The most unexpected comic of the decade continues! One thing fans need to realize before embarking on the harrowing journey that is Afterlife With Archie is that this book is not a joke. It is a dead serious story about very innocent teens caught up in a zombie apocalypse. The one aspect that Afterlife With Archie has that makes it an incredibly effective zombie comic is that fans will deeply care about the characters. These kids have had decades of beloved adventures. Most American comic readers cut their teeth on Archie and the gang from Riverdale. These stories hold a place of comfort and innocence for generations of readers…an innocence that is shattered by the horrific events of this book.
What is most amazing about Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s tale is that this unlikely genre collision works as an Archie story AND as a zombie story. All the Archie prerequisites are here, from Betty and Veronica sniping over Archie, to Jughead screwing up and causing the problem, to Mr. Lodge’s dislike of Archie…this is a pure Archie comic, but twisted and folded into a zombie story as unsettling and chilling as any issue of The Walking Dead. Most fans love Rick, Carl, Michonne and the rest of the cast of Walking Dead, but the love is new. The love for the Riverdale Gang transcends generations, so in Afterlife With Archie #2, when fans see Jughead actually violently kill Big Ethel, it freaking hurts. Jughead and Big Ethel’s cute little relationship goes back decades and is mired in the innocent tone of most Archie books, so to see it so tainted by the horror tropes of the zombie genre is watching your prom date being torn apart by monsters. It’s a juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane and it is brilliant.
Sacasa’s daring doesn’t end with the violence. He dares to introduce a subplot of forbidden lesbianism into the relationship between two Riverdale stalwarts, and dares to have the whole mess start with one of the purest and silliest Archie characters, Hot Dog. When these characters are threatened or hurt, it packs an emotional resonance of decades of stories that were pure and simple like childhood itself.
The art of Francesco Francavilla is probably the best and most daring artwork seen in years on a comic page. He has the difficult task of realistically portraying the Archie characters and still making them recognizable despite the absence of the usual cartoony Archie house style. Francavilla channels Gene Colan with his use of shadows and forced perspective while using his own unique palette of Halloween browns and oranges to craft a world that is thoroughly Archie but thoroughly wrong at the same time.
While destroying Archie’s world, Sacasa pays tribute to concepts and iconography that define the world of Riverdale. Having Archie dressed as Captain Pureheart at the masquerade dance where everything goes to hell is pure inspiration. All the Archie characters are explored to the utmost perfection and the book dares you to care about them, because they can die at any moment. The violence in the book is not overt, so when something terrible does occur, the impact is jarring. Move over Walking Dead, comics has a new king of zombies, and it has arrived from the most unexpected place imaginable.