While Archie, Betty, Jughead, and Veronica are regularly known for their wholesome all-American antics, Archie Comics has regularly pushed their flagship teenager into some weird and surprisingly mature territory. The gang has faced off against the Punisher, the Predator, a Sharknado, and Sarah Palin.
But Afterlife With Archie is perhaps their most gruesome and chilling tale yet.
Riverdale and its citizens are presented as wholesome as ever, but things immediately take a downturn within the first few panels. Jughead’s beloved pooch Hot Dog has been killed, and Jughead turns to Sabrina the Teenage Witch for help in resurrecting him. While Sabrina’s aunts warn Jughead of the dangers in performing such an act, Sabrina chooses to help her friend regardless, and Hot Dog comes back.
Jughead immediately pays the price for his wish, and Sabrina’s aunts banish her to the nether-realm for her defiance.
Meanwhile, Archie and the gang of Riverdale High prepare for the Halloween dance. As always, Betty and Veronica argue over who will go with Archie, while Archie checks in on Jughead after school. Jughead knows something is coming, but can’t bring himself to tell Archie the events of the previous day, other than warning him to stay away from Hot Dog no matter what. The two friends promise to see each other again, and while they do at the dance, Jughead, and all of their lives, will never be the same again.
Afterlife With Archie takes the familiar story beats of the Archie comic, and darkens them once the zombie contagion manifests. There are no punches held back, as Jughead’s “Patient Zero” status rips through the high school, building an army of the undead while sowing complete chaos throughout Riverdale. While many of the main characters escape to the Lodge Mansion to protect themselves and form search parties for their missing family and friends, not everything goes to plan.
The story itself takes several dramatic and emotional terms, when the teens realize the consequences of actions, the loss of loved ones, and the basic need to survive the horror just outside their door. Archie’s personal story arc shows perhaps some of the most painful of losses told through flashbacks, outlining the lessons of the past coupled with the sacrifices of the present. Readers can watch Archie grow from the likable teen into a leader that the survivors definitely need. It is Archie’s command that eventually leads the group as they escape to a very uncertain future.
Certainly, the action sequences in these first six issues are intense, but it’s the little asides the characters make that provide the most shocking revelations. And while everything is set within the formerly cheerful and pristine world of Archie, Afterlife introduces a dark, subversive element, and some characters hold dark secrets that threaten to tear the group apart.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa writes the story and dialogue with considerable emotional heft, while Francisco Francavilla’s art does not restrain from the gory situations and gruesomeness of the zombies. The zombies in question look like mindless, feral animals, and the book briefly touches on the violent mindset of these creatures. Each panel uses minimal colors of oranges, yellows, purples, and blues, creating a suitable and chilling atmosphere.
Afterlife With Archie is a great series to read, especially with the content played as “straight” as it is. Loss and failures are taken seriously in this world. Shortly after the first six issues, however, the release scheduling became wildly inconsistent, often going months at a time before another issue was released. It’s honestly a shame, as I had lost track of later issues, and there seems to be either no conclusion or cancellation announcement.
As a collected trade paperback and series concept, this is one of the best books that Archie Comics has put out in years.