Afterlife with Archie

Archie Andrews and the Riverdale gang are some of the most enduring characters in comics history. They’ve teamed up with superheroes, met countless pop music icons, taught Bible lessons, and fought Sharknados. Their stories range from innocently humorous vignettes to deeply emotional personal drama; Archie married both Betty and Veronica in divergent story arcs that converged again with Archie’s death. Archie Comics as a company has taken on a number of licenses through the years and never been afraid to push the boundaries of comics as an art form. I guess it was inevitable that the zombie apocalypse would eventually make it to Riverdale.

Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla, creators with whom I am unfamiliar, eschew the easy camp of a zombified Archie to tell a darkly serious tale. In a premise that owes much to The Walking Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the main characters struggle to survive as they are forced to destroy their own loved ones. The zombie origin is clearly supernatural, an occurrence which lays the groundwork for a deeper mystery that unfolds as the story progresses.

Afterlife with Archie (2013) #2

Right from the beginning all gloves are off and no character is safe. Jughead Jones and Sabrina Spellman take the first steps down the road to hell with the best of intentions. Things go downhill from there and the comic begins to explore the contrast between human depravity and human virtue. Even as Reggie Mantle and Cheryl Blossom unveil hideous dark sides to their characters, Archie and Betty continue to prove that even post-apocalyptic life is still worth fighting for. The pace of the story is slow, but with a kind of inevitability that sounds the tramp of doom. Aguirre-Sacasa measures each character and plot beat as if it were a slowly fading heartbeat. It’s eerie and unsettling, with each thump more profoundly disturbing than the last.

Francavilla’s artwork is heavily inked with thick lines and deeply contrasting tones. The color palette is awash in orange, red, and brown, like a film of decaying blood over a stuttering movie projector. This approach minimizes the impression of the monsters by smoothing over details of appearance, but throws the bouts of sudden violence and residual gore into sharp relief against the survivors from Riverdale. It’s heavily stylized and minimalistic, a perfect portrayal of a world that’s rapidly decaying.

Afterlife with Archie (2013) #3

It’s a horror book. It’s a zombie book. But is it an Archie book? The world of Archie Andrews seems locked in a perpetual malt-shop nostalgia that views the formative teen years through a rose-colored lens. Even Mark Waid’s modern take on the characters in the main book line preserves the feeling that maybe this isn’t what life as a teen is actually like, but it’s what life at that age ought to be like. Aguirre-Sacasa preserves that nostalgia with uncanny subtlety; the reader comes away firmly believing the zombie apocalypse could unfold in Riverdale in no other way. Each member of the group is defined by their friendships, rivalries, flaws, and virtues. These characters are recognizably and indisputably the Archie gang, even if the tension of their circumstances and the stress of adversity has cranked those character traits up to 11.

The creators use conflict and theme to move the current of the story. The underlying strata of the story is about a world being destroyed and forged into something new. The characters likewise must pull down their own preconceptions and reinvent themselves if they are to survive. Archie himself abruptly and violently leaves behind his own innocence and the security of his childhood protectors. It’s a fitting separation that highlights the difference between Archie, who adapts to change and grows thereby, and Jughead, who precipitates the apocalypse because he cannot deal with tragedy in his life.

Afterlife with Archie (2013) #4

Discussion topics flow like water from even a surface reading of the book. What is the morality of killing a zombie? Have the rules of civilized behavior fallen along with the fall of civilization? Does humanity deserve the sentence of extinction for its failure to honor the alien gods of the outer darkness? If the chthonic entities beyond space and time are actually willing to give us our heart’s desire, isn’t it wrong to think of them as evil? Is seeking to find personal happiness wrong when doing so evidently prevents others from being happy themselves?

