Who would have thought the zombie curse would one-day plague the peaceful town of Riverdale? Zombies are no longer a mere pop-culture fad. They’ve been around long enough to earn their place in contemporary culture as an important subgenre of horror. Thankfully, this is something the people at Archie Comics understand. Robert Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla introduce the terror from page one, paying homage to everyone from Lovecraft to Romero. With its balance of real dread and sugary teen drama, “Afterlife with Archie” captures the spirit of the best horror flicks of the late 70s.
WRITTEN BY: Robert Aguirre-Sacasa
ART BY: Francesco Francavilla
PUBLISHER: Archie Comics
RELEASE: October 9th, 2013
Aguirre-Sacasa decides to kick things off with a bang in the ever-curious household of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. When Jughead shows up at Sabrina’s doorstep holding the corpse of his beloved Hot Dog, she has no choice but to bust out the Necronomicon. Yes, the Necronomicon. After uttering a few lines from the Book of the Dead, Hot Dog returns from the beyond with a craving for human flesh. Thus begins the end in Riverdale.
Although the whimsical nature of Archie remains, Aguirre-Sacasa weaves in the horror elements seamlessly. It’s impressive how the characters maintain their voices, and how well those voices fit in a horror world. Aguirre-Sacasa has an obvious adoration for horror and he brings it to every page. When Sabrina’s aunts banish her for using the Necronomicon without permission, they morph into their true forms. From that moment on, I knew this was a serious horror book. Both writer and artist set the tone early in Sabrina’s house and I can’t wait to see how they bring her back into the story, as Archie will undoubtedly need her help if he has any hope of stopping the curse.
Part of what makes “Afterlife with Archie” work so well is how Aguirre-Sacasa pulls tidbits from various zombie mythologies. He references countless horror flicks throughout the script, and the influence is undeniable. You can tell he has an appreciation for the genre, and he’s not afraid to show it. While referencing so many movies might not work in all books, it fits with the teenage world of Archie, especially on Halloween night.
Although the references fit naturally, they also restrict the narrative. Because Aguirre-Sacasa pays homage to so many of the classics, nothing feels completely new other than the fact that zombies are roaming around one of the most innocent towns in the history of comics. Rather than creating a new mythos, the book infuses already existing mythologies into the world of Archie. Then again, this is only the first issue, and I’m sure the team has some novel tricks up their collective sleeve.
I cannot think of an artist currently working in comics who would be a better fit for “Afterlife with Archie” than Francesco Francavilla. He brings the story to life by contrasting heavy shadows with vibrant reds, blues, and yellows, like something straight out of an Argento movie. He captures the essence of the Archie cast, while managing to stray from the vibrancy and glee of the regular Archie Comics. Francavilla has an incredible ability to guide the eye along the page, and he employs a multitude of strange angles that adds to the feeling of unease.
What is most impress about the art is how Francavilla balances the horror aspects with the quirky side of Riverdale. In the issue, Betty and Veronica have a skimpy Halloween costume showdown in an effort to impress Archie, and Francavilla just nails it. The final splash page is my favorite page of the issue, finally revealing the zombies. Francavilla makes it clear that he will be offering a take on the undead that is familiar, while being completely unique at the same time.
“Afterlife with Archie” may not redefine zombies as we know them, but it offers a solid story with gorgeous art. The “Afterlife with Archie” team masterfully employs all the tropes and conventions horror fans of come to love. This is a horror comic through and through, and it’s one you should be reading.