There’s a lot that can be said about the idea of unleashing zombies on the quaint town of Riverdale but all that needs to be said is this: it’s awesome, and you need to be reading “Afterlife With Archie.”
With the outbreak in full swing, the action moves from Riverdale High School to Lodge Manor as Archie and the remaining gang set up camp in what Archie calls “the fortress.” He would know; he’s spent the better part of the last century trying to sneak in to it. One of the gang is infected and Archie’s own sense of selflessness means he has to know what became of his parents, so he sneaks back out into the night, and what he finds there isn’t pretty. Well, it’s pretty because it’s drawn by Francesco Francavilla, but it’s not pretty because it’s horrifying.
This book is a throwback to the teen horror films of the ’80s in the best way. We’re watching the gang fall off one by one, making the slasher film mistakes, taking the scenario too lightly, brushing off a flesh wound as a minor occurrence, not listening to sooth-saying train passengers. What makes it work is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s handling of the premise and the characters. It’s all played straight with the rare tongue-in-cheek moment coming at just the right time, a momentary release from the surrounding tension. As Archie slips out of the Manor, Betty asks about the Coke vs. Pepsi debate of she and Veronica, and Archie’s answer is a perfect release valve for the gravity of the previous several pages. Aguirre-Sacasa knows exactly what he’s writing. There is an existing relationship with the Archie property for most every American comic reader which only increases the drama when seeing them in the scenario in which they are currently embroiled. This is Archie: The End. The dialogue is wrought with teenage angst and confusion, bare emotion and bravado. These are real teens trying to deal with their emotions for one another while being surrounded by the world’s end. I’m reminded of the film “Scream,” where characters are only self-aware enough that it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative. The cliffhanger had me genuinely dreading the opening of the next chapter.
Francesco Francavilla, whose recent multitudinous output makes me think he’s cloned himself, works slightly looser here which makes sense given the cartoonish origins of the main cast. The characters are rendered more realistic than is usually expected of the Archie style guide but still playful, with heavy blacks and lots of autumnal colors, also done by one of the Francavilla clones. The splash page where Archie finds out what became of Pop Tate’s diner while they were escaping the high school is equally gorgeous and sad and the real money shot of the issue.
The book also includes another old horror short in the backup, a “lost story” by legend of the medium Dick Giordano. Reprinted on parchment toned black and white pages that allow his art to shine the shot choices are all dramatic and very ’70s, befitting of the genre and continue the grim tone set by the main tale.
For all of the odd ingredients that go in to the bouillabaisse that is this comic book it works. If you enjoy horror tales but are disillusioned by the constant grim pallor that hangs over most zombie comics I highly suggest you give this book a try. It is clear that the idea is in very capable hands and that everyone involved is having a blast. Don’t pass by this book any longer.