Monday, June 9, 2014

This is not your parents’ Archie!

This is not your parents’ Archie!
by rick olivares

Did you read Archie comics as a kid?

I didn’t. I did go through them a few times as my sister, who read them, left them about the house but I was never a fan. I think I saw the Saturday morning cartoon a little more and that is where I got to know the characters.

However, in this day where comics crossovers are possible, the first “Archie” comic I bought was Archie Meets the Punisher. I thought it was hilarious as it is a most unlikely crossover.

Then there was Archie Meets Kiss, that 1970s rock ‘n’ roll band that became notorious because of their use of make up and onstage theatrics. But that was a poorly done story.

There’s also the Archie Meets Glee but I am not going there at all.

And in the wake (pun intended) of the success of The Walking Dead comes Afterlife with Archie. And this isn’t your parents’ Archie at all. The highly-romanticized high school life of teen age crushes, soda parlors, football games and luaus and prom nights depicted by writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana that made Archie a staple of early Americana is absent. In its place is the dark and foreboding art of Italian artist Francesco Francavilla who is doing the excellent Black Beetle for Dark Horse Comics. He’s also done some Captain America with Ed Brubaker (I didn’t think the artwork was a match for this character) and Detective Comics with Scott Snyder.

How dark has Archie become? This is the first Archie comic book to be sold in the direct market (that means comic book specialty shops and no newsstand or grocery digest editions) and is the first to be rated, “Teens and up.” And the response has been overwhelmingly positive with print runs selling out that the publishers need to go to a second and third printing.

This change of pace is actually welcome change of pace for what has been traditionally children’s fare. The publishers of Archie books have attempted to woo their crowd that has grown up and might have graduated to other more mature books with Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty type of stories. Afterlife with Archie will otherwise bring in the crowd that won’t touch the romantic and cheesier books. 

When Hotdog, Jughead’s sheepdog is accidentally run over by Reggie Mantle, Sabrina brings back to life the beloved pet. Only something goes wrong and Hotdog takes a massive chomp on Jughead infecting him with a zombie virus. Jughead makes an appearance at the high school dance that also serves as a costume party. His friends believe his decayed corpse to be a work of art. Only after he makes a snack out of Ethel does everyone realize what is going on. Soon familiar faces are infected and the survivors make it to the Lodge Mansion where they attempt to hold out against the zombie horde.

Friends become zombies and Riverdale is completely overrun.

I saw the first issue of Afterlife with Archie on the racks and the rotting visage of Jughead did catch my attention. Burned by the offending Archie Meets Kiss (yes, I was a massive fan of the band during my younger years), I didn’t bother to check it out until a few issues later. Only then did I realize that it was pretty good. I waited for the trade paperback that collects the first five issues

Just because the story has gone all horror, the creators, Francavilla and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, maintain some elements of the traditional Archie comics.

When the undead Jughead tries to gorge on Veronica at the dance, she thinks to herself, “Wow, so this is how I die… at a dance, eaten by my arch-nemesis, Jughead; how pathetic. My second thought was, ‘Not to mention Betty finally going to have Archie all to herself…”

So she decides she wants to live. And in the nick of time, Archie fights off Zombie Juggie. But these zombies are hard to kill and the heroes and heroines still have not figured out a way to permanently put them to rest.

The best makeover, however, belongs to the Lodge’s butler, Smithers, who suddenly turns into Alfred Pennyworth (from stately Wayne Manor). Now, this is exactly what needs to be added to Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide – a hatchet carrying, security-camera monitoring, ready-to-move-in-a-moment’s-notice butler! Can’t live without them!

Who lives and who dies? If you grew up reading the book passionately or as a casual reader like me, you’ll find yourself invested in the story because you want to see how each character adapts to this world gone to hell. Who flips out? Who is this story’s Rick Grimes (obviously, that’s Archie). Is there a Michonne in the making because as much as Smithers is dressed (in a suit) to kill, I don’t think he’s worthy of the katana wielding heroine.

Nevertheless, each single issue has that cliffhanger feel of the television version of The Walking Dead. You’re riveted.

And after reading the first five issues you’ll think to yourself, “Yes, there is life after kiddie books…. Thanks to the Afterlife with Archie.”

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