After another inexplicable break, Afterlife With Archie returned last week with its 4th issue, and delivered an intensely personal story as far as the titular hero Archie is concerned. Till now there has been a lot of death and mayhem in the happy-go-lucky town of Riverdale as a zombie plague ran rampant following Sabrina’s necromantic resurrection of Jughead’s dog Hot Dog. And some of it has been quite horrific. But the stakes have never been so intensely personal as we see in this issue. But that’s not so surprising since Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla have been doing this on all their previous issues.
In the previous three issues we got a very wide look at the goings-on in Riverdale as the writer touched on an immense cast of characters, but this time we see that cast pared down to just Archie and his immediate family, plus the Blossom kids. With each of the previous issues the creative team has made reconnecting with all these characters a very fun journey, and this new one is no different. Archie’s “adventure” as he reconnects with his family, and what the epilogue means for the longer story, is very fun. Of course, Francavilla’s art continues to be to phenomenal too!
Last issue we saw how Archie escaped from the Lodge mansion to go check up on his parents at his home. I was a bit unprepared for how much the story in this issue would focus on Archie but I have to say that it felt quite rewarding. It was also unique because it was a big shift in the narrative. Instead of a far-reaching story we got something very specific. And that’s all part of the fun of this comic. Roberto uses Archie’s past and his history with his mutt, Vegas, to the story of a boy suffering from having to make the hard choices that he really shouldn’t have to.
You would think that writing in a setting that has existed for some seventy years or something, the writer would just dive into the story and trust the reader to know all the characters and their motivations. It is an approach that could work, I suppose, depending on how it is handled specifically, but Roberto does more than that. He revisits what makes these characters who they are. And with Archie as the focus, with his relationship to his dog Vegas as the lens, we see just how much Riverdale has changed. We see how friendships made ages ago can bloom in the direst of circumstances.
And in a subtle sort of way, we see Archie’s friendship with Jughead contrasted against Archie’s friendship with Vegas. Different relationships, but with the same intensity behind them. We see Archie and Vegas through the years as Archie’s dad emphasises again and again how Vegas is Archie’s responsibility, to keep safe and take care of. With zombie Hot Dog threatening Archie, Vegas comes to defend his friend in his direst need. And this is where I almost broke down. Roberto gives Vegas simple bits of translated dialogue, very basic words that still manage to convey a range of emotions and more. It was almost heartbreaking.
You know how we all joke about “sad puppy-dog eyes”? Imagine Archie being confronted by Vegas doing the same even as zombie Hot Dog is about to attack them both, and Vegas is imploring Archie to get away. Extremely stirring stuff. The tragedies that Archie has to face in this issue are very moving. He has to make sacrifices that he is unprepared for, but as his father once remarked to his mother in a flashback panel, such sacrifices are part of growing up. Although I doubt that he had quite such an experience in mind!
Francavilla’s art continues to be haunting and terrifying. Afterlife With Archie isn’t an out-and-out horror book partly because of who all these characters are and what the setting is, but he still infuses each page with a surreal darkness that really speaks to the horror of what the characters are all going through, and the situation that they find themselves in now. His Hot Dog and Vegas are particularly terrifying, as are the final panels from the epilogue, which herald the upcoming events of the next issue. It isn’t as if the panels make you really scared or anything, because the horror is often subtle, but the colours and the inks definitely add to that whole atmosphere. And I love all of it.
So yeah, this is yet another awesome issue from this creative team, and I enjoyed the hell out of this one, just as I did the other three issues.