You know how sometimes, at this site, as a gag, we run doofy little articles about things that don't actually exist?
This isn't one of those times. This really exists.
It's October 9, 2013, and Archie Comics has launched an adult-oriented zombie apocalypse series set in Riverdale.
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrated by dark pop artist Francesco Francavilla, this copyright-holder-approved series grafts Walking Dead, Stephen King's Pet Sematary, and Horror Comics to the world of America's eternal teenagers, in a story that would give the writers of Spire Christian Comics a heart attack and could shatter the fragile psyches of 9-year-old girls everywhere. Archie Meets the Punisher, by comparison, constitutes a sane exercise in gleeful fun.
"On the Riverdale/Greendale border, at the Witching Hour, that darkest hour... in the dead of night," a distraught Forsythe "Jughead" Jones arrives at the Spellman stoop, carrying the corpse of his pal, Hot Dog. He seeks Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (he apparently knows she's a witch; it's some kind of open secret). He wants her to summon forbidden magic and restore his dead pet to life. Her aunts warn of dire consequences, but she's young, and ol' Jug moves her adolescent heart.
This won't end well. By the time issue #1 (available in four variant covers-- are you surprised?) concludes, we have at least two zombies wandering Riverdale, Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy have been killed in a scene lifted deliberately from Night of the Living Dead, Reggie Mantle has outdone himself in dark deeds, and Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper continue to squabble over Archie.
The Halloween dance has commenced. The door opens. Everyone lauds Jughead's costume. Of course, we know he's not wearing one.
"10:15 PM. RIVERDALE," reads the text box. "Full contagion immenent."[sic]
Francavilla's artwork sells it. Dark colours, washed out like the small town landscape after set of sun, bring us into an almost-familiar world, with stylized, though more realistic versions of familiar characters from childhood.
As for the story: look, we've seen forced darkness before. Comics have embraced it, Hollywood keeps serving up oh-so-gritty, "adult" versions of children's fare, and the internet rushes in to defile what the copyright holders won't. Archie's universe has always been elastic, catering to trends and, peachy-keen white-bread reputation notwithstanding, sometimes addressing contemporary issues in ways that superhero comics, for all their posturings of maturity, won't. Zombies have been shambling all over pop culture in recent years, along with all manner of apocalyptic entertainment. It's no surprise that Archie's overseers would approve this project. It's fine, as far as it goes, but it brings nothing new. It even fails to rise above current controversies over the depiction of women in comic books. Sabrina brings evil into the world, while Betty and Veronica exchange bitchy barbs that sound like they were written by a middle-aged man. In the second issue, meanwhile, we get pretty direct indications that Cheryl Blossom has an incestuous relationship with her twin brother, Jason (a tribute to Cersei and Jaime Lannister?)
Aguirre-Sacasa does have obvious affection for this world. The characters may grow over the series.
Afterlife of Archie exists as a fascinating cultural artifact, suitable for older readers during the Halloween season-- and as a reminder that, sooner or later, every pop-culture trend will devour itself.