This Afterlife With Archie review contains spoilers.
Given that there hasn’t been a new issue of Afterlife with Archie since December, it’s oddly fitting that the just-released eighth issue of Archie’s groundbreaking horror title is set on Christmas Eve. But the Riverdale refugees are too busy dealing with literal and figurative ghosts to find any time to enjoy the holiday.
Holed up in an abandoned hotel in Vermont that quite deliberately brings to mind the Overlook from The Shining (with the variant cover for this issue featuring an undead Jughead in full “Here’s Johnny” mode), the gang finds themselves still reeling from the mysterious death of Jason Blossom. What exactly happened in the woods between Jason and, to paraphrase the comic’s coining of a phrase, his “twincestuous” sister Cheryl, who is now demanding to be called Blaze? Meanwhile, Archie finds himself drinking root beer floats in the hotel bar and getting advice from Jughead’s ghost before his mom tells him a chilling bit of Riverdale trivia and he makes a shocking decision that will alter his fate forever. Merry Christmas everybody!
If the last issue was a slower-paced affair, that certainly isn’t the case this time around. The lengthy delay between issues was due to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s commitments to writing the Riverdale pilot for FOX (which, if picked up, will bring this comic’s weird Archie vibe to TV) and his duties on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.Ultimately, the wait between issues resulted in a longer-than-usual tale whose tight pacing and various revelations are both joyful and downright chilling — especially the revelation of a deal struck between the residents of Riverdale and Sabrina’s witch aunts that comes at a huge cost for the Andrews, Cooper and Jones families.
Yet despite all the supernatural occurrences, the comic continues to shine brightest when it comes to its human moments. Which are in no short supply this go round. Because Jughead died in the first issue, readers to this book never got to experience the character’s true dynamic with Archie. The fact that Afterlife with Archie has thrived without ever featuring this cornerstone relationship speaks to its strengths.
Here, Jughead’s ghost is able to reach out to his still grief-stricken friend thanks to the fact that spirits “get bumpy around Christmas.” After a lengthy conversation between the friends Archie questions his pal about how they are able to communicate. In an absolutely beautiful panel that marks one of Francesco Francavilla’s finest illustrations for the book thus far we see a pale bluish/yellow Jughead closing his eyes from the truth as he reveals his ghostly status to Archie. It is an understated moment that reinforces how there is still quiet beauty to be found in the damaged world of these characters.
Of course, Jughead is hiding his own secrets. Most notably the fate of his little sister Jellybean. While Jellybean was always a problematic figure in main Archie continuity, here she is nothing short of a fascinating representation of the human cost of the agreement struck by the Riverdale elders and the Greendale witches.
While all this is going on, Cheryl, er, Blaze has gathered all the women in the house together to reveal the truth about what happened between her and Jason. Readers aren’t privvy to the details as of yet, but the revealation is enough to make Betty lose her innocence…and her hope. However, Archie is there to help make things right. Although how Veronica will react to this is another ball that the book’s creative team will be juggling in the month’s ahead.
If there’s a criticism to be found here, and man is it rough finding one, it’s that Aguirre-Sacasa continues to underuse the Kevin Keller character. He is only featured briefly here in a scene in which everyone is deciding whether or not to banish Cheryl from the group, but his personal code of honor is fascinating to witness and hopefully he will take center stage in future issues.
At this point, it’s hard to say exactly where Afterlife with Archie will go next, and that’s part of the excitement. More than just a zombie story, it continues to explore all sorts of monsters — supernatural and human alike. As such it remains an absolutely riveting read.