It’s Thanksgiving in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla’s “Afterlife With Archie” #7, and as the gang flees their zombie-overrun town, the one thing they’re likely most thankful for is that they’ve simply made it this far. Aguirre-Sacasa focuses largely on Betty’s past and the genesis of her relationship with Archie over the years, a relationship that creates more tension than usual with Veronica with the entire group on edge and in constant danger. While Betty’s flashbacks are certainly reflective of better times than the present, her diary writings don’t show that pleasant a past.
The context of Aguirre-Sacasa’s story features Betty trying to reconstruct her childhood journal, left behind after fleeing Riverdale. There’s an implication that her childhood memories are filtered through years of retrospection and are decidedly skewed by the somber mood of the ongoing deadly situation. Betty’s recollection of her mean-spirited older sister and her competitive relationship with Veronica is a clever spin on her life story that does nothing to diminish or negate the brighter, happier life shown in the traditional comics; instead, it’s a recollection that shows negative elements of her past that come to the surface more easily during darker and more challenging times, that had no place in the other comics.
Aguirre-Sacasa also gives a look at Cheryl Blossom’s past, whose history is much, much darker. Knowing he’s working with a less established and perhaps less-beloved character, her Thanksgiving flashback shows her to be emotionally detached and even strongly hints at psychopathic tendencies. Such a leap with one of the core characters would have constituted a jump-the-shark moment for the series, but as presented only serves to elevate the already intense and horrific mood established in past issues. In fact, this shift leads to one of the series’ most unexpected endings.
Cheryl’s flashback is one that’s very eerily depicted by Francavilla, especially by way of the sequence’s colors. Or color, as it were, as the scene is entirely rendered in greytones, save for Cheryl and her family’s bright red/orange hair. Betty’s own flashback is executed much the same way, with only the addition of a bright yellow used to depict her and her sister’s blonde manes. Varying shades of these autumnal colors dominate the issue, working on many levels, by keeping the look consistent with past issues, playing into the story’s holiday theme, and simply working so well as a haunting mood setter.
As he has masterfully done with every issue, Francavilla also evokes a continuously horrific mood with his shadowy layouts, and depictions of familiar looking characters that have been transformed into more realistic –yet oddly recognizable — incarnations of themselves. These transformations constantly provide an uncomfortable, uneasy feeling; there’s no forgetting that this is Archie, Betty, Veronica and the gang on an adventure, but the altered look and decidedly different atmosphere make for an uncomfortable yet riveting dichotomy. Francavilla skillfully takes these iconic figures from their comfortable, utopic environment and makes them work just as well, if not better, in one that’s completely dissimilar in every way possible.
Aguirre-Sacasa also throws in a couple of powerful and brilliantly ironic moments; as Archie and friends press on, they find themselves avoiding groups of other survivors, in a seeming nod to the semi-isolationism of Riverdale and the gang’s infrequent need to ever venture beyond its confines. When Archie’s group stops long enough to conduct an impromptu funeral and burial service for their stricken friends and family, they find themselves attacked by many of the very same former loved ones that they had been honoring.
“Afterlife With Archie” #7 continues and even heightens what it started in issue #1, proving that it’s no mere gimmick and is instead a superbly conceived and executed effort that only gets better.