Months have passed since the last issue, both in real time and in the series, but Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla make a strong return with the long-awaited "Afterlife With Archie" #9. Spring has sprung in the apocalyptic world beyond Riverdale, Archie and the gang's hometown, and Aguirre-Sacasa bypasses the rigors of whatever challenges winter brought, which is perfectly fine by readers who want to see the gang survive a force of nature far more horrific than cold weather. This issue focuses on the ever-deceitful Reggie Mantle and delivers a surprising revelation about the zombie horror that has befallen Riverdale and beyond.
Lest there be a reader or two unfamiliar with the dynamic between Reggie and Archie, Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla lead off with a fresh and brilliantly simple recap. The first page is a one-page "Dick and Jane"-style primer that's not only a refreshing touch, but also one that's perfectly worded by Aguirre-Sacasa and sketched out in a children's book style that will remind readers of Francavilla's amazing versatility. The atypical page is lettered in old-school typeface by Jack Morelli and even serves as a recap of sorts.
Reggie's presence has largely been nonexistent throughout the series, but he takes center stage here, and -- perhaps for the first time in franchise history -- he gets a frighteningly plausible and realistic origin, one that paints him as something far worse than a troublemaking jerk. Aguirre-Sacasa's psychoanalysis-by-the-numbers of Reggie's personality might be overly simplistic, but it goes a long way towards explaining the nature of Reggie's personality that, in retrospect, almost perfectly aligns with decades of past behavior. Telling his story through Reggie's point of view, Aguirre-Sacasa keeps Reggie engaging by making him just sympathetic enough. They still have good reason to hate him, but they won't love to hate him here.
Aguirre-Sacasa establishes a deceptively simple connection between Reggie and the end of the world as he knew it; this connection will justify the reader's feeling that Reggie is an outright horrible person, but Aguirre-Sacasa deftly manages to keep them from wanting to lynch him. Whether Reggie is feeling genuine remorse or just selfish guilt over is actions is kept skillfully ambiguous, which will keep readers guessing as to whether Reggie is being set up as a genuine villain, a potential hero or just another jerkwad trying to survive the apocalypse.
Francavilla's moody art continues to build a dark and foreboding world, although his penchant for orange and yellow shades still speaks autumn more than it does spring. The story doesn't call for many appearances of Riverdale's undead, but -- when they do appear -- they're as horrific and frightening as ever. While rendered with a kind of minimal construction, Francavilla's still-living characters are highly expressive, and all their emotions -- from regret to disgust to sadness -- are all clearly captured and evoked. His typically simple layouts pace Aguirre-Sacasa's story perfectly and allow for his script to breathe.
Aguirre-Sacasa works in a bit of a surprise near the end, as well as a poetic use of irony regarding the ever-hungry zombie king, "Jugdead." "Afterlife With Archie" #9 both continues the story and peppers it with unexpected touches that make the series a must-read.