When it was announced on Monday that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had been named Archie Comics’ first ever Chief Creative Officer, it cemented something that longtime followers of all-things Archie have known for awhile – that Riverdale is quickly becoming the most interesting destination in comics. Between the work that Kevin Keller creator Dan Parent has been doing for the company and Aguirre-Sacasa’s collaboration with the peerless Francesco Francavilla on Afterlife with Archie it is more evident than ever that Archie will not rest until it is every bit the industry juggernaut that Marvel and DC are.
That may sound a bit hyperbolic to be sure, but anyone who has read the touching and terrifying fourth issue of Afterlife with Archie will agree with the assessment that the comic explodes with creative potential.
Picking up immediately after the cliffhanger of the previous installment, left off, issue four finds Archie face-to-face with a reanimated Hot Dog. Fortunately for our red-headed hero, his faithful dog Vegas is there to protect him. This confrontation leads into a powerful flashback sequence in which it is revealed how Archie’s parents took him to get his canine companion when he was a child. Their ensuing conversation touches upon everything from learning about responsibility to the inevitability of loss. It is a quiet, gripping squence that feels like something out of a particularly somber Coen Brothers film rather than an Archie comic. Then, unsurprisingly, the action jumps back to the present day and all hell breaks lose. Riveting.
If you have been following Den of Geek’s updates about this issue, then you know that Archie encounters a zombified loved one in its pages. While I wouldn’t dare to reveal the who, when, and whys of this meeting, I will say that it results in the second of two deaths in the issue that are absolutely devastating. The writing of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa here is a series best to date, while Francesco Francavilla’s illustrative flashbacks to better times are handled with subtlety and infused with a warm richness that is otherwise absent from Riverdale’s now-apocalyptic landscape.
The only slight downside to this issue is that its brief glimpse into the increasingly twisted/incestuous lives of Cheryl and Jason Blossom are somewhat tonally out of whack with the emotional weight of the main story. The “Blossoms in the Attic” storyline (a brilliant marketing description cooked up by Archie’s publicity department) is intriguing to be sure, but it would have been better placed in a later issue where it wouldn’t have been overshadowed by the stunning lead narrative.
As it stands though, Afterlife with Archie #4 is the best-written comic of the series so far. I have no idea where things will go from here, but it’s a safe bet that there’s no happy ending in site for the characters. As for the readers, watching the world end continues to be captivating.