Encountered out of context, the cleverness of the scene is quickly acknowledged and just as quickly dismissed. The Archie-Betty-Veronica triangle: we get it, we get it. "The next 70 years," is a nice wink at Archie history. But is that all this exercise amounts to?
Not by a long shot, in fact. While I'd caught (how could you not?) how Archie's response regenerated the eternal question, I'd missed just how adroitly it reinvigorated his essential appeal as a sweet-natured goof. Sure, he can't decide -- who among us could? -- but he sees how this doesn't just make for sexually tense fun, it also contributes an element of misery to the inner-lives of his two favourite girls. Archie is self-aware -- who knew?
Much is made (and rightly so) of this surprisingly deft exploitation (or "judo-flip") of 70-year-old tropes -- chiefly the work of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. But there is a larger and equally canny excavation of the overall Archie template, beginning with the aesthetic. Sending Dan DeCarlo kids to battle zombies would leach all tension from the narrative, so we get Francesco Francavilla penning panels that are an artful blend of David Mazzucchelli and Mike Mignolla. Here Francavilla tweaks the concluding "to be continued" splash-panel, bringing stark contrasts and an oppressive color-palette to the usual "Riverdale Gang" closer:
Alright, another typical element from the Riverdale template: a school dance (Halloween, in this case).
This is not the concern of Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla.To heighten their narrative's actual source of tension -- the arrival of zombies in Riverdale -- they frequently switch from one character's point-of-view to the next, to yet another, including traditional supporting players like gazillionaire Hiram Lodge (Veronica's father):
Other story-lines converging on the larger zombie apocalypse narrative include a couple of new (to me, at any rate) characters, struggling with their sexuality:
None of this is revolutionary in comics, per se -- Ed Brubaker, among others, has been plying this approach for decades -- but it is revolutionary to Archie. Comics artists, says Scott McLeod, work with what the reader brings to the page. In the case of Archie, readers are bringing a set of expectations that have been deeply engraved into the national psyche for the last 70 years. And in the hands of Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla those expectations are proving to be astonishingly malleable.
It's not uncommon to experience vivid dreams following a zombie entertainment. After I'd read Afterlife I had a deluge of them, most of them involving me trying to shepherd my nearly-adult daughters through some all-consuming peril -- a forest fire, in one case.
There was a brief window, when I was roughly 10-years-old, when I read Archie and thought, "Wouldn't it be great if High School was like that?"
It isn't. Your friends can change into unrecognizable ciphers, and so can your parents. So can you. It's like a Zombie Apocalypse, really.
And who better to navigate such treacherous terrain than a sincere, red-headed putz whom even the dodgiest among us . . . kinda trusts?