What They Say:
Transformed by a necromantic ritual gone wrong, a zombified Jughead leads hordes of the hungry undead intent on devouring the inhabitants of Riverdale. Archie, Betty, Veronica and the rest of the Riverdale High gang take shelter in the palatial Lodge family mansion, but how long can they hold out against the relentless ghouls?
Zombies don’t scare me. Actually it’s rare for much of anything horror-wise to get a reaction out of me these days. So it’s odd (and delightful,) for me to say that an Archie comic, of all things, did just that.
But this is no ordinary Archie affair, no sockhop with the Riverdale gang down at Pop Tate’s diner. This is a zombie-horror comic done up with the all the classic tropes of the genre front and center, and it works as well as it did 60 years ago in the heyday of EC horror comics and Tales from the Crypt from which Afterlife With Archie takes so much inspiration. (Not to mention nods to just about every other popular horror medium from the 50’s on.) And Aguirre-Sacasa’s efficiently implemented pacing and focus on character development over shock value is the reason these played out themes work as well as they do here. Archie, Betty and Veronica are the stars of the show, but every character has depth and believable motivation. Even second stringers like Veronica’s father and the family butler, Smithers, (as well as multiple other Archie Comics regulars,) are given their own tight and enjoyable sub-plots. These character connections are the soul of the story, and create real empathetic moments. When characters you care about are trapped together in the zombie-shelter pressure cooker you feel the tension because you actually care whether they live or die, something many horror properties end up lacking in.
And they will die, of course.
But death and near-death here make for some truly heart wrenching, terrifying, and even poignant scenes, and the fact that Aguirre-Sacasa managed to elicit all these feelings while utilizing a cast of characters that most people would associate with being pretty goofy and cartoonish most of the time is a truly wondrous feat. In many ways the juxtaposition of Archie, “The all-American Teen,” with images of gruesome horror and destroyed suburbia really adds to the overall effect of the book. If I’ve got one gripe with the storytelling here, it’s due to the somewhat anticlimactic end of the Lodge mansion zombie-siege, but it’s a small complaint, filed against an ongoing series that looks to be headed in some very interesting directions.
As solid as the narrative is, the art in Afterlife is on a whole different level, and deserves much more space than I can afford it. Mood is incredibly important for effective horror storytelling and Francavilla’s art is some the boldest that I’ve seen on a comic book page. A vibrant mixture of orange and black, splashed with dark purples, blues and greens make for a singularly unique Halloween inspired color palette. Add in potent use of shadow, silhouette and all black paneling and you’ve got a totally mesmerizing and memorable style. There’s a reason Francavilla has won Eisner’s for his cover artwork in the past, after all.
Afterlife With Archie is an extremely solid piece of work that takes the tired theme of zombies and, utilizing excellent character work and an inspired, pulpy art-style, makes it feel fresh again. If you’re a horror aficionado, this is an absolute must-have. Highly recommended.
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Archie Comic Publications
Release Date: June 10th, 2014