It may only be October 1st, but that makes it Halloween here at Longbox Graveyard, and I’m celebrating with a full month of monster-themed posts. So why — with a library of Tomb of Dracula, Swamp Thing, and EC Horror books to review — am I kicking off Halloween Month with an Archie comic?
I’ll come clean — I don’t get the Archies. Before Afterlife With Archie, I’d never read an Archie comic (and judging by sales numbers, neither did many of you). That this zombie reinvention of a seventy-odd-year-old teenager inspired me to splash out for a graphic novel collection is itself a noteworthy achievement … that the comic is genuinely creepy and compelling is moldy icing on the undead cake!
Afterlife With Archie isn’t coy about its ambitions …
… but I suppose that makes sense. If the audience wasn’t interested in the way the Archie world was, maybe the best approach is to bring that world to an end, and that’s just what creators Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Fracavilla are doing in the ongoing Afterlife With Archie series. I don’t know how long they can keep this premise going (and my most substantial criticism of this collection under review is that it is largely a prelude to a longer story as-yet untold), but based on this volume, I will continue to purchase the collections as they are released — I find I am eager to return to this tale, unlike, say, Walking Dead which I’ve never revisited after banging through the first forty-eight issues two years ago.
I think this is due to Afterlife With Archie’s sense of fun — something absent from the dour Walking Dead. This is not to say that Afterlife With Archie is played for laughs. Far from it! This is actually one of the more sophisticated comics I’ve read in awhile, with meaningful characterization, affecting character deaths, intriguing romantic relationships, and a frank and believable look at how young people might behave when placed under the unimaginable pressures of a zombie holocaust. The series has an up-to-date art style and delivers everything you would expect from a Direct Market title. But the iconic foundations of the series can’t help but lend a sense of fun to the proceedings — after all, these are Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead that we’re talking about!
And therein resides the thematic judo-flip that makes this series work. The reason I never read an Archies comic before now is that I didn’t care about a bunch of 1950s kids hanging around the malt shop. As long as Archies was about the kids of Riverdale High, my opinion was never going to change. But even if I wasn’t interested in the Archies, Afterlife With Archie had the advantage of three-quarters of a century worth of brand equity on their side — compared to some entirely new series, at least I knew what the Archies were.
Here’s the judo flip. If you are publishing the Archies, are you limited to telling stories about malt shop kids? Or can you reinvent those characters as archetypes — keep the names, the relationships, the essential nature of the characters, but throw them into a whole new world? By casting the Archies at the center of a zombie story, the publisher has instantly turned their disadvantage into a gigantic asset. By deciding that Archies comics were about iconic characters having adventures together — rather than central-casting teenagers that haven’t changed in decades — they’ve suddenly opened up a whole universe to explore. By embracing archetypes rather than continuity, I can see these characters at the center of horror stories, science fiction epics, historical dramas … just about anything, really. And rather than being a hindrance, all the built-in “baggage” of the Archies becomes an asset, giving us a running start at the new story because we are already familiar with the characters. To explain in even more geek-centric terms, it’s as if the creators of Star Trek decided their series wasn’t about exploring strange new worlds, but instead transplanted the relationships and conflicts between a headstrong captain, an emotional doctor, and a soulful outsider scientist to some other place in the past, present, or future.
hmm … I may have picked the wrong example!
Or brilliant, at least, for this first set of stories. Inspired by a variant cover artist Francesco Francavilla drew for Life With Archie, Afterlife With Archie has flowered into a series worth reading. This first collection focuses on the outbreak of Riverdale’s zombie infestation, with the flashpoint the unwise resurrection of Jughead’s dog (by Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who is slated to star in a new Archie horror series herself) — a bit of forbidden magic that has immediate consequences for Sabrina, and lasting consequences for her friends.
From there, things rapidly go from bad-to-worse, and if there’s a sense that we’ve seen it all before, that’s part of the fun — the familiar trope of characters refusing to believe their first contact with the supernatural is heightened by the characters themselves representing such well-known tropes. We know that our heroes are going to underestimate the danger; we know that some supporting character is going to get turned or eaten; we know that the impregnable fortress where the gang wants to wait out the trouble will prove anything but … these are iconic situations, and seeing equally iconic characters wrestle with this stuff just adds to the fun. It’s kind of like Cabin In The Woods — if Cabin In The Woods played it straight, and its archetypal heroes weren’t self-aware or exploited as-such.
