Over the last week, I finally got around to reading the first volume of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's other Archie horror comic, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It was, from start to finish, a sharp, scary horror book with great art (courtesy of Robert Hack) and a strong sense of characterization and I highly recommend it. And yet, when all was said and done, I couldn't help but notice that Afterlife with Archie is distinctly superior. There are a number of reasons for this: Francavilla's art is better than Aguirre-Sacasa's, Afterlife is a more interesting story, and the emotions are not as rich in Sabrina. All that said, I was reminded by Afterlife with Archie #10 that the key difference between the two is that while Chilling is a scary book that happens to use Archie characters, Afterlife with Archie is, at its core, an Archie comic.
Come entirely as a surprise after last issue's big last page cliffhanger, issue ten is a self-avowed, extra-sixed interlude--an interview with the lead singer of Josie and the Pussycats. Ignoring entirely (well, almost) the goings on in Riverdale, Aguirre-Sacasa creates a new Pussycats mythos from the ground up framed as a tell-all interview. As we, and the increasingly terrified music reporter, learn, Josie and company are over a hundred years old and have survived by drinking blood. In a comic where Sabrina is the Bride of Cthulhu and Jughead leads an army of the undead, there's something entirely fitting in the revelation that Archie comics cheesy pop trio are vampires. And if this sounds like a spoiler, it isn't--we find out the trio are vampires slightly before the halfway point, and things only get more interesting from there.
Afterlife with Archie has been a book that has managed to intertwine horror with the nostalgic world of Archie by playing it entirely straight, never winking at the audience or acknowledging anything silly in the premise. Issue Ten is no different, and while on paper the story of Josie and the Pussycats as monsters in their own right sounds funny, it is in practice a haunting 37-page story centered around the type of human moments that allow AOA to be so consistently disturbing. Vampires are, in horror, no less a cliche than zombies (or Lovecraftian monsters for that matter), but seeing a group of formerly angelic young women turned into vicious beasts is arresting. Following the Pussycats through a hundred years and more than a few different bands, we are repeatedly reminded that the monsters in this world are a mix of fantastical (vampires) and very real (Klansmen and Nazis). The most striking moment in the book comes when Josie mercy kills an old friend of the band who has grown old and desperate after years of hard living. It operates both as an excellent Vampire story beat and as a real-world analogy for those left behind by fame.
That may sound a little scattered as I am still trying to wrap my head around the scope of AOA which, along with encompassing ten decades, sees fit to pay tribute to F Scott Fitzgerald in a way I am still considering. Ably bringing Aguirre-Sacasa's dense scripts to life is Franco Francavilla whose work I quite literally like better every issue. Here he plays the horror more subtly than in past, indicating evil happenings with half-seen monsters, bloody spatters, and eerily orange-lit mansions. Because of this, when a few moments do show something horrible directly, they are that much more disturbing.
At the very start of Afterlife with Archie #10, I wondered whether a 45-page interlude was really needed but a few pages after that I was caught up in the fully-realized new characters. Later I questioned the intrusion of vampires onto a story with plenty going on already, but here again, I was proved wrong by a hugely confident, expert take on familiar material. In other words, by the halfway point of the book, I realized it's foolish to question the twists the story takes and just trust that the creators know what they're doing. As the Pussycat's plane prepares to touch down in a now apocalyptic Riverdale at the issue's end, I was almost sad to be returning to the main plot. But then again, this issue evinces in every possible way that Afterlife with Archie has plenty of material left to explore. I cannot wait.
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Afterlife with Archie #10
Writers: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist: Franco Francavilla
Publisher: Archie Comics (obviously)
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital