by Orion Tippens
Jughead is hungry…for human flesh?!
Yes. Afterlife with Archie is set in an alternate, less cartoonish continuity of popular Archie comics, where the small town of Riverdale is overrun with a horrific zombie epidemic; after local teenage witch Sabrina casts a necromancy spell in an attempt to revive Jughead’s dog, with unintended consequences. Living death spreads throughout Riverdale, sending America’s favorite teenager, Archie, and his non-infected friends fleeing for their lives. Their youthful life of milkshakes and sock hops is now a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
Who would have thought that Archie Comics could be a source for modern horror, suspense, and drama? Yet here we are – and the result is terrifying, brilliant, and fun.
As a fan of horror and comics, I was hooked from the opening page. Not so much for the tired gimmick of zombies; but the attention to what makes the best of this sub-genre wonderful: the stage environment and the players present. We have suspense and supernatural horror mixed with casual social commentary. When done well, any overplayed genre can be made fresh and enjoyable.
Plus, I love the biting and screaming.
The overall tone is more than simply “Archie with zombies,” or a Walking Dead clone. The unique art style of Afterlife with Archie is the key. Instead of the familiar comical style we all know, we get a dramatic and dark atmosphere. The night environments, use of shadows, and dramatic angles all work together to produce a foreboding tone. Classic, spooky lettering sound effects are used well, with strategic placement to enhance the horror. The coloring is also superb – especially the use of red (Archie’s hair and the Riverdale “R” on his sweater) – as is the storytelling’s ominous change of background, and the biting and screaming. Much of these fantastically detailed visuals (with occasional surprise gore) go back to the classic horror comics like the EC Comics of old (Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear) and the classic Warren Magazines (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella).
The full story is grand and terrifying. For this Riverdale, the outbreak is real and out of control. The only way to have a sense of order is through survival. The horrifying circumstances here are based on the supernatural, where the usual hope in prevailing science for survival is further diminished. What makes Afterlife with Archie even darker is how we lose familiar characters, or those we are just beginning to know, into the darkness. The terror seeks to consume, to overwhelm. We are left wondering who will survive, and keep the light, in the end.
However, not all is gloom and doom. We get some classic camp from the regular Archie comics. Some familiar tropes to modern campy horror are included, such as lesser characters making light of the situation, or in an excessive state of panic, which can make them the next to go. Many relationship angles are toyed with, including the dilemma of Archie’s ongoing “intimate relationship” choice between Betty and Veronica. Others are disconnected in some tragic, yet comically melodramatic way (poor Ethel Muggs). Jughead comes full circle with his insatiable hunger, and is reunited with his dog, but not in a good way. Such fun development keeps the comic enjoyable, without being too morbid.
We also see a return to classic heroism with our main character, Archie Andrews. He is brave, and a rule-breaker: a great lead character to root for, who is not concerned with impressing anyone or getting the girl. In contrast, it seems the rest of the survivors do, or at least fail to take control of their situation preferring to enjoy the comforts of safety while they can. Archie also deals with some serious, heartbreaking choices in issue four, adding maturity and development to a perpetually young character. I also love Archie’s shirt: I feel the “R” is now a clear symbol of his boldness, and a hope for Riverdale. His humble appeal and heroism make him the perfect, deserving protagonist in a plague-ridden apocalypse.
The overall pacing and plot keeps us readers in check, looking forward to each new chapter. Afterlife of Archie is an instant classic.
Look for Afterlife with Archie wherever current comics are sold. The single monthly issues are worth buying. Included as a bonus are reprinted “From the Vault: Chilling Adventures in Sorcery” black-and-white classic stories, included at the end of issues 2-4.
The mostly sold-out issues #1-5 will soon be collected in trade-paperback format (comics shops will get an exclusive variant cover for this release). Or, consider AwA on digital devices with apps providing current Archie titles (Comixology or iVerse).
Once this comic is in your hands, try turning out the lights. Use a small reading light for print, or none for digital devices. Wait until the late of night for reading – and turn every page with caution…
by Orion Tippens: longtime comics and sci-fi enthusiast, occasional journalist. Currently blogging at travelingorion.wordpress.com.