Escape From Riverdale
In 2013, Archie Comics commissioned artist Francesco Francavilla to do a variant cover for Life with Archie magazine #23. While the interior contents featured the expected soap operatics, the cover image depicted a horrific scene in which Archie Andrews was pursued by the reanimated corpses of Jughead Jones, Betty Cooper, and Veronica Lodge. The powers that be were so enamored with the concept that they greenlit an alternative universe for these beloved characters, in which the horrors that were joked about on this cover could become a startling reality.
Afterlife with Archie, Vol. 1: Escape from Riverdale collects the first five issues from this series, and starts off with a wallop. Jughead’s pet dog, Hot Dog, has been struck down by a hit-and-run driver. Desperate, he takes the poor pooch to the Spellman residence, where Sabrina (the Teenage Witch) goes against the wishes of her wise aunts and uses necromancy to return Hot Dog from the dead. When he comes back, he is drastically changed, and he bites his master, turning Jughead into Patient Zero of the zombie apocalypse. Soon, the town of Riverdale is overrun with the undead, and the survivors band together at the Lodge family mansion to await help and formulate a plan.
Archie Vs. Zombies may sound like a cheap gimmick, but it surpasses expectations at every turn. This isn’t some kid-friendly horror story with a sugary aftertaste. It’s a hard-edged tale steeped in darkness with hints of sleaze existing just beneath the surface. There are many nods to horror films peppered throughout, giving it a self-aware quality, and there are emotionally-impactful scenes that one might not expect. The scene in which Archie’s life is saved by his canine companion Vegas was particularly powerful, and legitimately gave me chills as I read it. I was prepared for goofs and gore. I was not prepared to actually be moved.
Escape from Riverdale was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and he did an amazing job. His script was brought to gruesome life by Francesco Francavilla, whose illustrations are simply astounding. His pencils on their own are high quality, but when coupled with his near-garish coloring, they become works of art. So many of these panels and pages could easily be blown up to poster-size and framed to decorate my office that I may as well just nail the entire book to the wall.
The Archie universe has had a lot of pop culture mashups in its day, with the characters coming face-to-face with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1991), the Punisher (1994), KISS (2011), the cast of Glee (2013), the Predator (2015), Sharknado (2015), and the Ramones (2016), for starters. Something in line with Archie Meets the Walking Dead shouldn’t be that big of a surprise, but what is a surprise is how damn good it is.
Years before the characters would be reimagined as dark and brooding counterparts for television’s RIVERDALE (indeed the roots for that show can be found here), they were taken from saccharine cartoon characters and turned into oddly-believable teenagers thrust into an unbelievable situation within these pages. It reinvigorated the brand and not only exposed it to a new audience, but made it a viable and important commodity once again.
One might even say that it brought Archie back to life. Recommended without hesitation.