“AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE” #5 (Comic Review)
During the past year, there are few things this writer anticipates more than opening my mailbox to reveal a lovely bubble envelope shipped from the Archie Comics Group, its vibrant address sticker displaying the iconic Riverdale gang grinning with perma-1950s “gosh-golly” cheer. Of course, inside that shipping slipcase lies something far more malevolent; in fact, what waits within is one of the scariest, most affecting horror comics I’ve ever read.
I’ve raved about AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE a number of times, praising writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla’s darker-than-pitch revisionist revisit to the world of ginger-haired lothario Archie Andrews, his double-shot lovers Betty and Veronica and the usually bright, gentle world they inhabit. In AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE, the sun never shines. The only light streams in from the glow of Riverdale’s ruins burning to the ground as the living dead claw and shred their way across the town, cannibalizing all and rotting to pieces.
Issue #5 continues the dour, depressing and yet witty and often thrilling adventures of Archie and his pals, trying to stay alive as a mysterious plague turns his friends and family into flesh-hungry zombies. Barricading themselves in the Lodge Mansion, home of raven-coiffed femme-fatale Veronica Lodge and her stubborn, macho millionaire father, the gang must occupy their minds and time while the world goes to hell around them. As hope of being rescued fades and supplies dwindle, issue five finds them at a crossroads: as ghoulish hordes (led by a skeletal, still crowned Jughead!) amass around the mansion and successfully start to gain entry, they weigh their options about fighting or fleeing, with Archie butting heads against the elder Lodge.
The beauty of the series—outside of the gorgeous art, breakneck pace and truly terrifying sequences of horror—is the intimate psychology of the characters. Sacasa allows each issue to spend time with key figures. We get to know what they’re feeling, visit their anxiety-riddled nightmares, learn buried secrets and know their inner-most hopes and fears. Even the family dog gets his time to reflect (and yes, it’s far more profound than the canine flashbacks of THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2). With this fifth installment however, Aguirre-Sacasa pulls an ill-respected member of the Riverdale bunch and we get what is perhaps one of the most affecting arcs not only of the series, but in zombie fiction, full stop.
Lodge’s long-suffering butler Hubert Smithers has never had much to do in the Archie books, save for answering doors and rolling his eyes. Here, we are treated to his private journals and a passage offering his take on the dire situation facing the town and his own place in the hierarchy of the Lodge family. Suddenly, this cipher becomes the secret hero of the piece. Smithers is an observer, someone whose quiet years of service are really a mask for concealing what he knows he is: father and mentor to all.
Sidebar narratives like this are the spine of AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE, and as I’ve said before, a cinematic version—or better yet, an animated series—would welcomed by this fan with wide open arms.
For more on this stunner of a series, head here.