Afterlife with Archie quickly went from high-concept gimmick to the most consistently entertaining comic on the market today. If we wanted to become overcome by hyperbole, we might have the cojones to say that the pairing of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (whose success with the title resulted in him being named Archie’s Chief Creative Officer) and artist Francesco Francavilla is the best pairing in comics since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit much, but it’s hard not to get over-excited when talking about this comic. Afterlife with Archie is a book that on paper sounds like a clone of The Walking Dead, but is in actuality an original story that uses the zombie apocalypse as a backdrop to deconstruct and rebuild everything you thought you knew about Archie…and horror comics in general. Each of the title’s ten issues so far have twisted the familiar Archie tropes – a main character torn between two women, devoted friends, rivalry amongst the teens, etc. – into story points that take the readers into shocking and unexpected places. Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla’s Riverdale is one of mystery and danger, where nothing is impossible and no one is safe. And it is wonderful.
Spoilers follow from this point on.
The story so far: When Reggie hits Jughead’s beloved pet Hot Dog with his car, Jug takes his dead dog to Sabrina to see if she can help revive him. Going against the basic rules of witchcraft and nature, she does so using the Necronomicon. Unfortuantely, things go wrong and the undead Hot Dog bites Jughead, who soon becomes a zombie, kickstarting a wave of death and chaos within Riverdale. Archie and his pals band together in the Lodge mansion to survive, and along the way familiar characters bite the dust before they all are forced to leave Riverdale when it is overrun by the undead.
Oh yeah, there’s some stuff about siblings Jason and Cheryl Blossom’s incestuous relationship, Sabrina is forcibly married to Cthulhu, Josie and the Pussycats are vampires, and the residents of Riverdale made a deal with the witches of Greendale to protect their families from evil in exchange for some of their children. So as you have probably gathered by now, this is not the Archie you are familiar with.
With Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa currently busy working as the showrunner on Riverdale, it has been over a year since we’ve gotten a new issue of Afterlife with Archie (his companion book, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which features art by Robert Hack, has been luckier, and then became an amazing Netflix TV series). With the zombie saga on temporary hold, the Archie Madhouse horror imprint also debuted Jughead: The Hunger. A preview issue from earlier this year featured Jughead as a werewolf being tracked by hunter Betty Cooper, and was a worthy addition to the previously released Archie title books. All of this coupled with the fact that Riverdale and its spin-off comic are both getting darker and more supernatural this year indicates that Archie and company will be mixed up with spooky happenings for a while to come.
Yet it all began with Afterlife, so let’s take a look at the comic that spawned the renaissance with this list that explores the best moments from Afterlife with Archie to date. Some are scary, others heartfelt, but they all illustrate how this comic is unmissable.
#13 The Terrible Deal Between Riverdale Residents And The Greendale Witches
In the 8th issue, it is revealed that Riverdale residents struck an unholy bargain with the Greendale witches that would give them protection…so long as they each receive a sacrifice of one child from each of the Andrews, Cooper and Jones families over the course of the next generation. This revelation dovetails nicely with the reveal of Jughead’s sister Jellybean being the youth who fulfills this dark obligation. Pretty chilling stuff.
#12 Sabrina’s Aunts Reveal Their True Forms
After Sabrina violates the basic tenets of witchcraft and returns Hot Dog to life via the Necronomicon, her aunts show their vengeful witch selves and banish her to a strange netherworld. (Sabrina then disappears from the story until the 6th issue, where she takes center stage). For readers familiar with the characters of Hilda and Zelda from the Sabrina comics, various Archie cartoons and the long-running ABC TV series, it was jarring to see the pair suddenly transformed into flying crones.
By showing Hilda and Zelda’s horrifying true forms, the creative team made their mission statement known early on. This was going to be a book that would be redefining Riverdale and its inhabitants, so readers better buckle up for the ride. It was a move that served as a warning shot that nothing was out of the realm of possibility in this comic. And it just gets stranger/more fascinating from here.
#11 Pop Tate’s Choklit Shoppe Goes Up in Flames
Not since Chachi accidentally burnt down Arnold’s on Happy Days has the destruction of a fictional landmark hit us so hard. In Archie books, Pop Tate’s Chocklit Shoppe was a sweetly anachronistic hangout for the gang. It was the type of place that hasn’t existed in the real world for decades, but remained vibrant in the comics because it represented the youthful fun that will always be the core appeal of Archie and the gang.
