Afterlife with Archie is back with a second arc to the brilliant horror series featuring the gang from Riverdale. The innocent charm of Archie, Jughead, and Betty was turned upside down by a zombie apocalypse that was brought on by Sabrina's forbidden spell. It was a shocking approach for the traditionally saccharin band of schoolmates but writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has created a truly terrifying book as seen through familiar eyes and masterfully illustrated by Francesco Francavilla.
Thanksgiving brings a pause to bury the dead and reflect but also to find some sense of normalcy in a world overrun by the undead. Betty turns to writing in a diary as she once did before her friends like Jughead, or Jugdead as they call him now, turned. Entitled “Betty: R.I.P. Chapter Two” the diary entries provide some background through flashbacks of Betty’s contentious relationship with her sister Polly, her tempestuous friendship with Veronica and how Archie became the tip of this love triangle. It’s a rather slow, contemplative expository of moments that describe how our favorite characters got to where they are but without the campy fun hijinks we’ve known and loved for decades. There is some great character development in this realistic take that gives Betty more depth as her thoughtful earnest feelings about those around her come clearly in focus.
Aguirre-Sacasa clearly loves these characters as the readers do and his characterizations are respectful, introspective and never caricatures. After the mayhem from the last issue when Sabrina was forced to marry Cthulhu this respite to try and observe a holiday is a welcomed one. It allows them to catch their breath and reset which is also a perfect time for new readers to jump aboard this marvelous series. Archie isn’t as conflicted as he’s been historically portrayed in his feelings for both Betty and Veronica. He’s decided and it feels genuine. There is a slow build-up that Aguirre-Sacasa expertly crafts to lull the reader in a sense of serenity only to have that peace shattered by a horde of walking dead. The survivors also recount how they’ve all shared the same dream about Sabrina. As things get weirder the Blossom twins provide another level of creepiness that puts a nice exclamation point of dread on the issue.
None of this would be as good as it is without the enormously talented art of Francavilla. His pulpy illustrations and vibrant colors fit perfectly with the nostalgic aura of the Riverdale gang. And no one does monsters and zombies better than Francavilla whose love of classic creature features is lovingly infused in his work. It’s even more revelatory that some of his best work lies not in the bloody clashes from zombies but from subtle nuanced panels of a jealous sister, arms folded looking annoyed towards her favored little sister among her parents. His work conveys so much with so little effort that he’s as much a storyteller as the writer.
Afterlife with Archie #7 is the calm before the storm, a probing look into the dynamics of Betty, Veronica and Archie. The series may have been viewed as a gimmicky genre mash-up before it debuted but instead it’s one of the best comic books in any genre that reinvents beloved long-time characters and fleshes them out into three-dimensional beings much like ourselves with emotions, fears, and personal baggage. We are invested in them and it makes the horror of the day even more shocking and unexpected. This is one series not to be missed.