Full disclosure: I have never read an Archie comic in my life, at least before Afterlife With Archie anyway. I knew Archie was set in Riverdale about the titular character, he has a friend called Jughead with a funny hat and there’s two girls, Betty and Veronica who like Archie. That’s all I knew. Happily that’s all I needed to know, in fact you could pick up Afterlife With Archie without ever having read Archie before and you’ll still be just fine.
While Archie is usually wholesome and humorous, Afterlife With Archie is neither. With a dark and horrific slant on the Archie characters, Afterlife is deadly serious. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has taken the setting and characters and let loose a zombie infestation on top of them. Francesco Francavilla joins him with stunning artwork that brings the whole thing to life, or would that be death? Either way, it looks fantastic.
Dismissing this as merely being “zombies meet Archie and pals” would be understandable but wildly incorrect. The story has real heart to it, I will hold up my hands and admit that I teared up around the second-third of the story thanks to some absolutely heart wrenching writing. There’s an undercurrent of doom and danger that permeates every single scene. Nobody is safe but everyone is so well written you care about the cast, seeing them suddenly dropped in danger is chillingly tense. It speaks to how powerfully written it is that these characters that I’d only just met were causing me to feel real concern. I can’t imagine what this must be like to read for an actual longterm Archie fan who’s had these characters with them for years.
I won’t spoil the story but the reason for the risen dead is clever and doesn’t break away from the tone of the book. They establish it in a way where it’s clear why it started taking place, it’s not left as a big question mark or simply ignored, but there’s some still some questions to keep you guessing. However the real plot is about survival. It’s the teenage cast trying to find one another and figure out how they’re going to outlast the night.
I’ve already mentioned the art is great but I’m going to repeat myself because it’s just that good. Francavilla is a phenomenal artist. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy his other work on titles like Black Panther and Batman but this is his career best work in my opinion. The dark black and red shades contribute heaps of atmosphere and transform Riverdale into a place that feels strange and unnerving. He has a masterful knowledge of framing too, the whole thing is exceptionally fun to look at but also very easy to read. Most of the pages would make fantastic posters with how brilliant they are.
Anyone who’s a fan of horror comics will enjoy Afterlife, the Archie characters will be a bonus for fans but at its core it’s just an incredibly engaging comic book. There’s still a lot of mystery to it too, this isn’t just about watching people run around and get eaten, what the limitations of the infection are and exactly how it works are things that you as a reader have to speculate on as time progresses. But all that’s just a bonus, the heart behind it all is the real reason to check this out. It’s an emotional story that lets its characters shine as vulnerable human beings.
Pick up a copy of volume 1, wait for the sun to set, then put on some spooky music and dive into Afterlife With Archie. You won’t regret it.