If we’re doing Halloween, then that seems like a great chance for me to catch up on Afterlife with Archie, the company’s first mature comic set in the world of their mascot. Now, I don’t know much about Archie other than “Sugar Sugar” – the comics aren’t released over in my part of the UK, and it’s not part of the consciousness here like it is in America. We have Dennis the Menace and Minnie The Minx instead. So on top of being the most left-field comic released by the company in years… it was also my jumping on point.
So I rather enjoyed it, actually. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and drawn by Francesco Francavilla, the comic leans heavily on the highly stylised form of Francavilla’s work. Anything drawn and coloured by Francavilla already looks like it crawled straight from a Hammer Horror movie, making him a pretty perfect choice for a comic like this. The basic premise here is that an infection is spreading into the town where Archie and his friends live, turning the typical 1950s-styled setting into a jarring 1980s horror to it.
Although we don’t see any of the zombies show up until a good way into this first issue, it looks as though Aguirre-Sacasa has found a fairly simple and elegant opening point for the story. I won’t spoil what he does, but his decision to take one of the more charming relationships in the series and immediately make that the breaking point for the zombie infection is superbly well-chosen, and brings an immediate menace into the comic. More simply, he takes the most old-fashioned element of the comic and makes it into a crutch which damns the character involved.
Throughout this opening issue, there’s a tangible sense of menace – although I would say it never breaks out into actual tension. In order to fit the characters into a horror story, the writing weakens them all into being the stereotypical bunch of half-characterised stereotypes you’d see in such movies. Each character gets a character element to them, but not much else – Betty and Veronica, who are pretty important to the franchise, have barely that.
This is because the comic is far more focused on plotting than on anything else. This is a piece of work where you can see the care which has gone into the pacing and narrative, and how the creative team have honed in their focus on the friendly/horror juxtaposition which serves as the main selling point for the issue. So there’s perhaps more to admire here than there is to actually feel, as a reader. But that said, Francesco Francavilla was born to be doing this sort of project, and his stark and bold colour choices burn against the page with each act of horror that plays out. He knows how to milk a page for campy melodrama, and plays that to full effect here.
His work is full of heavy shadows, whilst the characters bear only a slight resemblance to the house style of the Archie lineup. Despite being set in Archie, this is very much based in Francavilla’s world. It may not be scary as such, but the styling of the pages creates a sense of the unnatural in the comic which makes this a big, splashy, silly and entertaining take on America’s sweethearts. I really enjoyed the issue simply as a piece of campy entertainment. It definitely made me want to see what happens next.