Story: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Marvin Channing, Gray Morrow, Don Karr
Art: Francesco Francavilla, Jesse Santos, Gray Morrow, Frank Thorne, Al McWilliams
Lettering: Jack Morelli
What They Say:
“Escape from Riverdale,” Part 4 [of 5]: With two more members of our beloved gang infected by the dreadful zombie-virus, Riverdale’s one sanctuary—Lodge Mansion—has been compromised. The kids are left to make a significant decision—do they stay and fight or flee the only town they’ve ever known? Meanwhile, Archie makes a horrific discovery in his own home, one that may cost him his life! It’s red-headed teen versus gruesomely undead canine PLUS sorcery stories from the vault and all new special features in this magazine-size version of the award-winning TEEN+ series. Definitely NOT for all ages!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
If you had told me five years ago that Archie Comics were putting out some of the best titles on the shelf, I’d have smiled politely but not really have believed you. Well, I’m here to tell you that they are, and if you’re a horror fan (or just a fan of good comic storytelling) then do yourself a favor and pick up Afterlife with Archie. It’s one of the most engaging, exciting, and heartbreaking stories I’ve read in a while, which is an even greater feat considering I’m about as worn out as you can get on zombie stories.
It all starts with a dog. A car runs over Jughead’s best pal, Hot Dog, and he asks Sabrina the Teenage Witch to bring him back to life. She does so, but Hot Dog returns as a zombie and bites Jughead, turning him into a zombie as well, and if you’ve seen a zombie movie you know exactly where this is going.
Which brings us to the present. While most of the uninfected humans hide at Veronica’s, Archie heads home to find his parents. Hot Dog corners him, and Archie looks to be a goner, but his dog Vegas saves his life at the expense of his own.
Archie does find his parents, but his father has been turned into the walking dead, and the young man has to defend himself and his mother from him. Meanwhile, Cheryl and Jason Blossom hide out in their mansion, playing truth or dare and giving off some serious Flowers in the Attic vibes in a scene that doesn’t add much to this particular issue, but is obviously planting seeds for future stories.
The issue ends with Jughead and the zombie horde gathered together in preparation for an all-out assault on Veronica’s, and I have to tell you I have no idea if anyone will survive. There is a definite sense that anybody can die at any moment, as Joe Bob Briggs would say, and that’s the mark of a truly great scary story.
What makes this comic work so well is that Aguirre-Sacasa earns every moment. The comic actually begins with a flashback of Archie and his parents adopting Vegas. We see the bond they form and feel the love the two characters have for each other, making the scene where Vegas sacrifices himself genuinely moving and powerful. We even get to see Vegas’ thoughts in those final moments in text boxes. His thoughts are presented as parentheticals, and his words run together, which helps sell the idea that this is a dog’s thoughts as well as the gravity of the situation: “(run, archiemaster),” “(RUN),” “(MYLIFEFORYOURS).”
In many ways, Afterlife with Archie reads like the great EC comics of old—Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and so on—but where those stories read like hard, cynical diamonds full of despicable people earning their karmic retribution, Afterlife with Archie’s core is humanity. These are good people dealing with terrible events, and because they’re people, some rise to the occasion while others fall. And like the scene with the dog, this is why it works. While cynical horror can be fun, truly effective horror comes from a core of honest humanity.
While the writing alone makes this work reading, the art in this series is excellent. Francesco Francavilla is a master of color and mood. He bathes panels in blues and reds. His flashbacks filter through a warm yellow haze, and each color choice, each panel placement, each line fulfills a specific purpose. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that his work here is brilliant.
If I were a salesman, this is where I would say, “But wait, there’s more!” because not only do we get the great story of Archie and his Riverdale pals trying to survive, but the magazine also contains four stories “From the Vault.” These are short comics from the 1970s from titles like “Chilling Adventures in Sorcery” and “Mad House” and are also very much in the EC style. This is back when horror comics were published as magazines in order to avoid the Comics Code and what they lack in subtlety and color, they make up for in raw energy. I doubt anyone will be scared by these comics, and modern readers may well have trouble with the art and writing style, but these are great little gems from the past that are still worth reading.
This is the first issue of Afterlife with Archie I’ve read, and I am very impressed. While the premise may seem laughable at first, the skill and honesty with which its crafted make this not just a great horror comic, but a great comic in general. I’ll be back for issue five next month—or whenever it drops—and I hope you will be, too.
Age Rating: Teen+
Released By: Archie
Release Date: 4 February 2015