The Walking Dead is successful. Both as a comic book and a TV-Series. Archie, one of the longest running comic books in existence, isn’t particularly successful as a comic book and has no TV series. So Archie decided to take a page from the Walking Dead and add zombies. Lame, right? Wrong. Afterlife with Archie is one of the best comics currently out there.
Archie has been a comic book staple for the past 73 years. He’s always been doing his own thing, though. The X-Men, Spider-Man and most of their superheroic compatriots and their villains came along. Archie stayed family friendly, G-Rated and – frankly – silly. Archie is what you give you three year old cousin when they ask for a comic book, because you don’t want your precious Spider-Man comics to be abused by a kid. Seriously, that’s what Archie is. One of the very few comic books that still are sold at the till in supermarkets. An entire macrocosm of comics on the fringes of comic books.
Until today. Because for some reason, Archie is currently battling zombies. In Afterlife with Archie, the main character, Archie Andrews, has not only his personal issues to deal with, but also a full blown zombie invasion into his hometown of Riverdale caused by none other than Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who has to face serious consequences for that epidemic herself.
Afterlife with Archie blends the best of what Archie has always been and the best of zombie stories. It builds on the characters and their history. Archie still has trouble deciding between Betty and Veronica – something that has been going on for seven decades, seeing as the two perpetual teenagers have been pining after the redheaded titular comic book character. But Archie also has his own survival to worry about. He still spends time with his friends at his favourite places, but now it’s in order to live another day, not to just wake up the next morning in a picture-perfect neighbourhood. His light-heartedness is still there, his recklessness, but it’s gained a kind of gravitas and occasionally that façade cracks. And Archie reveals what a heroic character he actually is.
Like the best horror stories in the history of the genre, Afterlife with Archie doesn’t go for visual shock. There’s blood, yes, because Afterlife with Archie is the first Archie comic ever to not be all-ages. Instead, the book builds on tension. You get this uncanny feeling of dread, of fear and of pressure. It’s the fear of the unknown that drives this book.
Then there’s also the fact that Archie comics can finally be a bit more forthright with their characters. Sure, there’s been a gay character named Kevin Keene and he’s openly gay. But this is Archie. Nothing will ever come of it. No kisses, no big political statement or anything. Because that’s not what Archie is. That doesn’t mean they’re going for sex, blood, gore and whatnot, because that would be the easy way out.
And it’s not just the writing by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa that conveys genuine character moments with a gravity that is rarely seen in comic books these days. It’s not just his ability to twist the familiar elements of Archie lore into something either completely hideous or something infinitely sad, but also the artist’s great work. You see, Afterlife with Archie is drawn by none other than Francesco Francavilla, who’s done stellar work on Batman and a number of other titles. It’s not cute, it’s not overly gory, and it’s not going for shock either. It’s rather out there, rather artsy, with stark contrasts and a lot of colour. With this blending of horror and family friendliness, terror and happiness, character moments and sheer terror, Archie just might be on to something that could make the characters relevant for today’s audiences and tastes again.
So you have extraordinary characters, extraordinary writing and extraordinary art. So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Go buy this book. You don’t have to be a horror fan or a comic book fan to enjoy it. It’s a good story with interesting visual and the occasional zombie.