(Archie Comics, 2013)
Review by Shawn Warner
Written by Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa
Artwork by Francesco Francavilla
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Let me preface this review by saying that the first issue of this series was the very first Archie comic book I have ever read. I always thought of Archie and his Riverdale gang as a sort of Happy Days meets Saved by the Bell teeny-bopping high school romance thing, just something I would never in a million years have any interest in reading. It just wasn’t on my super-hero dominated radar and probably would have remained there if not for the innovative creative team of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francessco Francavilla and a suggestion from my good friend and colleague at the site, Cory. Even though I love Francavilla’s art it still wasn’t enough to overcome the stigma I had attached to Archie Comics from the days of my youth, I needed a fellow comic book enthusiast’s seal of approval and I am so grateful that he gave it because I love this book. The fact that I had no knowledge of these characters going into this story didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it at all, I’m sure that longtime Archie fans are more deeply affected by seeing their favorite teenaged cut-ups placed in such dire circumstances but as a neophyte reader of Archie I still felt a strange sort of nostalgic sense of innocence lost when Jughead’s hunger for hamburgers turned to a hankering for human flesh. Aguirre-Sacasa’s characterizations are genuine, he gives them heart and intelligence, they are not just fodder for silly one-liners and preposterous pop culture references. He infuses them with valid emotions and compelling history that enhances their interactions on a basic but real human level, their fear is visceral as are their confusion and panic as their idyllic world is invaded by an unthinkable horror. The narrative is experienced on a gut level; the character’s reactions are primal, fight or flight. In some heart-breaking instances survival outweighs compassion as in the scene where Veronica must bash an infected Ethel’s head to mush with a fire extinguisher to protect her friend Betty. This is certainly not for the squeamish.
Issue #2 picks up on Halloween night where the party is still in full swing despite the lurking terror that is threatening the residents of Riverdale. Francavilla does a fabulous job of capturing the mood of this story. His use of muted, diffused colors casts an eerie ethereal glow over all of Riverdale giving the issue a real sense of Halloween. The kids eventually extricate themselves from the ill-fated party and make their way through the woods of old Fox Forest to Veronica’s palatial home, there they convince a deeply concerned Mr. Lodge to allow them to hole up in the safety of the mansion while humanity makes what could be its last stand against a growing zombie horde that includes some of their best friends. There is something of a Joss Whedon vibe here, these kids call to mind the Buffy gang and the material is decidedly dark but with a wit and intelligence that lends it a modern relevance despite the somewhat dated sensibilities of the Archie characters. I know other attempts have been made to bring these characters created in a more innocent time into the modern world with its alternative life styles and liberal “feel good” mind set but nothing is more relevant to today’s socio-economic and political landscape than the zombie apocalypse. It is a metaphor for the disenfranchised, an ode to the wayward children of poverty and divorce, a love letter to the depressed, displaced and addicted Gen Xers who have failed to surpass the meager accomplishments of their thrice re-married parents. Ours is a generation of step-mothers and step-fathers, of half-brothers and half-sisters. These are dystopian times ripe for the marauding zombie hordes to unleash the Armageddon of the undead.
Afterlife with Archie is unlike the majority of zombie-centric schlock that passes for horror comics these days like the over-indulgent, vulgar and inane Crossed with page after page of pointless perversity. That book and others like it lack what Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla have given Afterlife in spades, heart. With the exception of the consistently entertaining and well-written, The Walking Dead, Afterlife with Archie is the only other zombie book that has given us characters we can root for and want to see survive. I am on board for the foreseeable future with this book. I hope this creative team stays together and continues the poignant, dramatic and intelligent narrative they have begun in these first two issues. If you are like me and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the town of Riverdale please give this book a try, I think you will be pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained. (4.75/5) So until next time, see you at the comic book store… unless the zombies get there first.
Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter: @shawnwarner629