The zombie genre is here to stay and has even cross-pollinated with other genres in comics, so it was only a matter of time before the undead shuffled their way into the Archieverse. “Afterlife With Archie” #2 is another strong and entertaining issue in the opening storyline featuring such an amalgamation, carefully woven by writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and confidently brought to afterlife by artist Francesco Francavilla. This title isn’t the first attempt by the publisher to depart from the traditional and decades-old Archie template, but it’s certainly the boldest and probably also the best so far.
Understand: this comic isn’t a parody, joke or done on a dare, and it doesn’t read like it. This second issue shows that the notion of a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale not only has the legs to stand on, but also to unflinchingly move forward. More importantly, it shamelessly proves that the idea isn’t as ridiculous or sacrilegious as it sounds. “Afterlife With Archie” possibly could have succeeded as a rotted-tongue-in-bony-cheek pseudo-comedy, more in tune with a typical Archie comic, but Aguirre-Sacasa doubles down and instead puts forth a story with a serious spin, respectful of the both the franchise and the genre he blends with it.
That’s not to say this story is an uncharacteristically dreary and full of nothing but decapitated cartoon limbs being munched on by the citizenry of Riverdale; this isn’t the comic for the usual all-ages laughs, but Aguirre-Sacasa is very careful to preserve the nature and personalities of all the characters, and by doing this still keeps the laughs coming, at least where appropriate. Betty and Veronica’s constant BFF bickering remains funny, Mr. Lodge’s dislike of Archie is as strong as ever, and Jughead’s usual voracious appetite makes him the perfect choice as Riverdale’s first flesh-hungry zombie, bringing a dark and ironic but no less comedic twist to the storyline. This clearly isn’t aiming for Archie’s younger audiences, but older readers will find it decidedly different yet still very Archie-like.
Francavilla’s talents are put to good use here; he’s given free rein to make Archie and company look the way fans of Francavilla would expect his characters to look, as opposed to being rendered in the usual Archie house style. It’s a bold but smart move; had this story been somehow executed looking it had been drawn by Dan DeCarlo, it would have looked disrespectful and even mean-spirited. This comic shows Francavilla at his best; the style is unmistakably his, while all of the characters’ likenesses remain instantly identifiable. Best of all, his deceptively simple linework makes the issue’s gory sequences blatantly obvious, but not embellished with excessive amounts of dangling entrails and other grotesqueries; he doesn’t shy away from on-panel horror, but keeps it from being overly in-your-face and gratuitous. It might be “Afterlife With Archie,” but it is still Archie.
“Afterlife With Archie” #2 succeeds not because it just pulls off such a disparate mash up, but because it’s actually a brilliantly written and superbly drawn effort, with a too-cool-to-ignore idea that’s impossible not to like. Both Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla know exactly how to tweak the franchise to make this work in such an enjoyable manner. Anyone who might have dismissed the idea based on a misconception needs to have another look. This could also be the comic for those who’ve always believed that Archie comics weren’t for them.