This Afterlife with Archie review contains spoilers.
In their 1992 song “What Happens Now?,” underrated college rockers “Kitchens of Distinction” discuss “the sweetest pain” of being in a tumultuous relationship. It’s something anyone who has ever been in love can relate to, especially when said love seems to be a bit one-sided. I bring this up here because waiting for each new issue of Afterlife with Archie is the sweetest pain that comic fans can endure. They know that like the best couplings when it finally arrives it will be unexpected and absolutely pull the rug out from underneath those experiencing it…but also will be over far too soon, and leave behind nothing but heartache and wondering when such pleasure can be experienced again.
Am I being melodramatic here? Almost certainly. Unfortunately though it has been a year since the last issue hit stores, so such lovesickness is warranted. Now that’s Afterlife with Archie is back, will audiences still feel the same, or has the torch fans have been holding burned their arms to ember? The good news is that the story has not lost any of its emotional punch. In fact, nine perfect issues in and it is becoming evident here that this run is a master class in how to create comics — a fact demonstrated further by the current installment’s character study of Reggie Mantle.
Some context: Reggie has long been a problematic character in Archie books. The traditional comics have him flip-flopping between being Archie’s pal and the biggest jerk in Riverdale (this often would occur in separate stories featured within the same issue, giving readers no sense of who he really was). In his Life with Archie: The Married Liferun, Paul Kupperberg corrected this to make Reggie a relatable, if not downright lovable, character. The journey towards a three-dimensional Mantle is complete with this Afterlife with Archiethat opens with Reggie questioning whether or not he is a sociopath and ending with him making a near-literal deal with the devil. Until we get to that point however, readers are given the truth about what happened on the night where Reggie set into motion the zombie apocalypse.
He drove his car into Hot Dog on purpose.
And for no reason other than he was frustrated with his lack of getting anywhere with Midge. Its a dark and cunning move on the part of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa as this leaves Reggie seemingly without any shot of redemption (oh yeah, he is also teaming up with Jugdead, evil Sabrina, and Cthulhu to kill Betty Cooper by issue’s end). Here’s the rub though — you still feel kind of sorry of Reggie in a weird way. Surrounded by such noble friends as Archie and Kevin Keller, how could a borderline personality like him tip any way but towards the dark side?
As great as the forward plotting is here — with the ongoing story taking a back seat in issue 10 as readers get to see what Josie and the Pussycats have been up to during this mess — equal amounts of credit must be given to Francesco Francavilla, whose work here is absolutely peerless and continues to pair perfectly with the complexity of Aguirre-Sacasa’s words. A part of the huge delay of this issue was the writer’s involvement with the American Psycho musical and the Riverdale TV pilot. Issue 10 is supposed to hit in August, but even if it doesn’t that’s okay as long as the quality of the book remains as is. I would much rather wait a year between issues than have this creative dream team break up in some form. After all, true love is the sweetest pain.
Chris Cummins is a writer and Archie Comics historian. You can follow him on Twitter for semi-regular musings on Riverdale at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion