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 theoretically-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 several 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 stars 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 romance 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 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 …
- 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
Originally published as Longbox Graveyard #138, October 2014.
MONDAY: Tournament of Terror!
Hello, and welcome back to Longbox Graveyard … with a special thank you to returning readers who stuck with me throughout my recent year-plus hiatus. My time away from blogging and social media has allowed me to recharge my geek batteries enough to commit to … a month of (mostly) new content here at Longbox Graveyard.
And what better way for this superhero comics blog to return than in celebration of my favorite season — Halloween!
That’s right, October is Halloween Month, and Longbox Graveyard will be celebrating with three rotating features, every weekday in the month ahead:
FROM THE VAULT: “Reprints” of classic Longbox Graveyard horror comics reviews (which will be new to most of you — I know, because I can see my blog traffic!)
MARVEL VALUE STAMPS: A forensic look inside the comic book equivalent of the Necronomicon — my half-filled out album of Marvel Value Stamps!
And finally, the subject of today’s post and the official kick-off of Monster Month — THE LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOURNAMENT OF TERROR!
Tournaments have always been a fun feature here at Longbox Graveyard. In the past, we’ve run “March Madness” tournaments to determine comics’ greatest sidekicks, pets, super-villains, and super-teams. Now, we are going to match off the greatest Monsters in comics history, in an elimination tournament that will run all month, with the final titan of terror announced on the eve of Halloween!
First, I need you to vote to help determine our Field of 16 for when the tournament begins next Monday. To be considered for the tournament, a comics monster needs to have been the HEADLINER of his/her/it’s series, even if only for a single issue, or as part of an anthology issue. Basically, if that monster had a cover with their name on it, they’re eligible.
(Note that this knocked out some classic “host” characters like the Cryptkeeper and Cain & Abel … but if you really want them, see your options in the voting instructions below. And yeah, I know, I broke my own rules by including Fin Fang Foom … but he’s a foundational Jack Kirby monster, and he wears blue trunks, so I couldn’t pass him up!)
Now … fully recognizing that I have a serious bias toward DC and especially Marvel Bronze Age comics, here’s an overview of the initial field of contenders:
thanks to Billy King for wrangling the above graphic!
See that question mark at the end? That’s your call to nominate some poor monster that I overlooked. Just vote for “Another Monster” in the pole below, and let me know your choice in the comments. If we get a real consensus for someone I didn’t catch, then I’ll get them into the tournament as a reader’s choice.
But make sure you really want to vote for that monster. You only get to pick TEN monsters from the list below … so you’re going to have to make some hard calls. Vote early, vote often, and tell your friends, then meet me back here on Monday October 7th for the announcement of the Field of 16, and the first round of tournament voting!
(You might need to click link if you’re viewing on mobile!)
All right, get voting (and get commenting!). Then join me back here tomorrow when we open the vault for a classic review of a monster that I expect to do quite well in our tournament …
(It’s good to be back!)
TOMORROW: Tomb It May Concern!
Celebrating this blog’s favorite holiday with this wonderful piece from Bruce Timm!
Enjoy your holiday … and see you again later this week as Longbox Graveyard at last lurches from the grave with a Doctor Strange-focused installment of Super-Blog Team-Up!