Shambling forward, jaws dropped in the eternal note.
Rising out of some overgrown bog, Jon’s back, covered in moss and clutching the latest edition of everybody’s favourite comic review. This week we’re gonna take a stroll down to beautiful, scenic Riverdale to run and hide from the lurching undead masses moaning for our sweet, supple flesh as I talk about book one of Afterlife With Archie.
Basic Plot Overview (minor spoilers, nothing substantial):
The comic opens with an ominous line “THIS IS HOW THE END OF THE WORLD BEGINS…” followed by Jughead Jones carrying the corpse of his recently killed dog to Sabrina The Teenaged Witch’s home, as tears streak down his face. Someone has hit poor Hotdog with their car and killed him, and Jughead Jones has come to Sabrina in the dead of the night praying she knows a way to bring his beloved pet back.
Unfortunately, Sabrina’s aunts (also witches) forbid it, saying that if the dog were only hurt that they could help but it has already passed on and a resurrection is out of the question for necromancy is blasphemous. “…Sometimes dead is better.” they remind Jughead, who goes to leave with his dead pet in his arms only for Sabrina to agree to help him against her two aunt’s wishes. The spell is cast, Jughead leaves Hotdog’s body and heads home with the promise that he’ll rise again. Sabrina is caught upon her return and punished along with her cat Salem for her defiance, being banished for one year’s time.
At the Jones’s home, Jughead skips school to wait for Hotdog’s return and is overjoyed to see him alive again but the reunion is bittersweet. Hotdog is now a rabid, undead hound and bites Jughead’s arm and it all goes downhill from there.
The writing and basic story are both very serious and at the same incredibly cliche,
in a positive, hilariously over-the-top way. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is a writer who knows how to make everything hit its mark. The dialogue, the story’s pacing and even the narration (usually just a character’s inner thoughts) all work together in a cohesive way.
At the end of book one I was genuinely craving more story, more of the Riverdale gang becoming Rick’s group from The Walking Dead (except less oppressively “grimdark”).
It is a fun read thanks to him, that draws you in more and more the further you go on through it.
On the art front, Francesco Francovilla nails it. But honestly, that’s to be expected.
From composition to character redesigns (that still stay true to the original style),
his line work, his inking…its all just so visually striking. Especially when you look at the colour palette, which shifts and evolves appropriately whenever needed. Flashbacks are typically shown in a warm, orange-yellow tint and red plays an increasingly major role as the story continues. Funnily enough, the character who I think looked the best with Francovilla’s redesign was Jughead Jones, who’s character design changes completely when he becomes a zombie (don’t even dare call me out on spoilers for that one),
which is incredibly quick. Francovilla brings out so much detail in his characters,
retaining their original feel while not looking like he’s traced a real person like he came out of the Ultimate Marvel line. Panel layout is fairly standard, without being boring,
keeping pacing quick but never too quick.
Lettering by Jack Morelli is done exceptionally well, subtle when it is required,
yet always eye-catching. Never illegible, either. Morelli is a pro at what he does.
While reading, you’ll definitely feel how ridiculous it is to see the Riverdale gang being beset on all sides by ravenous undead versions of their friends and family,
which will keep you from feeling any real serious emotional moments during the story. Except for a few moments, like the one that actually made me sad, which I’m actually mad at Aguirre-Sacasa and Francovilla for getting me with because they got me with a trope. They got me with a sad pet moment (spoilers ahoy!), when Archie’s dog (Vegas) sacrifices his life for Archie’s. It is excruciatingly heart-wrenching because of the interconnecting nature of the art and the writing, demolishing your emotional stability on all fronts.
Check out this page:
How can that not make you feel anything? Now read this line that Vegas thinks as he’s fighting a losing battle against a zombified Hotdog, I’ll even keep the caps lock on and use all the same grammar as in the comic to fully capture this dog’s dying thoughts. “RUN. MYLIFEFORYOURS. LIVE, ARCHIEMASTER. THANK YOU—LOVE YOU—FOREVER—BUTNOW—RUNRUNRUN—LIVE!!!” If you’ll excuse me for a second, I need to go drink and think about dogs for a bit, alone in the dark. Any infrequent sobs you may hear are not coming from me.
…*snif* Wooo, okay we’re back.
Aguirre-Sacasa also finds a way to make Reggie Mantle, asshole incarnate,
sympathetic for a while. A brief moment where you’ll go “Huh, Reggie’s not a total asshole.” And then Reggie acts like Reggie again and you just want him to get clocked in the jaw, which hey, spoilers, happens. And it is great. Man, Reggie can suck it.
Afterlife With Archie is an incredible series, I hope it continues as long as possible.
Saying that, I feel I should preface it with “only if it can keep up this incredibly high quality on all creative fronts.” A tad unfair but it is a ridiculous premise that requires a lot of things to make it work. Every single part of the comic needs to be amazing to work or else it’s just another “take and add undead” which are dime a dozen. I am 100% glad I bought this on a whim knowing very little about it before hand.
I kind of hope this series continues and adds more supernatural elements into it.
They have witches and zombies, through in something eldritch or whatever. Hell, if they won’t get sued toss in the Graboids from Tremors! Archie Verses Tremors would sell a million copies in a minute. Because I would buy all of them.
The TPB of Afterlife With Archie comes with tons of bonus material in the form of variant covers to look through, as well as scans of Francovilla’s thumbnail’s of the comic’s interiors. Definitely increases the value of the book overall for an art nerd like me.
As someone who’s not deeply entrenched in the Riverdale universe, though I guess a bit more than the average person, I very much enjoyed this book. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t getting an inside reference, ever. I’m sure there were some but I never felt left out,
which can be a problem when jumping into such a rich universe…which feels odd to say about Archie Comics but that franchise is around fifty plus years old. That alone is a feat, in and of itself but to make sure that someone who knows next to nothing not feel excluded…wow. Great job, everybody involved. Characters and their motivations are incredibly clear from the get go (Archie wants to help everybody, Veronica wants to keep Archie and her father safe, Jughead didn’t want his dog to die, etc.) and the story moves at a brisk pace.
Highly recommended to anybody looking for an actually entertaining zombie story that isn’t too dark or too slapstick. I am sincerely craving more story, really want to blow more money on these books. Oh and if you want more of Archie and the gang in supernatural situations, try Archie’s Weird Mysteries, a terrible cartoon with an infectiously bad opening song.
And that, my dearest of readers, brings this Peril In Panels article to a close.
Keep it monstrous, everybody!