Publisher: Archie Comics
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Colourists: Francesco Francavilla
Lettering: Jack Morelli
Release Date: 15th May 2014
We’re all familiar with Archie, right? Riverdale High School student, red hair, constantly fending off the advances of Betty and Veronica? Yeah, that Archie. Ever wondered how Archie and pals would fare in a zombie apocalypse? Well, neither had I, that is until Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa made the somewhat inspired decision to expand a ‘zombie’ variant cover from the supremely talented Francesco Francavilla into a full-length ongoing series, providing a more grown-up (and shockingly violent) take on the inhabitants of Riverdale as they find themselves crossing paths with the living dead.
Interestingly, Afterlife With Archie is the first Archie comic to be sold in comic shops (as opposed to newsstands), and is also – somewhat tellingly – the only one of the company’s titles to be rated ‘teens and up’. This isn’t your mum and dad’s Archie, folks. And right from the very beginning, that much is made readily apparent with Francavilla’s creepy, detailed artwork picked out in a menacing colour palette of dark blues, oranges and reds.
Rather than merely a ‘gimmick’ though, this is actually a tense, tightly plotted horror tale in its own right. The zombie outbreak is developed gradually (and with a somewhat unexpected source), creating a genuinely unnerving scenario for our traditionally ‘All-American kids’, as well as providing a storyline backdrop that occasionally explodes into frenzied bouts of bloodletting before settling back into prolonged, nerve-shredding tension. Like a glorious throwback to the classic 80’s “teen” horror flicks, the story gradually sees the ‘gang’ picked off one by one, keeping the reader invested and guessing as we try to figure out who’s next.
As impressive as Roberto Aguirre-Saca’s grasp on the horror genre seems to be, the main selling point of this collection – for me, at least – is the absolutely stunning artwork of Francesco Francavilla. Archie and the gang don’t look anywhere near as cartoony as they usually do, but neither do they look as realistic as Francesco’s usual noir-drenched output. Instead, he lands somewhere in the sweet spot between keeping these characters recognisable as their ‘usual’ selves and adding a whole new grown-up slant to their visual style. The horror is truly horrific, the gore is used sparingly enough for it to have real meaning, and the facial expressions on our ‘heroes’ as they find themselves swallowed up by sickening realisation of their situation are absolutely perfect. This is a beautiful book, and one that champions the use of colours to provide atmosphere about as perfectly as I think I’ve seen in any comic.
While my prior knowledge of Archie and his pals is rudimentary to say the least, that lack of investment most definitely didn’t impact my enjoyment of this fantastic horror graphic novel in the slightest. Yes, the main hook of this series is undoubtedly in seeing these familiar characters in a brand new setting, but for me, that quickly became secondary to the tense storytelling and visual appeal of the book itself. If you’re an Archie fan, then you’re likely to get an extra kick out of seeing the gang you know and love fending off (and in many cases becoming dinner for) the shambling zombie horde, but this is a series that’s going to appeal to any lovers of horror in general, and is one I honestly can’t recommend highly enough.
You can purchase Afterlife With Archie – Book 1 from Turnaround Publisher Services (who generously provided the review copy for this title) via their official website.
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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