Here we see it burning to embers as a manifestation of the innocence that is being stripped away from Archie in this comic. He’s no longer worrying about how to fix his jalopy or deal with having dates with Betty and Veronica scheduled for the same night. Now he’s worried only about keeping his loved ones alive. It’s a Hero’s Journey right out of the pages of Joseph Campbell that he’s on right now, and it is completely rebuilding the character in the process. But this entry is hardly the roughest thing Archie has to deal with in Afterlife…
#10 Blaze Is Born
What the exact relationship between Cheryl Blossom and her twin brother Jason is has been one of the book’s central mysteries. We’re not sure what exactly happened between the pair, although incest is most definitely implied, but whatever it is, it wasn’t good.
After entering the woods with her brother, a bloodied and battered Cheryl emerges asking to be referred to from hereonin as Blaze. It seems she has finally solved her Jason problem in the bloodiest way possible, and while readers don’t know what went down, Betty does…and apparently it is horrifying. But what exactly happened? We can’t wait to find out when the next issue is eventually released.
#9 Jughead Leads the Zombies
In our opinion, Jughead is the greatest of all Archie characters. So we were a bit bummed when we learned that he would be turned into a zombie in the first issue of Afterlife with Archie. Jughead has always been a fascinating character, what with his endless burger lust and avoidance of women. So to have that idiosyncratic voice removed from the mix seemed like a strange choice.
But here’s the thing, Zombie Jughead is just as intriguing. Now his lust for junk food has been replaced by a more sinister hunger, and since he was the first Riverdale resident turned the other zombies now look to him for guidance. The ultimate non-conformist is now in charge of a legion of undead walkers. This aspect of the story hasn’t been delved into too deeply as of yet, but I find it impossible to believe that Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla don’t have more plans for Jughead in their creative arsenal down the line.
#8 The Rich Inner Life of Hubert Smithers
Part of the joy that comes from reading Afterlife with Archie is seeing what secondary characters from Archie’s long history Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa will choose to develop. So far, he’s given such much-needed depth to Nancy and Ginger (featured here as lovers on the DL), the Blossom twins (whose Flowers in the Attic-esque storyline is both captivating and a complete distraction from the main action and an interesting compliment to how their relationship has been portrayed on Riverdale), and Mr. Lodge’s faithful butler, Hubert Smithers.
We’ve been reading Archie for decades and we never once considered Smithers to be anything more than a throwaway character. Hell, we didn’t even know he had a first name. But as it turns out, his life story is an Upstairs Downstairs/Downton Abbey-influenced tale of devotion and duty, and he comes off as Riverdale’s most noble character. He is the eyes and ears of Lodge Manor, and his keen observation skills allow him to take action when the unthinkable hits the home and people he has given up everything for. A man of action whose bravery and stiff-upper-lipness makes him an unexpected hero. Smithers lives to serve and serves to live, and we hope we see more of his story in future issues.
#7 Kevin Keller Gets Better
Since he was introduced in 2010 as Archie’s first openly gay character, Kevin Keller has become one of Riverdale’s most beloved figures. The character received immediate acclaim from the LGBT community, won a GLAAD media award in 2011 and became the first fictional character to be a spokesperson for the Spirit Day event, an annual day supporting LGBT youth. Yet there was a problem with Keller at first, he was a bit too milquetoast. Not in Afterlife with Archie though.
This comic’s take on Kevin is like that on Riverdale in that he is every bit the good man his mainstream Archie counterpart is, but here his voice is much more fleshed out and realistic. Like the Kevins in other Archie books, this one isn’t defined by his sexuality, but here he has a zest and self-confidence that is arguably absent elsewhere. This is best demonstrated when he tries to comfort a grief-stricken Reggie (who, by the way, inadvertently caused this whole zombie mess in the first place). True to form, Reggie takes Kevin’s gesture the wrong way, calls him a perv and swiftly gets punched in the face in the process. As we learned from our recent interview with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, there will be much more Kevin in future issues. This is a great thing, as he continues to prove himself to be the most fascinating gay character in comics.
#6 The Bloodsucking Ways of Josie and The Pussycats
In the eagerly awaited tenth issue of Afterlife with Archie, the “Betty R.I.P.” storyline was briefly put on hold so that readers could see what Josie and the Pussycats were up to while the world was ending. What few could have expected though was that the Pussycats were actually vampires, proving yet again that this comic’s universe is open to all forms of the supernatural. This creative decision was handled with tact, and I’m absolutely in love with the idea that the girls are selective with their blood-feasting choices (for example, choosing to prey upon a scumbag journalist).
