afterlifewitharchie_bookone.jpgZombies in Riverdale? Now I’ve seen everything. I thought the idea of setting a zombie story within the wholesome world of Archie was little more than a cash grab. It wasn’t enough that Archie is to be killed off this year but to put the loveable, happy-go-lucky cast in the middle of a zombie apocalypse? Give me a break. But you know what? I came away from Afterlife With Archie: Book One feeling genuinely and pleasantly surprised.

Afterlife With Archie began as a joke, a variant cover for the Life With Archie series drawn by illustrator Francseco Francavilla (Captain America, Black Panther and Hawkeye, to name a few). The idea resulted in a drastic turn from tradition, a story filled with so much violence and gore that you won’t find it in the grocery store checkout lanes next to People Magazine and the Weekly World News.

The comic requires some knowledge of the Archie property in order to get the most of the experience. My exposure to the character was from those silly little digests and a few episodes of the old cartoon show, giving me just enough to work with to develop an emotional attachment to Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica as they experience the worst night of the lives. Without that familiarity, Afterlife With Archie does very little to separate itself from every other zombie story on the market.

The nightmare begins when Jughead’s dog, Hot Dog, is accidentally struck and killed by Reggie Mantle’s car. Despondent over the injuries his pet has sustained, he seeks help from Sabrina (of Teenage Witch fame) to bring the animal back to life. The combined powers of Sabrina and her aunts Hilda and Zelda Spellman are not enough to revive Hot Dog, leading Sabrina to secretly recite an incantation from what can assumed to be the Spellman Family Necronomicon. She pulls a Pet Sematary and brings the dog back to life as a monstrous hell beast that bites and infects Jughead with a zombie contagion.

Meanwhile, Archie is accosted by Betty and Veronica about what costumes to wear for the Halloween Dance but manages to sneak away to hang out with his best pal. Shocked to see Jughead’s horrible, sickly pallor, he offers to stay at his bedside but Jughead begs him to go and enjoy himself. At the dance that evening, the joy and merriment of good, wholesome teenage fun is disrupted by the arrival of a zombie Jughead who crashes the party, killing and infecting the school administrators and students of Riverdale.

Afterlife With Archie discards Riverdale’s normally sunny disposition, replacing it with scenes of grotesque violence including, but not limited to, mutilations, explosions, baseball bat-related killings, and dead parents. The Archie angle is what gives the comic its reason for being. Without it, Afterlife is a standard, boilerplate teen zombie story with the usual tragic trimmings. What is fascinating about the work is how sinister Archie’s life is in the face of an undead nightmare. The love triangle between himself, Betty, and Veronica develops a hard, uncomfortable edge. Their shared infatuation combined with the fear of knowing they could die any moment could bring their long standing rivalry to a predictable and violent end. The heated relationship between Veronica’s father and Archie shares that same dark twist. Mr. Lodge, who has nothing but contempt for the boy who keeps sneaking in the house to see his daughter, is put into the awkward position of keeping him safe under the roof of his surprisingly fortified mansion. In this book, the anger he feels towards the boy is palpable and there were moments where I feared he’d solve the problem once and for all.

A zombie story with Archie characters could have been completely ridiculous were not for the talent involved. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has serious writing chops, having served as a staff writer for the show Glee and Big Love and written various Marvel comics, as well as the screenplay for the remake of Carrie. He knows how to write drama and really convey that pain, terror and emotional torment people feel when forced into surviving against zombies.

I just wish the story had a bit more originality. Several situations the kids find themselves in are standard elements of zombie fiction. Early on in the story, a conversation between two teachers invokes the famous “we’re coming to get you Barbara!” scene from Night of the Living Dead. That said, the dread isn’t diminished. In fact, seeing Archie suffer makes the experience all the more depressing. Aguirre-Sacasa’s script is brought to life by the beautiful and harrowing illustrations by Francavilla who does a fantastic job of establishing mood through great lighting work, color schemes and some really creative panel designs. He is able to put together some pretty frightening imagery that are not reliant entirely on blood and guts.

Afterlife With Archie is far removed from the wholesome image the character has cultivated since the the 1940s. In other hands, the project could have easily been derailed. Aguirre-Sacasa lends the work the right amount of drama and unease that makes for a riveting experience. Though great fun to read, as a zombie story it really doesn’t do anything that The Walking Dead hasn’t done already.

Afterlife With Archie: Book One
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Francesco Francavilla
ISBN: 9781619889088
Archie Comics, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: 16+

  • Allen

    | He/Him Past Reviewer

    Allen Kesinger is a Reference Librarian at the Newport Beach Public Library in California. He maintains the graphic novel collections at the library, having established an Adult collection to compliment the YA materials. When not reading graphic novels, he fills his time with other nerdy pursuits including video games, Legos and steampunk.

    View all posts
Liked it? Take a second to support us on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!