When Archie Comics announced a horror series that would bring the Riverdale Gang to a horrifying zombie apocalypse, the skepticism was understandable. After all, the publisher has never done a true horror comic and even with preview art from Francavilla, the comic was going to need a massively impressive execution to succeed. "Afterlife With Archie" #1 not only surpasses expectations, it's one of the few truly scary comics in recent memory.
Much of the atmosphere and horror inherent in the issue owes itself to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who constructs an impressive introduction to the series. Although readers definitely need to know a bit about Archie and the gang going in, Aguirre-Sacasa does an excellent job of clearly defining everyone's roles and personalities. Perhaps most impressive is the writer's method for starting the contagion in a way that makes total sense within the Archie Universe -- though it's admittedly a much darker side of Riverdale than readers have ever seen. This is most definitely not a comic for children, but more aged fans of the Archieverse will find a lot of fun references in the story.
While Aguirre-Sacasa's story sets up the framework, it's Francavilla's stunning art that makes "Afterlife With Archie" #1 effective as a horror book. The artist's linework is perfect for the series, even when he's not drawing horror elements. His thin lines and shadowy inks evoke a feeling of foreboding throughout, while his page layouts drive the story forward effectively, enhancing the tone set by the pencils. When the climax of the issue hits, it's almost a welcome relief that the anticipation is over.
Although Francavilla's art would serve this book well in black-and-white, his coloring is what makes it truly feel like a horror movie. Every night sequence in the book is characterized by deep blues, purples and blacks punctuated by slivers of sickly light, while the daytime colors of oranges and yellows evoke an arid and harsh landscape devoid of life, despite all the living, breathing characters.
In fact, Francavilla's art is such a contrast to Archie Comics' normal style that the in-issue ads are the most distracting part of the issue. This is an instance where the ads would have been better served as a clump at the back of the book, as it really interrupts the flow of the story.
Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla are a deadly combination in more ways than one. Not only does "Afterlife With Archie" #1 wildly succeed as a truly scary horror comic, it is a prime example of the comics medium's potential as an adaptable art. The issue is easily one of the strongest series debuts of the year and well worth a read for horror comic fans.