There’s a lot of humor in this story — especially the idea that in the ’90s the Pussycats were a Spice Girls-esque act — but more importantly the tenth issue is filled with the exact kind of heart and tragedy we’ve come to expect from Afterlife. Whether it be found in the scene where Josie trades in her bandmates’ innocence for eternal life or Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s shrewd way of placing semi-forgotten Josie and the Pussycats character Pepper into the story, there’s a lot to appreciate here.
The ultimate goal of this issue is to set up the mysterious vampire Henry Irving as the book’s new big bad, which is something of an odd choice given that Cthulhu is hanging around with Jughead and Sabrina in its pages. How his actions influence the story from here, as well as how the Pussycats interact with Archie and company give readers much to anticipate. Plus, isn’t it just so rock and roll to have the Pussycats be vampires?
#5 Sabrina’s Chilling Adventures
Arguably the best installment to date, issue 6 focuses entirely on what Sabrina has been up to since we saw her banished to the Nether-Realm. It is a comic full of creative misdirection that leads you to believe that nothing that has happened so far is real, before pulling the rug out from under you in a twist that would make Rod Serling applaud. (See item number two on this list).
Is Sabrina going mad with her thoughts of zombies and strange formless voids? Did her aunts really perish in a fire when she was young, and she has imagined herself to be a teenage witch in order to deal with her grief? Exactly how much do Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla admire the works of H.P. Lovecraft? Finding out the answers to these questions is the most fun we’ve had reading a comic in ages.
#4 Archie Bids Farewell to Vegas
We here at Den of Geek are suckers for any story in which a dog dies. Dead dogs = instant tears. So just like Turner and Hooch and Futurama’s “Jurassic Bark” before it, the fourth issue turned on the waterworks in a huge way. First introduced into mainstream Archie continuity in 2013 and currently featured on Riverdale, Vegas is Archie’s beloved dog, a companion canine to Jughead’s Hot Dog.
In this comic we learn about how Vegas helped Archie learn about responsibility and devotion…before twisting the knife by showing us how the pooch sacrifices himself for his master. But as you’ll soon learn this was hardly the most painful thing to happen in this super depressing issue.
Afterlife with Archie you have made us weep. Are you happy now?
#3 Sabrina Marries Cthulhu
Yeah, so that happened. This glorious splash panel by Francesco Francavilla marks a moment when Afterlife with Archie draws back the curtain to reveal its true intentions: This will be a comic that explores all types of horror, not just zombies. In the wake of this sea change, all comparisons to The Walking Dead are instantly rendered moot. Afterlife with Archie is trying to be something different, more ambitious than just a zombie comic using Archie characters. It’s trying to tell creepy and cool horror stories in the EC vein using iconic figures that have endured for over 75 years. It’s this type of ambition that defines what today’s Archie is, courageously willing to leap onto uncharted territory and make it their own.
#2 Archie Chats With His Dead Best Friend
Although Jughead died in the first issue, Archie (and readers) never got to really mourn him until the 8th issue. During a conversation with his dead friend, Archie pauses to ask how the discussion is even happening. An absolutely crestfallen Jughead pauses for a second before telling Archie that he is a ghost. It is a beautiful, understated moment that for longtime fans of these characters is nothing short of devastating.
#1 Archie Kills His Zombified Father
As upsetting as Vegas’ death is, that is just an appetizer to the main course of pain that the fourth issue serves up. After opening up with a sun-drenched flashback to the day Archie first got Vegas and a rumination by Mr. Andrews that “death’s a part of life,” the story returns to the present day. Soon, Archie discovers that his father has turned into a zombie, and he is forced to kill him with a baseball bat. This horrific action plays out through 15 panels that travel between Archie’s warm memories of his father and the tragic present they each find themselves in. Alternating between light and dark, this sequence finds Francavilla at a series best.
Despite the horror going on, it is emotion that takes center stage here. Life milestones like Archie learning to shave and tie a tie are juxtaposed with the stark imagery of him bashing his beloved pop’s brain in. It is instantly unforgettable, and the definitive example of the craftsmanship that has come to define the title. Given how essential Fred Andrews was on Riverdale, this issue has an extra dramatic punch to it.
What a bummer to end on. Sorry folks!