|(1) By far the best thing about Afterlife With Archie Comics #1 is Francavilla's puckishly macabre cover. The presence of Jughead's crown-hat on his grotesquely decomposed head makes for a striking collision of horror and comedy. (My thanks to Greg for correcting my original attribution here.)|
As a legion of pundits never tire of declaiming, zombies are last year's/last decade's/last century's thing. But the thought of the shuffling undead feasting on the cartoon Americana that's the Archie universe surely has a perversely enticing appeal. Regrettably, Robert Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla's Afterlife With Archie Comics has discarded the Rockwell-for-prepubescents appeal of Dan DeCarlo's Riverdale for an awkwardly Vertigo-lite take on young Mr Andrews and his playmates. What might have been a mischievously thought-provoking clash of genres has been homogenised into nothing more remarkable than an enervatingly run-of-the-mill teen horror yarn.
|(2) By contrast, the appearance of a zombie Jughead on the comic's final interior page simply looks ridiculous, as if those involved were neither willing to abandon the least of the strip's traditions or capable of using them to a telling effect.|
Stripped of the knowing charms of their comic-strip heritage, the cast of Archie have been repositioned as wearisomely over-familiar exploitation-movie stereotypes. As a result, Riverdale becomes nothing more unique, enticing or compelling than a disconcertingly all-white country town complete with unconvincingly wholesome frat boys and bitchily-competitive party girls. Worse yet, the reduction of the franchise's aesthetic to a thin and overly-polite form of realism leaves Veronica and Betty's half-undressed vying for Archie's affections reading like a blokeish wet-dream. Why cut Archie free from its traditions, when doing so leaves so very little that's distinct and vital about the property? In comparison to the ever-more progressive and ambitious output of the modern-era Archie franchise, this underpowered indulgence seems reactionary and hackneyed. Clogged with sentimentality - poor dead dogs! guileless mateship! - and untouched by a single original or even unexpected idea, Afterlife With Archie Comics is a triumph of marketing and literal-thinking over ambition and opportunity.
It's to be regretted that the book's genre-conscious creators didn't also consider the conventions of the trans-company team-up. In 1994's The Punisher Meets Archie, writer Batton Lash and artists John Buscema and Stan Goldberg smartly juxtaposed the two distinct and contradictory storytelling approaches that they'd been lent to play with. In pairing the traumatised and bloody-handed Frank Castle with the gauchely well-meaning Archie Andrews, they did more than just offer the fannish thrills of an unexpected crossover. Retaining both Archie's nostalgic whimsy and The Punisher's grim vigilante despair, they unpretentiously evoked themes of American innocence and corruption. In doing so, they delivered a tale that enhanced rather than undermined the integrity of two quite separate characters and two seemingly incompatible narrative traditions. Sadly, Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla's sincerely-meant homage smooths out most of the incongruities between their thesis and antithesis. The result reflects nothing of the strengths of either Archie Comics or the zombie tale. Instead, the respectful timidity that characterises Afterlife With Archie Comics diminishes both of the traditions that it calls upon.
It really should be said that this is not a typical response to what's been a fondly-reviewed comic. You can find far more positive, and undeniably well-written reviews, of Afterlife With Archie Comics # 1 here, here, here and here.
TooBusyThinkingAboutComics; less proud of standing alone than nervous about seeming curmudgeonly.