So many zombie stories are bleak nihilistic examinations of mankind’s basest impulses. It’s easy to devolve into camp on either extreme of comedy or horror. Afterlife with Archie takes the very difficult middle road, telling serious, thoughtful stories about how humanity remains essentially unchanged even when the world around it is falling apart. The apocalypse doesn’t give these characters free reign to behave unchecked, rather it allows them to act upon those desires which social convention would normally restrain. It throws the necessity for a sinless savior and ultimate redemption into sharp relief, as even Archie’s powerful, personal virtue is unable to effectively change the impact of a fully corrupted world.

Afterlife with Archie (2013) #6

Aguirre-Sacasa has a companion title in the Archie Horror line, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. “Sabrina” is set during the 60s and shows the influence of the EC horror titles of that era. It’s not connected to the continuity of “Afterlife”, but does have a similar look and feel. The Archie Horror line also includes the werewolf one-shot and upcoming series Jughead: the Hunger by creators Frank Tieri & Michael Walsh.

Which raises the question: to whom is this book meant to appeal? It’s a smart, gut-wrenching horror story that eschews splatter for a more visceral and personal experience. I appreciate good horror stories, especially ones as well-crafted as this, but it’s not a title I’m going to want to keep on my shelf. Perhaps I’m getting squeamish in my old age, but this book … disturbs me.

Afterlife with Archie (2013) #7

Archie Comics is collecting the individual issues into trade paperbacks, and the entire series is available digitally through either Comixology or the Archie app. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead comic, EC horror, or that particular brand of quiet, cerebral zombie story, you may do well to read Afterlife with Archie. I give this book a Quality score of “Excellent” and a Relevance score of “Overflowing”.

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Winston Crutchfield has loved comics ever since he discovered his older brother’s stash of Spider-Man and What If? books forgotten in a dresser drawer. He blames his mother for teaching him to read and his grandmother for fooling nobody by “accidentally” picking up new comics at the drugstore with her crossword puzzles. He is the publisher and small business service provider at Critical Press Media, and may be found in the Christian Geek Central forums as “MindSpike”.

Sonic the Hedgehog

I never would have guessed that Sonic the Hedgehog and Archie Comics would be the ones to revitalize my interest in superhero comics. For reasons I won’t go into immediately, I walked away from both Marvel and DC in 2009/2010. They simply stopped telling the kinds of superhero stories I wanted. When Humble Bundle featured a selection of Sonic the Hedgehog comics as their digital book bundle, I thought it was a good opportunity to stoke my son’s interest in reading in general and comics in particular. I read the first book just to see what Sonic looked like these days. It hooked me instantly.

I remember when Sonic the Hedgehog premiered in Archie Comics back in 1993. I considered it a kid’s book, with goofy artwork and the kind of four page gags for which Archie Comics was known. The new Sonic book I read was from 2013. It began with Sonic and Tails fighting for their lives against a tentacular mechanized horror controlled by a sinister and murderous stuffed doll. The book slowly introduced me to the principle cast, only a few of whom I knew from the cartoons and video games. It hinted at a history of loss and sacrifice, implying that Sonic and the Freedom Fighters were all that stood between the Eggman Army and total subjugation of the world.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1993) #279

I never really considered Eggman a villain to be taken seriously, knowing him only from the video game character model and the goofy dialog of the cartoons. The comic introduced me to a man consumed by selfishness and his own ego, commanding minions that were obviously terrified of him. It wasn’t until Eggman defeated a G.U.N. carrier fleet all by himself that I began to consider him a threatening antagonist. He clearly had his eye on the big picture, with the resources and ability to follow through on his threats. I still didn’t like the character model, but it had improved significantly since the 1990s.

