Afterlife with Archie #1

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In forty-some odd years of comics reading, I've seen various treatments of the Archie characters. I've seen them little, I've seen them grown. I've seen them super-powered, and I've seen them done realistically. I've seen them humorously, and I've seen them serious.

In short, I've seen it all. Or so I thought.

Afterlife with Archie seemed at first to me to be a gimmick, a way to cash in on the zombie fandom that's so successful these days given series like The Walking Dead. But after reading this first issue, there's so much more depth, character -- and, yes, horror -- than I had anticipated. This is a very well-done zombie apocalypse story -- that just happens to involve a cast of characters you've been intimately familiar with for decades.

The story opens with a simple tragedy -- the passing of a beloved character: Jughead's longtime pal, Hot Dog, struck by a car. In this particular incarnation of the Archie universe, Jughead Jones is quite aware of Sabrina Spellman's magical capabilities (if he is aware in the standard Archie universe, I am not certain), and he brings Hot Dog to her and her aunts for help. Unfortunately, he arrives when Hot Dog has already died, and the witches say there is nothing they can do. But Sabrina has such compassion for Jughead's plight that she decides to break a rule and employ forbidden magic -- magic that can raise the dead.

And this is how the end of the world begins: with good intentions. Sabrina is severely punished for her breach, and Hot Dog returns the next night in a "Cujo"/"Pet Sematary" fashion, biting Jughead and infecting him. The results are not immediate, but they are definitely progressive, and by the end of the first issue, the attendees at the Riverdale High Halloween Dance are going to be in for quite a surprise.

This is more than just a zombie story. There's a depth of characterization here not seen outside of the standard Archie fare. While the Life with Archie series, which follows two alternative future paths split by the decision of Archie to marry either Veronica or Betty, is certainly more adult in nature, I haven't seen a version of the high school Archie gang yet where Veronica and Betty engage in risque repartee while arguing over who will be Archie's date to the dance. Add to this Reggie Mantle's role in events, a whole new visual look to the Archie characters (aside from being zombified, that is), and just the fully-realized emotional expressions of each character, and Afterlife with Archie immediately rockets to not just the top of my Archie reading list, but it's the first time that an Archie book has broached my personal Top Five must-read titles of all publications. I have to give this my highest recommendation.

5.0 / 5.0