Afterlife with Archie #1: Riverdale in a darker light

Carljoe Javier

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The premise is simple enough: Archie characters plus zombies

POWERHOUSE CREATORS. 'Carrie' 2013 screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla are behind this new series. Screenshot courtesy of Carljoe Javier

MANILA, Philippines – Even if you haven’t read the comics, you probably know the gang from Riverdale. I have to confess to not having picked up any of their comics in at least a decade, but these characters have endured, and they still strike a chord with many readers.

This new book, “Afterlife with Archie,” looks like the kind of book that could reach and and grab (or maul and infect) an audience that Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica don’t usually reach. 

The premise is simple enough: Archie characters plus zombies. The zombie trend is showing no signs of dying (okay, okay, I know I’m having way too much fun with this) and it seems an easy cash in. 

Something has to be said about our current obsession with the undead. Is it just that they are cool? Or is it their symbolizing conformity, or the loss of a real-lived life while stuck in the drudgery of modern society? Whatever it is, it has made these monsters the most prevalent creepers in a lot of content.

So that would make it easy enough for Archie Comics to merely cash in on the trend. And this is where I appreciate this book the most. It isn’t just a cash in, doesn’t just try and ride a trend. It genuinely engages both the source text, the Archie comics and characters, and the horror elements of a good zombie story.

It’s hard to judge where this might go since this is just the first issue, but it is clear that writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (screenwriter of “Carrie” 2013) has embraced Archie and his friends. He also wants to put a new spin on things. There’s a definite darkness that the book is willing to engage that you wouldn’t have expected.

What makes this an outstanding book is the art of Francesco Francavilla. You have never seen these characters this way before. You will recognize them, but Francavilla brings his own flavor to how they are drawn. He also has a very stylized approach to how he builds his pages, and that moves the story along, keeping it tight and gripping.

SAME CHARACTERS, STRIKING RENDITIONS. Francavilla's touch makes a world of difference for Archie fans. Screen shot courtesy of Carljoe Javier

Most striking, especially if you read a digital version, are the colors that Francavilla employs. There’s nothing that feels natural in the way that Francavilla colors the book. Even scenes in daylight and brightness feel uncomfortable and off, as if things are sickly and off.

It is a total embrace of the horror elements of the story. This isn’t going to be a cutesy book about who Archie will choose. Sure, Betty and Veronica have their scene where they are both pitching to Archie; but even with these familiar elements, this book goes much darker, much more disturbing than one might expect this to go.

In the opening pages, Jughead shows up at Sabrina’s door and begs her to do something for Hotdog, who has just been hit by a car. She decides she has no choice but to try and help, so she casts a spell to bring Hotdog back to life. Of course, we know where this goes, as Hotdog comes back as something else.

And all of this is happening as the teens of Riverdale gather for the Halloween dance.

If a first issue is anything, it’s a pitch to keep readers going. And “Afterlife with Archie” does that perfectly. We get the Archie stuff we love. We got some great horror sequences. We have some amazing art that readers will want to pore over, go back to and even study.

Most importantly, we’ve got the promise that this is going to be a very good series. If this is just the start, then I am definitely sold.

So whether you’ve got a love for Archie or zombies, and in the best case scenario, a love for both, then “Afterlife with Archie” is something you will definitely want to pick up. A former professor of mine saw this and said, “What have you done with my Archie!?”

I couldn’t help but reply, “They made it awesome.” And indeed, this added genre twist shows both the strength of the base characters and the interesting direction that you can explore with them.

After throwing them into the multiverse, why not a romp with the undead? –

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