(Archie Comics, 2013)
Review by Cory Thrall
WRITTEN BY: Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa
ARTWORK BY: Francesco Francavilla
COLOR ARTWORK BY: Francesco Francavilla
LETTERING BY: Jack Morelli
Archie and zombies. Zombies and Archie. Riverdale in the midst of an approaching zombie apocalypse. Who would have thought – even with the Zombie craze that has become a growing epidemic of it’s own – that we’d see these words together outside of some weird Fan Fiction? When I first heard of the idea, I laughed. I admit it, I laughed. To me and my friends growing up this was a comic that wasn’t even considered worth flipping through as we filled our hands with the newest issues of Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men and the like. It’s wasn’t the fault of the crews working on the books or even the subject matter – it just wasn’t our thing. But a lot of stuff wasn’t and soon enough Archie and his colorful pals were nothing more the background of the comic shops, our indifference phasing it out of our minds and therefor out of our sight. Life went on. Peter and MJ got married. Batman lost his first Boy Wonder. But all the while, as constant and true as the floors we walked upon in the basement that served as the comic shop I’d remember forever, Archie was there. His friends were there. Riverdale carried on without us.
Since that time the comic has spawned horrendous cartoon shows, a whole slew of spin-off titles, and even a desperate and sad attempt at reviving *something* with the 1990 “Return to Riverdale” Live Special. As it reared its head in all these new forms it once again caught my eye, and then quickly batted it away. As the whole shebang continued to flail about, seemingly in its final death throes, Archie seemed to just disappear. While this might just be what I saw from my personal perspective – much like I had the whole time in regards to Archie – it seemed like the comic, in the long run, was the better for the break.
Not too long ago I began to see the Digests showing up in Supermarkets again and even though my local shop didn’t really carry books of “that kind” I could feel the return on the horizon. They seemed to be embracing the present in a way not as forced as the 90’s interpretations had been. They introduced new characters, made the titles a bit more serious, and even broke some ground in areas of equality with the addition of a homosexual character. The new team behind it all embraced the idea that kids of all ages (even adult kids) might actually want to follow the adventures of these familiar-yet-unknown characters outside of the 50’s era they had mostly been confined to. When I learned that they had acquired one of my all time favorite artists (Norm Breyfogle) to tackle some of the art duties, I was – for the first time in 30+ years of comic book enjoyment – interested in Archie and his “gang”. Sadly, though, I was only interested enough to look, not to buy. My ears buzzed again when I recently heard about “Afterlife With Archie”. Which takes us back to where I began – Archie and zombies? I had to know more.
To be quite honest, I was only slightly curious about this title when I had first read about it, but once I saw the amazing artwork from Francesco Francavilla that was attached to this project I dropped all pretense on what this book could be and dug a bit deeper. Francavilla is not only tearing through the comic world providing cover artwork for nearly every comic on the shelf right now, but he is also a new favorite artist of mine. So, once again, it’s a beloved artist that brings Archie to my mind for the first time in quite a while. Zombies are hip, I get it. In an effort to garnish some new fanfare I can totally see the hiring of white-hot artist Francavilla as a good step in that direction, if not a leading one. Was I being suckered in by an artist I loved, only to be let down? I know I love zombies, regardless of how rampant they are in today’s Pop Culture, and I know I love Francavilla’s work. But, Archie and his Riverdale gang? I didn’t know. My years of wearing blinders to the comics had left me with nothing to gauge my interest on. At least, not fairly. Hit with a brick of old school comic-buying adventure-seeking and the spirit of comics all-together, I found a copy of “Afterlife With Archie” #1 and dived in.
I was thankfully surprised at how much I enjoyed this comic. Being the fool I am, I had no idea Francavilla provided the interior art as well as the awesome cover, and I smiled excitedly upon finding this out. This comic also seems to take place in a slightly different version of Riverdale – a town beset by darkness, foreboding shadows, and a youthful gang now in College. The cheesy “aw, shucks” world has been turned upside down by writer Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa, giving Francavilla full play with his usually dark and noir-ish work. And he goes to town. While keeping the characters familiar yet newly designed enough to match the premise and feel of the book, Francesco fills the pages with deep black shapes, working his cast like a seasoned horror director, mixing tense lighting and dark spaces to affect mood and emotion. To round it off, his color work here is in hard blocks of dense shades, using it more like art-film lighting to enhance the doom and gloom of the pre-colored artwork. I’m reading a comic with Archie not only in the name but also in the lead, and I’m pouring over each page like it’s a shot-by-shot handbook to the films of Dario Argento, Stanley Kubrick, or even Nicolas Winding Refn’s recent films. Add in the use of visual suggestion over all-out gore, and we start to see a classic series taking shape.
But, as one would hope, it’s not just the artwork that makes this comic work – which it does on many levels. The writing is top notch, and deals with such a premise in a serious way that was entirely unexpected. It’s not hard drama by any stretch of the imagination, but the creative team here makes the whole thing read in a way I would never have dreamed I’d see in the pages of an Archie title. The gang are all here, though they are now a bit older and dealing with the problems and petty dramas that go along with their age, yet they still maintain some of the innocence and wholesomeness that had made the original comics so uninteresting to my 9 year old superhero-infested mind. The mix works, though, and that’s the best thing. At it’s very core (and more than just in the name or the general idea) this comic is a straight up Horror film. We have the young cast, naive and full of life. We have the older characters, here more for the attentions of the undead rather than the reader. A quiet town about to blow wide open with panic, filling with fear and dread. It’s all classic placement and it’s all here.
I’m sure by now this has been a rather long-winded ‘review’ of this comic, but I feel my relationship (or lack thereof) with this comic is important. When I say that this is one of the most exciting new takes on an old favorite movie monster I want it to ring the halls with my level of surprise. I want it to hit you as hard as it hit me. I want you to see why I stayed away from this comic for decades, only to be telling you now that you *have* to get this comic. Forget what you know of Archie, good or bad or in between. Do you love zombies? Perfect. Do you love amazingly expressive and cinematic artwork in your comic pages? Even better. Grab this first issue, give it a good look, and you just might pick it up. It may have taken me years to open up to an Archie comic, but it took me all of 2 seconds to turn the first page of this new title, excitement swelling up. What’s so big about that first page? Black background, bloody red and messy text: “This is how the end of the World begins…”. Me? 100% sold. Do yourself a favor this Halloween season – grab this book and add it to your pull list. Then tell all your friends that Archie is back, and he brought some ‘interesting’ new friends along with him. Hungry, undead friends.
Follow Cory Thrall on Twitter: @FeralFang27