Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Reader's Diary #1134- Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Writer), Francesco Francavilla (Art): Afterlife with Archie, Escape from Riverdale

For someone who still denies being an Archie fan, I sure have read a lot of Archie comics in recent years. I am, it turns out, a fan of the Archie Comics company. Man, they've made a lot of cool and interesting decisions in recent years. Some good, some not so good, but hats off to them for keeping Archie relevant.

For someone who also denies being a zombie fan, I really underestimated how much I'd wind up enjoying Afterlife with Archie. These comics are fantastic.

Here's the crazy setup: Jughead's dog Hot Dog is accidentally run over and killed by Reggie. He goes to Sabrina's (the Teenage Witch) for help, who, against her aunts' wishes, uses a forbidden spell to resurrect Jughead's beloved pet. The dog, now a zombie, attacks Jughead, who winds up attacking Mr. Weatherbee and Ms. Grundy, and before you know it, Riverdale's under a full-blown zombie apocalypse.

It's fun, but very dark. I'd not say it's overly scary exactly, but if zombie fans are worried about a childish take on the horror genre, they needn't be. Aguirre-Sacasa is both loyal to the Archie personalities, but at the same time seems to take perverse pleasure in deconstructing it. There's some pretty unwholesome stuff here. Nothing particularly shocking for zombie fare, perhaps, but even par-for-the-course zombie stuff is shocking by Archie standards.

And Francavilla's artwork is sublime. Toying with the iconic Archie looks must have been a tricky task. People have tried to revamp it before and failed miserably. On the other hand, the classic cartoony characters would have seemed too silly and taken away from the chills they were going for. Here was an alternate cover by Andrew Pepoy to prove my point:
Although "not scary" is the lesser of the two wrongs with this scene.
The balance Francavilla strikes is just about perfect. But what really pulls it off is the colouring. Colour is used very, but purposefully, sparingly. Most panels are monochromatic with either orange or purple, sometimes a combination, and a lot of black space. The result is Archie, Halloween,  shadowy, sinister, and cool:

From a historical standpoint I'm also amused that the company is producing these, considering that John L. Goldwater, who co-founded Archie Comics back in the 40s, was also largely responsible for the now infamous Comics Code Authority that sought to censor comics, including horror. William Gaines (now best known perhaps for having been the longest running publisher of MAD Magazine) initially himself suggested the code as an industry run standard to stave off outside censorship, but soon found his horror line of comics especially targeted by Goldwater and the CCA. And now, some 70 years or so later, look at that cover at the top of the post. The image looks like it could have been been right at home on Gaines' Tales from the Crypt. Now it's on Archie Comics? Goldwater must be spinning in his grave. (Mwah-haa-haa.)


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I had to check the date to make sure you didn't post this on April 1. An utterly insane premise for a graphic novel, yet it is steadily growing on me. Go zombie Archie!

John Mutford said...

Barbara: As the baddest tempered zombie I know, I'd love to get your thoughts on it!