As I read, Sonic laid out the bones of what had come before and introduced me to the current status quo. Turns out I was coming in on the heels of a continuity restructuring; it was convenient for me, as I knew nothing of the previous stories. Prior to the reboot, Sonic’s Freedom Fighters had suffered devastating losses. Antoine D’Coolette was in a coma. Antoine’s wife Bunnie had lost her cybernetic powers and run away. Sonic’s love interest Princess Sally Acorn had been transformed into a murderous, roboticized slave of the Eggman Empire. Currently, the Fighters were scattered across the face of the planet, conveniently allowing Sonic and Tails to reintroduce them one at a time.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1993) #255

Piece by piece, the gang came back together, events from the previous continuity washed away by the reboot and remembered only by the core cast and only as a fading dream. Now healthy, Antoine looks back on his injury with a shudder of relief at a tragedy narrowly averted. Bunnie’s cybernetics are back and she mourns the loss of a normal life with her husband while renewing her determination to fight Eggman. When Sonic finally discovers that Sally is no longer roboticized and is preparing to return safely from a secret mission, I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. And then Eggman finds out …

See, Eggman remembers the previous world as well, a world in which he was considered something of a joke, while in this one he is feared by allies and enemies alike. In the previous world he worked on gimmicky schemes with dwindling resources. In the new one he commands a global empire and significant military might. None of this means anything to him because in the world that was Sonic suffered the loss of friends and family. When he discovers that Sally is no longer a robot slave, the until-now coldly calculating Eggman throws a tantrum and acts with pure, petty vindictiveness. “Send Metal Sonic,” he orders, “Sonic never sees her again … alive.”

Sonic the Hedgehog (1993) #255

I swear this used to be a kid’s book.

I had two titles and three years worth of issues in each one to catch up on. I read through them all in a week. Rather than the silliness I associated with the Sonic cartoons, I discovered a complex world where a small band of extraordinary individuals stood against extraordinary threats. The villains acted with viciousness and desperation. The heroes stood ready to sacrifice everything. The fallout of their battles left ragged lives in its wake, even when things worked out mostly for the best. Hero and villain alike struggled with the moral, emotional, and philosophical consequences of their actions. The action was relentless; the violence was usually subtle and occasionally shocking but my youngest nephew could read this without my very protective sister batting an eye.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1993) #278

From this point on, every superhero book I ever read will be held to a standard set by the adventures of an anthropomorphic hedgehog and his egg-shaped nemesis.

Archie’s stable of artists draw the book with clarity and emotion, staying consistently on model. The color palettes tend to show their video game origins, with bright, vibrant hues that pop off the page for most of the action but turn subdued when things trend towards the serious. The lettering is a bit larger than I’m used to but it makes the books considerably easier to read in digital or digest formats.

I’d never heard of writer Ian Flynn before reading Sonic the Hedgehog. He took over the Sonic titles in 2006 and also worked on several other books for Archie, including the New Crusaders. He also wrote every issue of Archie’s Mega Man series, which I’m now determined to hunt down and not only for the two epic crossovers with Sonic. I used to think this was just a kid’s book, but it has rapidly become my superhero title of choice, surpassing even Grant Morrison’s luminary work on JLA in the 2000s. I regret not having discovered it sooner.

Sonic Universe (2009) #62

Archie Comics has made every issue of both Sonic and Mega Man available digitally through their own app and through Comixology. They also publish the older works in digest collections and the new works in trade paperback. The Sonic titles are currently on hiatus while Archie Comics and Sega talk through some licensing issues, but you can bet I’ll be there to pick up the next issue when things finally resolve. In the meantime, Archie has most of the trades on sale through their website and special deals going through their digital outlets. It’s a great opportunity to catch up on the stories, starting with the TPB “Countdown to Chaos” or issue #252. If you are a fan of superhero comics, action-adventure stories, or simply have the ability to read, you need to be reading Sonic the Hedgehog. I give the two Sonic books, Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Universe, Quality scores of “Superior” and Relevance scores of “High”.

Sonic Universe (2009) #75

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Winston Crutchfield has loved comics ever since he discovered his older brother’s stash of Spider-Man and What If? books forgotten in a dresser drawer. He blames his mother for teaching him to read and his grandmother for fooling nobody by “accidentally” picking up new comics at the drugstore with her crossword puzzles. He is the publisher and small business service provider at Critical Press Media, and may be found in the Christian Geek Central forums as “MindSpike”.