Forgive me for not reviewing “Black Widow” this week. Just assume that the dozen other reviews calling it, “the best thing to happen to comics since they killed the comic’s code authority” are accurate. Also? Though I love British comic books too death, “Revolutionary War” just isn’t my thing. So what’s left to review? Weird, out there, small books with a high concept that makes readers say, “Bwah?” That narrows things down too “Afterlife with Archie”. Yes, it is that Archie. Now add zombies.
The story takes place in the same Archie universe as all of his other books, Riverdale has had much of the same history and all of the characters are left intact. In fact the book heavily references events and backstory that obsessive fans can scrutinize while non-readers will look past them, completely oblivious. Still, the effort really makes a difference in this book as they flush out a world and then completely destroy it. Every detail really sells that this event is happening in cannon Riverdale. What’s better is that every once in a while, the characters slip in one little joke that breaks that fourth wall and makes fun of the perpetuity these characters have been in since Archie first put a giant “R” on his chest.
So we all know where this goes down and because of zombie story conventions we also know how this is all going down. Every single beat that traditional zombie horror movies go through make an easy frame work for this story. Yes, things can get a tad predictable—no that’s not right. The story reminds me of a famous quote from Alfred Hitchcock, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” In this issue, someone is bitten but she’s locked in with the other survivors in Lodge mansion. She plays it off as a mere scratch and only her boyfriend even knows of the scratch. Since her boyfriend is a bit dim, he moves on to more carnal concerns. But then the story moves away from them, leaving the reader to worry what happened. How much time does she have? Perhaps she’s right and she won’t turn. If she does turn, will anyone be safe? The anxiety sweat on my hands ruined that comic book. But just because this is a zombie story doesn’t mean they sacrifice the established character traits for the purpose of zombie action. All of the drama from Riverdale is on display.
Everything is kind of sh&% in Riverdale once the zombies show up, but that doesn’t mean the internal struggles get locked down for a good pow wow later. Everyone more or less still has the same issues they started with, none more so than Betty and Veronica. I know what you’re thinking, why don’t the two of them just kill Archie, burn the house down, kiss on top of the corpses and then ride off into the night on someone’s stolen motorcycle—What’s that? Somebody else did that in the comic first? Well I guess that doesn’t make me weird for asking for it then. But the fact still remains that Betty and Veronica have gone through quite a bit of pain for this Archie fella with little return on their emotional investment. They even acknowledge their differences and competing interests in a scene that gets to the heart of their characters, even in the midst of an overwhelming apocalypse. Did you hear that Marvel and DC? Because I’m pretty sure you two are on your fifth crossover with interchangeable heroes and villains that are used to fill the space between punching and explosions. I’ve really got to hand it to “Afterlife with Archie”. I thought I had grown tired of the perpetual time freeze these characters were stuck in. Turns out I just needed things to go tits up and some of the characters to have their faces eaten off.
It’s easy to compare this story to “Invincible”. Both decided to tell a certain story while confined to a preset universe. Both rely on convections and tropes of the type of stories that came before. And both are really good at flushing out character development. Plus these are two universes that take the concept of legacy very seriously. Mark Grayson started his career comparing himself to Omni-man before questioning his ties to Omni-man. Archie lives in a bubble world that has an expectation of it as a clean and down to Earth kind of existence. These two characters can use that to twist expectations of the readers’ to new places. Plus any book that is this comfortable making fun of itself, like “Afterlife with Archie” gets an automatic 89% Invincible.