All of which is a middlebrow way of saying that it’s cool to watch zombie Jughead run amok at the high school costume party, and then take his place as the general of the zombie army threatening Riverdale. But this book is more than just a zombie romp. I felt genuine pathos when young men lost their childhood pets, or had to confront family members turned monstrous by the undead plague.
I was involved in the rocky relationship between Ginger and Nancy, concerned what will happen if their lesbian relationship is made public, and I was intrigued by the torturous teasing and implied incest between the blue-blooded Cheryl and Jason Blossom. Heck, I even enjoyed watching the Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle play out through via disagreement about who was going with with whom — and as what — to the Halloween Dance.
Obviously I can’t speak for how lifelong Archies fans will enjoy this series. There’s no telling if they’d consider this a fun reinvention, or a callous exploitation of cherished comic book creations for short term gain. Judged on its own, Afterlife With Archie is a superior series, and after imaging how this formula might be employed by other property I value — like the classic Star Trek I mentioned above — my sense is that existing Archies fans will find much to like here. But for the vastly larger portion of fandom — with no particular attachment to the Archies — this series provides fun reading: stylish, scary, emotional, surprising, relatable, exciting, and fun. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has an easy way with dialogue and plotting, and I love the October palettes of Francesco Francavilla’s horror show art. Afterlife With Archie is nostalgic and fresh at the same time, a creepy good time with a sneaky emotional punch.
I did not expect to like Afterlife With Archie, but I came away a fan — how about you? Let me know what you think in the comments, below … and be sure to join me every Wednesday in October as Halloween Month continues at Longbox Graveyard!
- Title: Afterlife With Archie
- Published By: Archie Comic Publications, 2013-presetn
- Issues In This Collection: #1-5, September 2013-July 2014.
- LBG Letter Grade For This Run: B
- Read The Collection: Afterlife With Archie: Escape From Riverdale
NEXT MONTH: #139 The Song of Red Sonja
It’s Super-Blog Team-Up time again — when a ragtag squad of comic book bloggers all tackle the same subject at the same time! This is our fourth go-round (and for links to our first three forays, click here) … and hard as it may be to fathom, it’s taken us this long to address the most obvious Super-Blog Team-Up topic of all — Team-Ups!
Since the Super-Blog Team-Up crew decided to concentrate on bizarre team-ups, I immediately flashed on the strange tale of The Thing teaming up with … himself?
I have an obscure affection for Marvel Two-In-One — a second-tier book Marvel team-up book. Mostly this is down to the book staring one of my favorite Marvel characters — Ben Grimm, also known as the Thing, the soft-hearted rock monster from the Fantastic Four. I’ve previously reviewed the very first issue of Marvel Two-In-One (where Ben battled yet another thing — the Man-Thing), and in a moment of madness I even reviewed the entire one-hundred issue run of Marvel Two-In-One in a single, frantic post. So I suppose it is a kind of comic book kismet that I return to this series, to review not one, but two issues featuring this strangest of team-ups.
That’s right, two issues … because this team-up is a two-part story, albeit one that went fifty issues between installments!
The first tale appeared in 1979’s Marvel Two-In-One #50 — “Remembrance Of Things Past!” with script and art from John Byrne. Back before series were rebooted every dozen issues, even middling books like Marvel Two-In-One might be expected to reach a 50th or even a 100th issue, and publishers usually made a big deal about those landmark anniversary numbers. The half-century issue of Two-In-One was no exception, with one of Marvel’s most talented creators delivering a high concept tale where the Thing of the present traveled back in time to meet his prior self, with predictable results.
Predictable, because John Byrne aspired to little more than the conventional Marvel Comics fist opera here, though it was one with additional dimension thanks to its rumination on the past, and a theme appealing to our inborn desire to change our fates.
The tale began with a familiar Fantastic Four trope as Mr. Fantastic attempted to cure his friend Ben of the cosmic disorder that turned him into an orange rock monster in blue bathing trunks. Reed’s formula worked — but the twist was that it has no effect on Ben’s current form, though it would have worked on Ben immediately following his original transformation. This was a fresh take on why the many attempts by the world’s smartest man fail to cure Ben of his condition, and it also acknowledged that Ben’s appearance had changed over the years, from the lumpy orange monster of Jack Kirby’s original design, to the more craggily-defined superhero he would later become.
a look at some original pencils & inks from Marvel Two-In-One #50
Man-of-action that he was, Ben concluded that time should be no barrier to a man who had a time machine! If Reed’s serum would only work on the Thing he used to be, Ben decided the only course of action was to administer the cure to the original version of himself!
It’s actually not so bad a plan, in the Marvel Comics scheme of things, but of course Ben can never be cured, at least not for long. Franchise requirements would never allow it, and besides, stories where Ben is convinced he’s become human again — only to suffer some cruel or ironic reversal — are as integral to this character as Lucy snatching the football away from Charlie Brown.
So what’s at stake here is not whether or not Ben’s plan will succeed, but rather what kind of gut punch our hero will suffer as our hero has his hopes dashed this time. Byrne kept the story simple: Thing goes back in time; Thing meets Thing; Thing fights Thing; and Thing has his heart broken … but Byrne also managed some nice characterization, particularly in how the contemporary version of the Thing differed from his original incarnation, not only in terms of appearance, but in his attitudes and speech patterns.
Ben was a bit of a hot-head himself, of course, but compared to his original version, he’s a U.N. Envoy. Ben gets credit for at least briefly trying to reason with himself …
… but it’s not long before talking time yielded to Clobberin’ Time!
Ben eventually overpowered his original self, and administered Reed’s cure … which worked! Eager to return to the present, and experience the cure for himself, Ben bolted back to the future before his original version came around.
Ah, but here comes the gut punch.
By traveling to the past, Ben didn’t change the present. Instead, he created an alternate reality. Or something like that.
That Ben so casually accepted his fate was not remarkable. After all, he’d seen this movie before … but more importantly, Ben had come to accept his condition. Long before the X-Men were out and proud of their mutant origins, the Thing had embarked on his own journey of self-actualization, evolving from his Hulk-like origins to the loveable lug who knows its what’s on the inside that counts.
This is a theme more thoroughly explored in the inferior follow-up to this tale, in 1983’s Marvel Two-In-One #100 — “Aftermath,” also scripted by John Byrne, but with pedestrian pencils from series stalwart Ron Wilson.
This was the final issue of Two-In-One, and Byrne elected to ret-con himself, revealing that Ben didn’t exactly create an alternate reality, after all.
That’s some Grade-A mumbo-jumbo, but it worked for me. It’s above my pay grade to try to make sense of the nature of time and space in the Marvel Universe (and whatever the rules may be, the rumor is they will change in a big way come 2015). Ben, too, gave Reed’s revelation little thought, but when he checked up on his old self, Ben was shocked to discover that something had gone very, very wrong.
In this reality, it seems, not having a Thing has led to the end of the world!
It started off innocently enough, with the cured Ben Grimm opening a bar, and the Fantastic Four carrying on after filling out their roster with a certain Web-Head.
No explanation was offered for why the Silver Surfer failed to exist in this reality, but it had grim consequences for humanity …
… and so we learned that this world was the decayed husk of an Earth drained dry by Galactus, where scattered tribes of humans scrambled to survive, a potentially interesting concept rendered sterile by Ron Wilson’s generally uninspired pencils.
Diving back into continuity, Byrne told us that because Ben wasn’t The Thing in this world, he never had a fateful fight with the Human Torch, and the Torch never flew off in a huff, and thus never encountered the amnesiac Sub-Mariner, who never recovered his memories, and so never freed Captain America from captivity, and so in the absence of his arch-enemy, this blighted wasteland was ruled by … the Red Skull (phew!)
