa have been using to promote the book in interviews, laying out the setup and not really holding back any details. The two interesting things about that are that a) you can go into this book knowing every single beat of the plot and still find it to be a pretty amazing read, and b) everything after that setup, all of which is accomplished in these quick, beautiful 22 pages, is still up in the air. There are expectations, sure, but even with everyone taking up their assigned horror movie roles, the setup here makes it downright irresistible to see what's next.
The end result is one of those rare, perfect comics for Halloween, released just at the right time that works even in a genre that I think we're all a little sick of. When it hits shelves next week on October 9, it's well worth picking up.