Afterlife With Archie #8
It’s been a while since we’ve seen an issue of Afterlife With Archie, the zombies-attack-Riverdale title that contains “mature content” and only sells in direct market comic stores. Issue #7 came out in December, and that kind of delay pretty much kills the suspense — although since it’s mostly “who’s going to get eaten next?” it’s not a fatal blow to the series. (The original timing is also alluded to in this issue’s mentions of it being Christmastime.)
Most of this issue is all flashback, anyway, framed with homages and copies of other horror stories. The first line cribs Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the setting is right out of The Shining, as Jughead plays root-beer bartender to Archie as they argue over whether Cheryl killed her twin brother Jason or killed the zombie that killed Jason. (The movie reference is made much more explicit on the variant cover, which is a drawing of Jack Nicholson from the film with “Here’s Juggy!” written underneath.)
While writer Roberto Aguiree-Sacasa sticks with the familiar to lend his tale depth (and acknowledges his references on the letter page), Francesco Francavilla’s art is as weirdly off-kilter as ever. It’s odd, but good for the horror story, to see America’s favorite teenagers (as the tagline used to go) treated more realistically than they have in decades, and the orange-and-blue color scheme reinforces the “this is just wrong” feel that permeates the book on multiple levels. Particularly since much of the issue is about how these kids have lost their innocence and have to grow up, a theme reinforced on the last page with Archie’s new decision.
As the small band of survivors votes whether to keep Cheryl in their group, we get a convenient reminder of just who’s stuck around and non-zombified yet. Mr. Lodge is challenging Archie’s leadership and their decision to strike out for safety instead of hunkering down in his mansion.
There’s a surprising amount of social commentary in these few pages, if you look for it. (Much like how Gilligan’s Island was supposed to be society in microcosm.) The rich guy doesn’t like the common man trying to change the world. Reggie’s still a pig, Nancy alludes to racism, Betty reminds everyone of democracy, and Kevin stands by his father’s military sacrifice. Archie’s mom sums up the series with her comment, “I know it seemed that way, but… Oh, Archie, I’m not sure it was ever as safe as you’d like to believe.” We’re firmly into “the hidden abyss under the small town” territory here, particularly with the Cheryl/Jason incest theme (that probably isn’t as clear to those who didn’t read previous issues).
Mom goes on to tell a story of a deal with witches to keep the young men of Riverdale safe during World War II. They required generations of human sacrifice to keep the town untouched. Now that I’ve been primed to look for the metaphor, I can’t help seeing that as a nod to how many artists and writers have given up their rightful reward in service to this never-ending property. Comics, hunh. Sometimes they make you think in such weird ways.