Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Trading Burgers for Brains

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 20th, 2013

Afterlife With Archie #1
“This Is How the End of the World Begins…”
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist/Colors: Francesco Francavilla
Letters: Jack Morelli
Cover artists: Francesco Francavilla (regular)/Francavilla, Robert Hack, Andrew Pepoy & Tim Seeley (variants)
Publisher: Archie Comic Publications
Price: $2.99 US

Though I thumbed through the pages of Archie digests on the can when I was a kid (just like everyone else in the Western Hemisphere, I think), I’m not much of a reader of the publisher’s comics these days. Nevertheless, it succeeded in piquing my curiosity with this comic, despite its gimmicky nature and obvious effort to capitalize on one of the big pop-culture trends of the day. But Francesca Francavilla’s art should be more than enough to draw the attention of any modern enthusiast of the medium. On top of that, my local comic shop participated in the store-specific variant promotion, and I always like to show my support when it invests in such an item. Not surprisingly, the visuals are impressive throughout this first issue, but what took me aback is the strength of the writing. Though the broad concept is clearly something of a stunt designed to spark interest outside the publisher’s base audience, the storytelling doesn’t treat it like a gimmick at all. Instead, we get a much more grim, mature take on these characters. Honestly, the zombie-genre bits weren’t what held my attention, but rather the strong characterization writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa brought to bear here.

A personal tragedy drives Jughead Jones to seek the help of a good friend from a neighboring town. He asks Sabrina the Teenage Witch and her arcane aunts for the impossible, only to be turned away. But Sabrina’s heart goes out to the otherwise laid-back and goofy guy, and she does her best to help. Unfortunately, her best may have let loose an unstoppable evil on Riverdale — coinciding with a Halloween dance at the local high school, where Jughead’s friends Archie, Reggie, Betty, Veronica and more have gathered for a night of fun. Little do they know, the fun is about to end — perhaps forever.

Francavilla’s dark style is a perfect fit for a zombie story, the noir, unnatural atmosphere he brings to just about every project he tackles is on full display here. The eerie colors he employs reinforce that mood and convey the decaying, supernatural qualities of the genre and plot elements. But what’s most interesting here is the freedom he’s been given in interpreting characters that are normally subject to a strict Archie house style. The artist offers a radically divergent take on these teens while also maintaining qualities that make them nevertheless instantly recognizable. One particularly interesting interpretation was a much more ghoulish approach to Sabrina’s angry witch aunts early in the issue. That visual may represent the moment when Francavilla’s more unconventional approach to these characters really made itself known.

You’d think an Archie spin on zombies would be a bit more about the fun and excesses of the undead-apocalypse genre, but to my surprise, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (one of the screenwriters on another Halloween pop-culture event this month, the remark of the film Carrie) plays it straight — and to great effect. One of the things that makes the transformation of a couple of characters here into the walking dead so engrossing is how familiar we are with them. There’s a strong sense of tragedy, as these characters not only die and become a threat, but the decades of innocence and happiness they represent are lost in the process.

What really makes this comic book stand out, though, is Aguirre-Sacasa’s examination of these iconic, all-American teen characters. While remaining consistent with their past portrayals, he takes a slightly more realistic approach. Betty and Veronica’s rivalry is depicted as being harsher and less playful than we’ve come to expect. Archie, instead of being confused and/or delighted by the attention, is shown to be a bit depressed by it, forced into a social situation with no outcome that won’t hurt someone. Most interesting is Reggie’s role in the story. He’s always been the jerk of the group, and the writer puts that to a much more grim use in this story. But at the same time, he explores Reggie’s humanity, and he may end up as the most genuine person in the story. I hope we’ll see more of that as the story progresses, and while I think that could take the form of some kind of redemption, that’s a bit predicable. I’d rather see something else with Reggie, something more grounded, believable and perhaps unfortunate.

I picked up this first issue on something of a lark, and I didn’t know if I’d be checking out subsequent issues. Not only will I be buying the whole series, but I’ll be eagerly anticipating each and every issue. It’s not just a weird genre mashup, but represents some strong storytelling in the medium. 8/10

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One Response to “Trading Burgers for Brains”

  1. anthony Says:

    yeah I also enjoyed this rather immensely, halloween spirit was definitely rewarded with this purchase!