Though Afterlife with Archie is still embroiled within the series’ second arc (and it’s hard to believe that the comic has been running for three years now with only ten issues to its name) concerning Betty and her eventual demise – it is titled Betty: R.I.P. after all – Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa takes a step away from the main action in Afterlife with Archie #10, introducing some more well-known and beloved characters from the Archie Comics line-up who haven’t been spotted in this zombie apocalypse yet. Of course that means Josie and the Pussycats, the famous girl band who are also getting a new normal reboot from Marguerite Bennett, Cameron DeOrdio, and Audrey Mok starting September 28. In this issue, Aguirre-Sacasa centers on Josie specifically as she tells the origin of the Pussycats to a reporter; and since all of this is happening Before Plague, there aren’t any zombies to get in the way of Josie’s history lesson.
And history it is, since Josie claims to have been born in 1906. Aguirre-Sacasa allows Josie to start from the beginning in her narrative, documenting her life as an orphan, staying at Ms. Cabot’s house with a group of girls who would eventually become the Pussycats. Before they became a pop sensation, though, they sang and danced at local theaters including Riverdale’s own Bijou, quickly gaining enough momentum to propel them to headliner status playing on Broadway.
Aguirre-Sacasa’s storyline uses a rags-to-riches archetype, but it’s peppered with quite a few references – like the reporter’s interjection, “This all sounds very… Dickensian” during Josie’s description of her problematic birth – along with Josie’s excellent voice. Josie’s delivering this interview pretty matter-of-factly, not allowing the reporter to question or judge the extent of her story; and Aguirre-Sacasa, banking on the fact that the reader has even at least a sliver of knowledge about Josie and the Pussycats, drops hints about their eventual rise to stardom in the comic’s present time. There are also a number of puns thrown in that foreshadow the fairly obvious reveal later in the issue – references to “not drinking… alcohol” and comments about the Pussycat girls remaining together “forever” indicate that eventually, the all-girl band become victims of some lucky vampire.
It’s hard not to find some similarities to Scott Snyder’s excellent comic revamping the vampire subgenre, American Vampire. In that first issue, Pearl Jones, a hopeful starlet, is lured into a vampire lair on the promise of a life of stardom, and Afterlife with Archie #10 follows that idea quite closely. After the group of girls gain some fame, Josie’s targeted by a rich man named Henry Irving whose goal is to turn her into a vampire – and pretty much cause any sort of mischief possible. This is, perhaps, Aguirre-Sacasa’s allusion to Snyder’s work, and in truth Francesco Francavilla’s artwork on panels that feature Irving feel inspired by American Vampire. With that said, the issue doesn’t adhere so closely to that storyline to give anyone pause besides the way Josie is turned.
It takes about half of the issue to get to Josie’s vampirism (since this is an extended issue at 40 pages), but Aguirre-Sacasa really hits his stride in the second portion. Josie, understandably, turns her bandmates – not out of thirst or violence, but out of loneliness, knowing that she will never age while the rest of the girls grow old and die. And more interestingly, the Pussycats leave behind their old bandmate Pepper, who was forced to marry an old lecherous man after their supposed final show. In the original comics, Pepper was part of the band, but in a reimagining of the series, the new comic got rid of her. It’s a great touch from Aguirre-Sacasa, again showing how much research he’s put into the original series.
Josie explores the later years with the Pussycats; as the issue skims through time, Aguirre-Sacasa shows the band in various different musical forms, where they delve into disco and war-time GI girls. They also fight Nazis, kill Klu Klux Klan members, and stumble on the Charles Manson murders, with wonderful blood-red artwork from Francavilla. These moments are amazing, and Aguirre-Sacasa has enough ideas to spawn another new Archie Comics horror series; at the same time, they’re pretty far removed from the rest of Afterlife with Archie, and as an interlude between the main arc, this issue feels out-of-place. While Aguirre-Sacasa is able to tie in the zombie elements late in the issue – the Pussycats are headed to Riverdale to play a show right when the plague hits – it’s questionable if they’ll actually become part of the main ensemble.
Truthfully, I really would like to see Afterlife with Archie #10 spawn a new series about Josie and the Pussycats as vampires, traveling through the decades in different arcs. There’s so much within this issue that screams to be explored, especially the rampant racism that Valerie faces as a black woman in an all-girl band. While Aguirre-Sacasa maneuvers these ideas well in short bursts, the territory is ripe for the picking, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this becomes a new spinoff.
Afterlife with Archie #10 is a solid stand-alone issue, but it seems distinctly less tied to the series than all the previous books. That’s not a bad thing, but coming right in the middle of an arc does take away some of the momentum Aguirre-Sacasa created in the last issue. Despite that, this is a beautiful book thanks to Francavilla’s artwork and colors (as always) – there’s one full-page spread in particular that I’d love to hang on my wall – and Aguirre-Sacasa does an excellent job telling an intriguing backstory about the Pussycats that keeps a lot of lore intact while adding horror elements and some deeper racial subject matter. Just keep in mind that it has little to do with the zombie apocalypse through which Archie and the gang are struggling, something that may take readers out of the storyline.