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Afterlife with Archie started out for me with a couple of potential negatives: I’m not a fan of horror comics, and I firmly believe the zombie subgenre has played itself out. But if there’s one factor that could make me enjoy a zombie comic, it’s the art of Francesco Francavilla.
The ongoing series, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, marks a significant departure for Archie Comics, in large part because it’s the publisher’s first direct market-only release. One has to wonder how much this will benefit the publisher, whose audience is found primarily outside of specialty stores, and whether its potential success will lead to more direct market-only titles.
But enough about the business aspects of Life with Archie; let’s focus on what makes its debut issue such a must-read. As much as the Archie line has redefined itself in recent years (the marriage storyline/titles, the introduction of gay character Kevin Keller, etc.), the use of an artist like Francavilla represents another leap. I count him among my favorite current artists for much the same reason I rave about Gabriel Hardman; When reading a story by either creator, the experience is like having a film playing in my head.
In this first issue, long before any of the Riverdale gang becomes a zombie, the storytellers throw readers for their first loop with a reveal in which Sabrina the Teenage Witch runs afoul of her aunts Hilda and Zelda: Instead of the expected “tsk-tsk” admonition, we’re instead surprised by the ferocity of their reactions. There are no pulled punches here or elsewhere in what’s a genuine horror comic.
Francavilla also does an astounding job setting the tone for his scenes with his coloring: Even in the non-horror scenes, he uses neutral or drab colors, so the classic Archie hair pops off the page. The blue-gray tones on pages of death are quickly countered by splashes of red. Also, I love the artist’s use of sound (and sound effects). If I could have a wish list, it would include that future issue have more rainstorm scenes — the manner in which Francavilla conveys a downpour briefly in this issue is exquisite.
It’s quite likely I’m failing to fully appreciate Aguirre-Sacasa’s writing, because I am so delighted by the art. His script hits the right balance of typical Archie soap opera/comedic drama (who will wear what and take who to the Halloween dance) and aggrieved pathos to serve the horror elements. Over the years, I’ve grown to enjoy Aguirre-Sacasa’s ear for dialogue, and this issue delivers on that front as well.
Judging by the first installment, the publisher has jumped on the zombie trend with the right artist and a solid writer for a fun read. Considering I normally want to run in the opposite direction of anything involving horror or zombies, I would like to think it’s saying something that they won me over.