A few weeks ago, I stood in the checkout line at a local big-box store, waiting for the cashier to ring up my items, when a trio of teenage boys wearing superhero t-shirts (Batman, Deadpool, and Wolverine, if memory serves) and talking comics got in line behind me. I turned, smiled, nodded a friendly “Hello,” and then returned my attention to the cashier and my grocery order, and they began looking at and commenting on the various impulse items available there, in the checkout lane. I didn’t pay them much heed until their attention fell on the Archie Comics digests, and the following exchange occurred:
[Deadpool Kid and Wolverine Kid laugh in response.]
Wolverine Kid: Who’s Archie?
Deadpool Kid: I dunno.
Batman Kid: Looks dumb.
[More laughter ensues, and their focus shifts to the various earbuds on display.]
Where do I begin? First, in addition to Justice League of America, Teen Titans, and Superboy, Life with Archie and Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals were among my favorite comic book titles when I was a young comics reader, just starting out on this magnificent journey, and I loved the extra-thick giants and digests that reprinted older stories from the forties and fifties. (Incidentally, I preferred Betty to Veronica—just as I leaned more toward Mary Ann over Ginger on Gilligan’s Island.) Beyond the pages of my comic books, Archie and the rest of the Riverdale gang were on my TV, on my breakfast cereal boxes, and on my radio and record player. Archie was an integral part of my childhood, and the comics were very much entry-level stuff—one of the basic means by which one got into comics.
It’s just difficult for me to imagine a world in which kids don’t know who Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica are, but I guess that’s where we are now.
That said, the powers-that-be and the creative personnel at Archie Comics have done a lot over the past several years to bring attention to their teen-friendly line of titles. They introduced a redhead, Cheryl Blossom, to compete with Betty Cooper (blonde) and Veronica Lodge (brunette) for Archie’s affections, and they crossed over the Riverdale gang with the Punisher, KISS, and the kids from Glee. Moreover, they launched a new Life with Archie title featuring stories set in two alternate-future continuities—one following Archie’s marriage to Betty and one following his marriage to Veronica—and introduced a gay character, Kevin Keller, who went on to star in his own title and marry his partner in the alternate-future series. Heck, recently, they even killed Archie in the future timeline in order to explore the character’s impact on his friends and the community of Riverdale.
In 2012, Life with Archie offered up a variant cover by artist Francesco Francavilla that (jokingly) retitled the book Afterlife with Archie and showed America’s favorite teenager facing an onslaught of zombies led by his best friend, Jughead. The interior stories were absolutely free of the undead, so the cover was just for fun; however, it inspired something that would turn out to be incredible: an ongoing horror series by Francavilla and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa entitled—for real this time—Afterlife with Archie.
No doubt inspired by the zombie phenomenon of the last, oh, decade or so, Afterlife takes a different tack: this zombie apocalypse’s roots are clearly supernatural. After his beloved Hot Dog is hit by a car, Jughead takes his deceased pet to Sabrina—you know, the teenage witch—to whip up a spell to bring the canine back to life. At first, she’s hesitant, but, unable to bear Jughead’s misery, Sabrina consults The Necronomicon—yes, The Necronomicon—and, well, casts the spell. Hot Dog is resurrected, but he’s not quite the happy-go-lucky pooch he was prior to his death. He attacks his master, and the zombie apocalypse begins—on the night of Riverdale High’s big Halloween dance.
In this alternate universe take on Archie and the gang, things are a great deal more serious—and likely more melodramatic. When there is humor, it’s dark and comes from a more sinister spin on a familiar concept from the Archie mythos. For example, Lodge Manor, which has long been a challenge for Archie to break into in an effort to spend time with wealthy Mr. Lodge’s daughter Veronica, becomes a fortress to hold off the zombies—and Archie is aware of all the weaknesses for what should be obvious reasons.
Too, the relationships are deeper and, in some cases, more troubled, and we learn a good bit about Veronica’s mother, who has been a very minor character in the mainstream Archie universe, and her relationship with her husband, Veronica’s father. In addition to the horror, the character details make this book a worthwhile read.
Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla are clearly enjoying themselves as they put this story together, and they supply a number of genuinely scary moments that keep the pages turning. Really, the book works, whether the reader is familiar with the Archie characters or not, so it’s for horror fans and Archie fans alike.
BACKLOG RATING: 10/10 because Afterlife with Archie is flat-out awesome! The trade paperback is available with two different covers—one for bookstores and one for comic book shops. Incidentally, the book has been so successful that Archie Comics is launching a second horror title later this year: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It will not be connected to Afterlife but has been previewed in issue no. 7.