Afterlife with Archie: Escape From Riverdale - Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla

As a means of some background I should state that I grew up with Archie comics; I got them not because I was especially fond of reading them or I went out my way to buy them, but because of circumstances: my aunt married the editor-in-chief of Archie Comics, and when I went off to camp, I would receive care packages of dozens upon dozens of Archie comic books, as would my sister. When we returned from camp we would swap our collections, reread old one, and simply accumulate more and more comics. At one point I think it is fair to say that I had hundreds of Archie comics, greatly worn through numerous re-readings. It didn't occur to me at the time, but I was extremely grateful to have all those comics to read. But as I grew older I found other things to spend my time reading—not necessarily comics at all—and the repeated story lines and juvenile plots did not hold my attention as they once did. I gave all my comics away to various children in the hopes that they might enjoy them and pleasantly pass a few hours although I cannot confirm if that actually was the case. Fast forward a few decades: my aunt and the editor-in-chief of Archie divorced, and he later, sadly, passed—the two events are not related. I had given little thought to Archie comics over the years although occasionally at a Comic Expo I would notice a large display for Archie and now and again I would read a piece in a newspaper speaking of an unusual event for Archie comics such as a crossover with the Punisher from Marvel Comics, or the introduction of a homosexual recurring character (which was more shocking to realize that it wasn't Jughead). I also heard in a podcast about a title of Archie comics called Afterlife with Archie. I was informed that it jumped on the zombie bandwagon and was a horror comic where in Jughead’s dog gets resurrected by Sabrina (as in The Teenage Witch) much like a Stephen King's Pet Cemetery plot but that this causes an outbreak of zombie-ism. While the reviewers in the podcast praised the title, I have known them to be fans of really bad comics, enjoying the fact that the comics were bad, and it wasn't until later, when I kept hearing more positive news about the title, that I truly became curious. Was it possible that a juvenile comic dedicated to promoting a 1950s era America that never truly existed was capable of presenting a horror comic with grit and realism? Luckily, I was able to find out.

Low and behold after decades of not receiving Archie comics I got a care package from my cousin (no end of thanks!) and in it was Afterlife with Archie book one, Escape From Riverdale. To cut to the chase let me unequivocally state that this was perhaps the best comic I’ve read this year if not the last couple of years! The coloring is dark and muted and yet vibrant with a great deal of orange and black in tribute to Halloween. The art is realistic, yet not overly detailed and provides excellent pacing and coupling with the narrative. The plot, as stated, falls in line with traditional zombie tales yet does not lack for pathos or suspense or outright horror. There are no punches pulled in this story. Despite this praise, the true genius comes from characterization. What must've been the most difficult part of this story was taking characters, well-known and rather two-dimensional, and turning them into people that are refreshingly new, yet true to their original design, as well as making the new characters (or rather newcomers to the comic) accessible. Again, the title does this with seeming ease. Characters either keep their core traits albeit with extremes, such as the heroic Archie becoming more heroic, the trouble-some Reggie becoming darker, etc. or other characters take on new twists such as the ever reliable Jughead becoming a menace, the steadfast Butler Smithers showing just how capable he is—he does run the Lodge household after all—, and speaking of the Lodges we get a great deal of insight into Mr. Lodge’s past and motivations. For additional and perhaps more extreme twists we have hints of two closeted lesbian lovers (or more than hints), as well as a strongly implied incestuous relationship of a brother-sister pair of high society, royal wannabes. In my final analysis, I simply must reiterate that this comic was an absolute pleasure to read, taking me greatly by surprise and impressing me with the ability to commingle the old safe and familiar with the darker familiar, as well as interjecting brand-new ideas. For a comic company not known for (self)promoting being innovative and cutting edge, this book puts those other companies to shame. Archie, Archie Andrews! Well done.