The Skull commanded a New York that to 21st-century eyes is sadly more remarkable for having any trace of the World Trade Center at all than it was for having those buildings crowned by a Nazi flag …
… and so Marvel Two-In-One #100 was basically an issue of What If?, Marvel’s imaginary story series dedicated to obscure wouldas and shouldas. And, yes, these are all imaginary stories, but some are more imaginary than others, and I always had a hard time getting on board with these kinds of stories when they so obviously “didn’t count.”
But at least the Red Skull got to chew the scenery a bit, rejecting Ben’s account of alternate worlds …
… before falling prey to his own Dust of Death, when Ben casually blew it back in his face (now why didn’t Captain America ever think of that?). The Skull’s grisly end also confirmed that the Red Skull’s face is actually a mask, beneath which was … a skull.
In this universe.
It’s all a bit bloated (and a double-sized issue, as well), and frankly a disappointment for the concluding issue of Marvel Two-In-One, as the potentially-interesting character study of Ben examining his path-not-taken yields only the usual fisticuffs.
In due time the bad guys were put to route and Ben returned home, leaving his other half behind to begin the work of rebuilding a shattered planet.
Only when he returned to his present did Ben reflect that he might be better off a monster than a man, a realization sadly made muzzy by the fact that trading places with his human self must also land him square in the midst of a post-apocalyptic hell-on-earth.
And so ended Marvel Two-In-One — not with a bang, but a whimper, and a sense of missed opportunity. It’s always dangerous to expect too much of these action-spectacle superhero comics, but I could have done with more characterization as Ben got to know his other self, and less speculation on what a world without Alicia Masters is like. Our hero, after all, is the only thing that really “counts” in this imaginary tale, and the wisdom he takes back from that alternate dimension surely deserved more than a four-panel denouement.
But that’s my own personal obsession — I often wonder what I might tell myself, were I to go into the past and meet my younger self. I always come around to some generality, like telling myself that “it’s all going to work out,” because notwithstanding Reed Richards’ fuzzy understanding of alternate realities, I wouldn’t want my younger version to do anything to change where my life has taken me. Sure, there have been hard times I would have liked to avoid, but I wouldn’t want to do anything that might endanger my meeting my friends or my wife, or having my children … and I sure wouldn’t want to create a future where there’s no Longbox Graveyard! So maybe, like Ben, I shouldn’t think too hard about these things …
… and maybe I should get off my soap box in time for you to enjoy these other fine Super-Blog Team-Up articles about the strangest team-ups of all time!
Super-Hero Satellite: Super Man and The Masters Of the Universe
Longbox Graveyard: Thing Vs. Thing
Superior Spider-Talk: Spider-Man and RazorBack!?
The Daily Rios: New Teen Titans/DNAgents
The Middle Spaces: Super Hegemonic Team-Up! Spider-Man, Daredevil & ‘The Death of Jean DeWolfe
Chasing Amazing: Across the Spider-Verse: A Once in a Timeline Team-Up
Retroist: Doctor Doom/Doctor Strange
Mystery V-Log: The Avengers #1
In My Not So Humble Opinion: Conan The Barbarian And Solomon Kane
The Unspoken Decade: Two Wrongs Making A Right: Punisher Meets Archie
Flodos Page: Green Lantern And The Little Green Men
Between The Pages: World’s Finest Couple — Lois Lane & Bruce Wayne
BronzeAge Babies: When Friends Like These ARE Your Enemies
My Super-Blog Team-Up pals have gone to great efforts to bring you some fun superhero reading, so I hope you’ll check them all out — and tell them Longbox Graveyard sent you! Then please join me back here in a week, when I kick off a month of Halloween at Longbox Graveyard with a review of the best darn Zombie Jughead story you are ever going to read!
NEXT WEEK: #137 Afterlife With Archie
The fourth Super-Blog Team-Up goes live next week!
Super-Blog Team-Up is an occasional cross-blogging project where several comics bloggers take on a common subject. We’ve already tackled heroes giving up their powers, ret-cons, and favorite bad guys –
– but this time, Super-Blog Team-Up will take on … Team Ups!
My own contribution is all about the time the Thing teamed up with … himself!
