I cannot remember the last time I read, let alone, picked up an Archie comic (sometime when I was a little boy many years ago). Archie is a cultural icon, but he's something most people do not who read comics mention in a discussion. So what am I doing with this review on Archie, you say? Well because I heard numerous outlets rave about it last year when the first issue came out, then the second issue, and the third, and fourth, and the final issue were pretty big in the comic world. So I told myself to pick up the trade when it became available. And guess what? It's amazing and creepy and I loved it.
Collecting the first 5 issues of AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE VOL.1 see's something horribly happen to Jugheads dog, Hot Dog. He's guilt stricken and goes to Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (she was an Archie character years before the sitcom folks) and ask to use her magic to bring him back to life. But by her Aunts, it is forbidden and means terrible consequences if ever such a thing happen. Going behind their backs, Sabrina puts a spell on Hot Dog to see if she can help Jughead out, not even sure the spell will work. And mean while, Betty and Veronica continue their feud trying to win over Archie by asking him out to the costume dance on Halloween night. And on that night, public disturbances start happening, fires break out, and it all becomes clear: the town is being invaded by zombies! Now Archie and the gang have to survive and get out of Riverdale before it's too late.
Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (I'll just write Sacasa for short) makes a wonderful setup that is simple and plays out just like a traditional zombie movie, yet adds the Archie characters in modern-day setting and molds it perfectly without any prior knowledge needed for these characters. Archie is the lovable main character, Betty and Veronica still fight for his heart, and Jughead is the laidback goofball friend. All these characters retain their original selves, yet Sacasa puts them in the horror atmosphere with little to no problem. What makes a great zombie story great is the tension of the situation. Having to fight off friends and family who might or might not be zombies is powerful subject because it about loss and it keeps tension on a story. Sacasa does do that in spades with numerous moments where the writer takes time to give characters deep insight on the subject and then takes it away. There are a few scenes I really did feel a slight lump in the throat and times it felt flat out creepy, all the while giving each character conflicted thoughts.
I described the character building, but what about the horror aspect? I wanted to get to the artist, Francesco Francavilla on that because it makes the horror happen and sells the book on the art alone. His art works best with its minimalist style and bold colors to give huge amounts of tension that would make George Romero proud. There is blood, there is violence, and there is plenty of strong emotional settings Francavilla lays out and brings forth Sacasa's script.
This is the part where I usually lay out the flaws, but I didn't have any. I love this book. If anything, this is for teenage adults in terms of content. Again, it has blood, some cursing, and underlying tones of other adult subject matter (you'll see it when you read it). So this is not the cheerful go-lucky Archie you think of.
Well, it's true about this book. AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE VOL.1: ESCAPE FROM RIVERDALE really is a hauntingly scary, yet emotional character driven book that comic/graphic novel reader should give a try. You don't have to know a thing about Archie or the characters and you'll still get hooked with the simple zombie apocalypse story. I now have another great book to read around Halloween and I cannot wait for Afterlife with Archie 2: Betty R.I.P. coming out next year.