By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
It’s that time of year again, Ladies and Gentlemen! The Spook-tacular’s have been some of my favorite pieces to write because they allow me a week of positivity and the opportunity to introduce readers to a cool new comic, all while indulging in my favorite holiday. While usually I try to pick something a little more light and fun than scary and unnerving, this year’s selection will be on the gorier and macabre side. It also serves as a valuable lesson on how to do something dark, gritty and miserable right. All while making zombies feel original!
Would you believe I am talking about an Archie comic?
Afterlife with Archie began in 2013 with either the most bonkers possible pitch or one of history’s greatest jumping the shark moments: Zombies come to Riverdale. In the opening comic, Jughead’s dog Hot Dog is killed by a car, prompting him to bring the remains to Sabrina (yes, the Teenage Witch. I bet you forgot she is in Archie’s universe! Well, now you know!). Using forbidden black magic, she brings him back from the dead, only for Hot Dog to turn around and bite Jughead. Slowly turning into a zombie, this sets off a chain reaction, bringing the zombie apocalypse onto Riverdale. And the rest of the series deals with the immediate aftermath, as Archie and his band of survivors try to put as much distance between them and the outbreak as possible.
Normally, this is the kind of thing that I would heavily protest: the darkening of a traditionally optimistic and upbeat franchise. But not only is Afterlife great—with weighty and well paced human drama and a gorgeous and unnerving art style that takes the classic Archie iconography and distorts it in this hazy, stark and unnervingly real and gory imagery with sharp vivid coloring— I would argue that this is one of the rare excellent examples of how to do dark right, to say nothing about how it makes the zombie genre feel fresh.
Modern media in general has really dropped the ball when it comes to ‘dark,’ and ‘gritty.’ Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have been the pioneers of this new age, where ‘dark’ means unrelenting misery, to the point where it reaches masochism, where dark means if characters aren’t dying in horrible ways, there are no stakes. Where there is no such thing as ‘hope.’
Make no mistake, Afterlife with Archie often is these things. It’s miserable, it’s terrifying, it is bleak. But it knows how to make deaths feeling meaningful as opposed to numbing. A scene where Archie kills his father in the presence of moments and photos from their past that appear in-between frames is utterly heart wrenching without showing any gore in particular. It knows that variety is the spice of life. Tonally, it isn’t just misery or horror all the time, but moments that indulge in various genres. Moments with Betty and Veronica reach a sort of B-movie tone, while the continuing subplot with Sabrina finds herself sought after by a Cthulu-cult, leading to some Lovecraftian horror. And there are emotions beyond hopelessness, like determination, guilty, and obsession with redeeming oneself.
But most importantly, Afterlife works because it understands something no other major zombie franchise understands, a meaningful sense of the past. I used to love Walking Dead, but as time wore on, I lost my love because among the misery and hopelessness, I could never believe that there was a world worth reclaiming, that this zombie-state is all there ever was. But with Archie, that world does exist. We’ve seen the cheeriness, optimism and wholesomeness of Riverdale, a sense of light that is burned to the ground in Afterlife. Make no mistake, this is the Riverdale we know at the beginning of the story, that moment by moment is lost to the zombie hoard. That is dark, that is tragic, that is what makes Afterlife with Archie great. (come to think of it, Archie vs Predator and Archie Meets the Punisher takes this message to heart too, balancing wholesomeness with gritty violence, but that’s another story).
The zombie genre has been stagnate for years now, and yet continues to march on in spite of the lack of originality. If you are looking for a series that not only brings some magic back to the craze, but also stands as a unique, fresh and genuinely unnerving horror comic, Afterlife with Archie is your choice for this Halloween.