Saturday, 21 March 2015

Afterlife With Archie - Halloween Comicfest Edition #1 - Archie Comic Publications

Created in 1941 by Vic Bloom and Bob Montana, the character of Archibald Andrews is something of an American comic book phenomenon, as attested to by his official website receiving “forty million hits a month”; at least according to the late Chairman of “Archie Comic Publications” Michael Silberkleit. The decision to therefore ‘kill off’ the adult red head and end “Life With Archie” in July 2014 was condemned by some fans, upset that his demise, defending a friend from an assassin’s bullet, was nothing more than a publicity stunt. Such an outcry seemed particularly persuasive when it was revealed by Jon Goldwater, CEO of “Archie Comics” that Andrews’ adventures would continue as a seventeen-year-old once again attending Riverdale High School.

The events of “Afterlife With Archie” however occur within a different timeline altogether, albeit the zombie apocalypse it depicts still focuses upon the same town of Riverdale first established within the pages of “Pep Comics” back during the Fifties. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who notably has previously adapted horror novelist Stephen King’s “The Stand” as a thirty-one issue comic series, and noteworthy for being the publisher’s first title to be rated ‘teens and up’, the sheer wealth of backstories to the personalities from Archie’s world who reside within this book could be rather bewildering for the uninitiated.

Admirers of Sabrina The Teenage Witch, whether enthusiasts of the Nineties television series or her more recent ‘chilling adventure’ comic book, will be all too familiar with Hilda and Zelda, and have an appreciation of the girl’s deep feelings for her cat Salem; thus understanding her willingness to try and resurrect a distraught Jughead’s pet pooch. But the likes of Reggie, Midge, Moose, Mister Weatherbee, Miss Grundy, Betty, Dilton and Veronica are probably far less accessible to non-aficionados.

However the basic storyline is simply about an inexperienced witch trying to help out a friend by bringing his dead dog back to life, and getting her black magic horribly wrong. So instead of being reunited with a lively bouncy Hot Dog, a small-town teenager is bitten and infected by a four-legged zombified corpse. What then follows is actually a pretty standard tale of an increasing contagion being spread from person to person by bite to bite.

The biggest thrill by Aguirre-Sacasa is undoubtedly the reader’s excitement as to how once familiar (and beloved) ‘Archie’ characters are going to survive this zombie plague or the anticipation as to how they’re going to gruesomely die. But there is still an awful lot for those ‘not in the know’ to enjoy as well, as the American playwright does a tremendous job in building up the tension as Andrews’ best friend succumbs to the infection, potentially feasts upon his unsuspecting parents and then stumbles into the local high school’s annual Halloween party.

Additionally adding to this apocalyptic atmosphere is the terrific, though singularly stylized, artwork of Francesco Francavilla. The Eisner award-winning penciller’s technique really suits this sort of creepy and kooky storyline. Whilst his page composition, especially at the start of the book when Jughead races to the front door of Sabrina’s home to present her with both his dog’s battered body and a plea for help, actually gets the heart pounding with its sequence of short sharp pacy panels.

Interestingly this Halloween Comicfest (reprint) edition has been produced in a black and white format, and therefore forgoes the experience of the original magazine’s vivid orange and blue-grey interior colouring. But in many ways this version’s grayscale may actually be preferable and considerably adds to the comic’s overall feeling of bleak eeriness and menace.
Story: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Art: Francesco Francavilla, and Lettering: Jack Morelli


  1. Simon, I bought the graphic novel featuring issues 1 to 6 of this series purely on the basis of the many great reviews of it I'd read. I never expected to ever buy a book or comic featuring these characters but my goodness, what a treat it proved to be. This is one of the best written zombie stories I have read and I am eagerly awaiting volume 2. I am so glad that you have discovered it and you clearly love it as much as I do. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Bryan. I actually do most of my chatting about comics on a very friendly American FB Forum who seem to like my reviews, and constantly offer up new titles which they think I'd like. "Afterlife With Archie" was one which I kept politely declining, as he's such an American institution that I thought I'd never understand what was going on. Fortunately this cheap reprint came up and I thought I'd buy it to see what all the fuss was about. With the exception of a genuine #1, I now have the complete run, with a pre-order for #8. As you say, it is superbly written and I am a big fan of the artist too, who actually tends to draw a lot of the variant covers I enjoy too. Look out for a review of #2 soon. I take it the "Altered States: Vampirella" one-shot by "Dynamite Entertainment" didn't impress you ;-)

    2. You're absolutely right - the artwork complements the writing very well. All of the variant covers are shown in the graphic novel and there really is a lot of them.

      Yeah, Vampirella: Altered States was disappointing. I pretty much buy anything that features Vampirella and I'm really delighted she's getting so much attention this year, her 40th anniversary since her first appearance.

    3. You'll be seeing a lot more of Francesco Francavilla, as he is also drawing the covers for a load of other mini-series I'm collecting at the moment, such as Zorro-Django and the Black Beetle (which he does the interior artwork too). My fingers are crossed for the other "Altered States" titles but I'm not hopeful...