Join me back here at Longbox Graveyard next week as the latest Super-Blog Team-Up kicks off … and be sure to check my Super-Blog Team-Up page for links to our past endeavors!
(Thanks to Superhero Satellite for the groovy promo art!)
Read Dean Compton’s column about Captain Marvel — Shazam! The Power Of One Magic Word.
(View all Longbox Graveyard Pinterest Galleries HERE).
One of the singular pleasures of being a comic book fan is puzzling out their onomatopoetically-rendered sound effects!
“Sound Effects” from MAD, by the brilliant Wally Wood
While sound effects have somewhat fallen out of favor in contemporary comics writing, I still love them. And while I love a good BLAM! or WHAM! as much as the next guy, I particularly enjoy sound effects that are strongly associated with a specific character or comic. While most comic book sound effects are made up by a creator on-the-spot, a signature sound effect is always the same, and as much a part of a character as their costume or name.
My criteria for calling something a “signature” sound effect is simple — you have to know it in the dark. If all you have is a black panel with a single sound effect, but you still know what is happening (and who is making it happen), then that’s a signature sound effect!
Here are Six Signature Superhero Sound Effects! Why only six? Because I love alliteration even more than onomatopoeia (and I couldn’t think of a seventh)! But my draconian rules have doubtless caused me to exclude your favorite sound effect, so be sure to take me to task for my cruel exclusions in the comments section, below.
In the meantime, in rough and reverse order of their fame and recognizability …
… drum roll please …
(drum roll sound effect courtesy of my very own Dudley Serious Saves The World!)
… here are Six Signature Superhero Sound Effects!
All right, this is a little bit of a cheat, but it’s my blog and I get to make the rules. “Pow” is a generic sound effect, and not especially associated with Batman, but the use of visual sound effects was a signature element of the classic Batman TV show, so “POW!” gets an honorable mention.
I know full well that the real Captain Marvel is the Big Red Cheese, but my favorite Captain Marvel is still the enlightened Kree man of war that I have celebrated several times here at Longbox Graveyard. Just as Billy Batson could change into Captain Marvel by shouting, “SHAZAM!” (a term that would top list list, if it were a proper sound effect!), so for a time could Rick Jones trade places in the Negative Zone with Captain Marvel by clashing his “Nega Bands”together … with the characteristic sound of KTANG!
4) PING PING PING!
One of the coolest things about Jack Kirby’s New Gods is that it is full of things that Jack never fully explained. What was the Source? What was the Anti-Life Formula? Most intriguing of all … what was a Mother Box?
The indispensable gadget of every New God, a Mother Box was one part computer, one part iPhone, and one part genie-in-a-lamp. Built by hand and customized by their owners, Mother Boxes seemed able to do just about anything. But the one thing they all seemed to do was to go PING PING PING when activated!
Nightcrawler’s characteristic teleportation sound effect is as recognizable as his devilish tail and three-toed feet. BAMF became such an X-Men stand-by that I’m convinced someone eventually referred to Nightcrawler “bamfing” someplace, rather than teleporting … but I can’t find that particular reference (and a Longbox Graveyard No-Prize to someone who does!)
This one goes way back — all the way to Amazing Spider-Man #36 — which means it is almost certainly a Steve Ditko invention. It is the perfect expression for the sound of Spider-Man’s web-shooters — suggesting speed, a rushing of escaped gasses, and the sound of a whip, all-in-one!
Bonus … a clever bit of sound effects-oriented meta storytelling, from Amazing Spider-Man #43, as suggested by Mike W in comments, below!
A second X-Men sound effect tops this list, which makes me wonder if X-Men scribe Chris Claremont had a particular affection for sound effects. Or maybe it was Dave Cockrum? Regardless, the sinister sound of Wolverine’s adamantium claws sliding from their sheath is scary enough to make bad guys wet their britches all by itself! More than any sound effect on this list, if you “hear” SNIKT, all by itself, in the center of a dark panel … you know all Hell is about to break loose!
What did I miss? Sound off with your own sound effects in the comments section, below!
IN THREE WEEKS: #137 Thing vs. Thing!