An Archie zombie comic? The whole concept reeks of crass commercialism designed to cash in on the pop culture desire for all things undead. It should never have worked, and certainly shouldn't have been as compelling as it turned out to be. This new trade paperback features the first five issues of Afterlife with Archie, encompassing the whole of the "Escape from Riverdale" arc. The story is, on the surface, uncomplicated. Reggie hits Jughead's beloved pet canine (named Hot Dog, natch) with his car. Hot Dog succumbs to his injuries. Grief-stricken, Jughead asks Sabrina to use her magic to bring his dog back to life. She does, but things quickly go wrong, and the resurrected pooch bites his master. Jughead dies from an infected wound but his quickly reborn as a zombie. Undead chaos then begins to spread throughout the once peaceful town of Riverdale.
It all seems pretty straightforward, but the story quickly outgrows its traditional horror trappings and mutates into something much more complicated and real. Archie and his rogues gallery of pals and gals are transformed from stereotypes and ciphers into realistic characters who are dealing with issues ranging from crippling self-doubt to fear of coming out of the closet. For the Riverdale gang, the zombie apocalypse is only one of the many problems they are facing. Handling the scripting chores is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa a lifelong Archie and horror fan, whose affinity for "America's Typical Teenager" is apparent and unwavering. Throughout the decades, Archie has been portrayed a lovesick jerk, a klutz and a goody two shoes. Here is just a kid trying to figure himself out when all hell breaks loose. His narrative arc finds him taking control of his friends as he attempts to lead them out of Riverdale and to safety--suffering incredible losses along the way. (Spoiler alert: If you think Fry losing his dog on Futurama was brutal, you better buckle up for this one). While he is trying to hold things together, secondary characters deal with their complicated personal interactions -- most notoriously the incestuous overtones of Jason and Cheryl Blossom. Aguirre-Sacasa never goes out of his way to exploit these characters or make their storylines feel ripped from a soap opera. They are all grounded in a heightened realism that feels extra strange given the supernatural occurrences that are at the very heart of the story.
It was one of Francesco Francavilla's variant covers for Life with Archie that jump-started this project to begin with, so it is only right that he handles the illustrations here. The Italian artist uses dark colors and surrounds the suddenly realistic-appearing characters with shadows that are representative of the bleak uncertainty they all face. He uses splash panels sparingly, instead choosing to focus on jarring closeups that amp up the tension. Francavilla's art leaps off the page at times and punches you in the gut, such as in a massive panel in which Archie stands in front of a burning Pop Tate's Choklit Shoppe. It is the visual representation of a comic icon's innocence being stripped from him and it is marvelous.
This value-priced paperback contains the complete "Escape From Riverdale" arc as well as a variant cover gallery, some insights from Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla's rough sketches. (The Chilling Adventures in Sorcery reprints that grace the back of each Afterlife with Archie issue are not included here sadly). With Archie being fully committed to this full-on horror comic for the forseeable future, this paperback compliation is a great opportunity to check a truly original take on Archie and the gang -- regardless of if you have ever read one of their adventures before or not.
Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale
By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesca Francavilla