Afterlife With Archie #1 review

It's the Witching Hour on the Greendale/Riverdale border and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch has a visitor. It's Jughead, carrying Hot Dog. The pet has been hit by a car and Jughead hopes for magical help. But despite the healing spells of Aunts Hilda and Zelda, it's too late. Hot Dog is gone. Jughead asks if they can bring him back to life, but is told that necromancy is the most dangerous of charms. Jughead takes Hot Dog home for burial.

The sisters are practical, their niece all empathy; she knows how she'd feel were her cat, Salem, to be taken from her. Sabrina visits Jughead and does something very rash indeed ...

And that's the starting point for possibly the most unusual comic from Riverdale since Archie Meets the Punisher. This isn't Archie with a few spooky jokes and dress-up ghouls, it's a proper horror comic with moody artwork and characters going to some very dark places, figuratively and literally. By the end of the book one character has admitted to killing Hot Dog, a second has been exiled and two others are full-on zombies. Even Archie's love rivals Betty and Veronica are shaded that much darker.
Don't they realise they're dealing with Pureheart the Powerful?
And yet it all feels true to the Riverdale mythology; the story arises logically from classic character traits and situations - what's different is the treatment and how far things are pushed. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacas and artist Francesco Francavilla push and push and push, but they never break Archie's pals and gals; this comic feels different, but it feels true. The first page is 'just' words and colour, but it drips dread; the second masterfully builds pace and suspense with a cascade of small panels; the third, a splash, reveals Jughead's situation ... every page propels the story towards a terrible final image. The creative synergy between writer and artist is off the scale here - they even manage to give fratboys Archie and Reggie a bit more depth than usual, again, without it seeming as if they're trying to reinvent the wheel.

This series was inspired by an alternate cover Francovilla produced for Life With Archie #23 and it's evident the artist loves Archie as much as he loves horror stories. The characters are off-model only to the extent that they're that little bit more realistic, there's no mistaking who the leads are. Because he colours his art, Francovilla can ensure every panel has the moody tones that evoke what he's trying to say; I especially like that blood is represented by a dark orange that also works as Archie's distinctive hair hue.
Always hungry, that Jughead Jones
There's an authentic horror vibe throughout the issue, with script and art working together to bring moments of real intensity, ones so effective, I can't show them here - and I don't wish to spoil the surprises (but wait until you get a load of two very ticked-off relatives).

Jack Morelli's letter art is perfect. I'm not usually a fan of upper and lower case lettering in balloons but here it works, lending a tentativeness to the dialogue that suits the situations. Captions get the more usual all-upper case treatment, spot-on for assertive scene setting and narration.

The thought and care with which this comic has been put together extends to the cover stock, which is rougher, grainier than the norm, complementing the story being told. Add in interesting backmatter ('Afterthoughts with Archie' and 'Afterwords with Archie') and excellent package design from Joe Morciglio and you have a comic that looks and feels as good as it reads. And it's just $2.99, with 22 pages of story and art before the bonus material kicks in.

If future issues maintain this standard, and I expect they will, the collected Afterlife With Archie will be a classic Hallowe'en read. For now, it's a spooky serial to savour.


  1. Martin, this as always a really spot on review. I read Archie comics to my child and so the comic book guy put this in my pull list. I am glad he did. I can't add anything to your excellent review except agreement, especially with the following insightful observations: 'Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacas and artist Francesco Francavilla push and push and push, but they never break Archie's pals and gals; this comic feels different, but it feels true. '

    I think anyone who likes comics that are good homages to old horror comics (and movies) and has even a cursory knowledge of the Archie world (which is rather iconic) will think this is a fantastic comic, but even if you are only versed in one of the two this is at the very least worth checking out.

    On a related note, will you be reviewing Archie Comics Red Circle offering, The Fox by Mark Waid? It comes out soon and I would be curious of your take on it.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, and I'm glad you enjoyed this too. Archie Comics don't show up often in the UK, but happily this did, and it was a real treat. If I'd bought digitally, I'd never have had the pleasure of the matt cover.

      That said, this comic did prompt me to buy a digital-only Sabrina the Teenage Witch 50th anniversary special - I never knew she was originally a bit wicked!

      I'll keep an eye out for The Fox, I heard Waid chat about it on Word Balloon - intriguing!

  2. Hi Martin, Nice review, and so rare to find someone who understands the concept of reviewing, but I can't help wondering if we read a different comic. I've read Archie on and off for years and this just didn't feel like an Archie comic to me. It read like a mediocre horror story with the Archie characters slotted in to stock roles that came reasonably close to their usual personalities. The step towards less cartoony art also helped make the characters less defensible and less likable. For me it stood up poorly against the Punisher meets Archie book of a few years back where opposing styles made for a greater whole.

    1. Hello Peter, thanks for the kind words - it's fascinating to hear opposing views; maybe we'll agree next time out. I really must track down that Punisher book.


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