When they say it takes two to tango, never has that been more apt than in this very case. What Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla have done is take a seventy year old property and turn it on its head into something fresh, modern and relevant to today’s culture minded society. There have been Marvel Zombies and DC zombies (see Blackest Night) and undead, shambling corpses from every publisher and studio around, but for a brand and a company like Archie Comics to take the nicest, cleanest and squeaky clean characters that have ever existed and drop a zombie apocalypse right into the center of it? They would have to be crazy.
Afterlife With Archie has not only been one of the best books to come out of any company in years, it did so as a complete surprise to readers everywhere. The solicits for the book were just a tease with their pictures of Archie with zombies, but it is impossible that anyone could have imagined the actual horror of what we received. Francavilla and Aguirre-Sacasa took everything that we loved about the books, without slapping a mature readers label on it, and created a very adult tale with our cast acting and looking more real than they ever have before. It is a sure thing that Aguirre-Sacasa`s time on Glee has more than aided him in bringing our characters to the present. They do retain their usual character traits and the core of what they are that makes them look and sound the way they do, but they now have a voice that sounds current and it goes a long way into making this book read like the horror tale that it is. To get them to this juncture, Aguirre-Sacasa has done what no one had done previously to this point, and that was to take away their innocence. Archie, Betty, Veronica and the rest of the crew are still good kids when it comes down to it, but they now bear scars and they are scars that will always stay with them. The fact that it was done so deftly and so perfectly is just another reason why this book has become an instant horror classic.
For those going into this book and liking one character more than another, it should be known that nobody in this tome is safe. Whether it is Mrs. Grundy or Jughead or Moose and Midge or any of the regular cast, no one is left untouched and not everyone survives to make it out. One of the better things about the series though, is that it incorporates everyone from lower tier characters to newer additions to the cast like Cheryl Blossom and Kevin Keller. Kevin even gets a moment to really shine and it is a standout moment in the book, even though it is quite brief. Cheryl and her brother have quite a disturbing relationship and it is great to see that Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla do not pull any punches in regards to anything that is present.
While our author weaves a good tale, it is Francavilla who brings it to life in all its teenage horror and melodrama. With his pencil hand steady and sure, you experience the heartbreak that Jughead goes through when he has thought to have lost his beloved dog. You can see the vulnerability on Veronica’s face as her world is crumbling around her and her father’s frustration at not being able to do anything about the situation. And when Archie has to kill his dad and takes charge of the survivors, you see the boy become a man under Francavilla’s haunting tutelage. It is a book where every page is a work of art and can be admired and re-read continuously, the same as any good horror film that can be re-watched multiple times. The book is full of heavy inks and darkened panels, and coupled with the muted palette that he uses and it gives the book that perfect feel of dread and approaching horror. But even at its darkest, our creators usually give us a bit of light to latch onto, no matter how fleeting. And it is fleeting because you have to remember one thing, and that is the infestation is spreading and people are dying.
Archie Comics, once the bedrock of playing it safe and catering to the same demographic that they had done for decade after decade decided that there was a larger market out in the world for their properties. Knowing that doing the same ol’ same ol’ would not work, they had to step outside of their usual boundaries and start doing things different. Starting with concepts like Archie getting married, introducing Kevin Keller and crossing over with everything from Glee to Kiss, the company was branching out. With Afterlife With Archie, they created a monster, so to speak, that has captured imaginations everywhere with its tale of everyone’s favourite redheaded teen in dire peril. Delivering a tale that is emotional and chilling, full of action and horrific at times, Archie Comics, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla have given us something truly wonderful.