Afterlife with Archie returns after a long hiatus (along with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s sister project Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #5) with an issue that is almost solely centered on Reggie Mantle, AKA Riverdale’s handsome and often overbearing rich kid harboring an on-again-off-again feud with Archie. Returning from the break – where the Riverdale kids, led by Archie, narrowly escaped a horde of zombies piloted by Jugdead and a haunted mansion akin to The Shining – with a side story about a character almost always relegated to secondary status is risky, but Aguirre-Sacasa’s work with his lineup of Archie alums has never failed thus far, and Afterlife with Archie #9 succeeds in delivering a harrowing tale about outsider syndrome and manipulation of those suffering from it.
Aguirre-Sacasa gives Reggie the narrative this time around, a change from Archie’s usual delivery. He details Reggie’s dreams: coming to the rescue with horses, everyone cheers him on because he’s able to overcome the faux-bravado he normally exudes, working towards something selfless instead of his usual narcissistic intentions. It’s all an overview of how Reggie sees himself, though; he expects to be like Archie, able to think on his feet and lead the group through the apocalypse. Instead, he hangs back, telling Kevin these fantasies and divulging his own fears that he may be a sociopath.
That Afterlife with Archie #9 explores these issues isn’t particularly surprising, because Aguirre-Sacasa’s themes have often been a lot more mature and developed than one might expect from this fantastical retelling in the Archie universe. But Reggie’s narrative is chilling and, more often, pathetic; Aguirre-Sacasa is able to take a character that has so often appeared to be a jackass to everyone around him – his friend Archie included – and give him a story that at least identifies that even Reggie knows how awful he’s been.
There aren’t many zombies in this issue, but the book makes up for it with the real-life horrors that it explores. In the first issue of Afterlife with Archie, Aguirre-Sacasa did reveal that it was Reggie who hit Jughead’s dog Hot Dog with his car. But Afterlife with Archie #9 goes further with a heartbreaking reveal, that Reggie’s accident was actually intentional. Angry about his fight over Midge with Moose, he swerved to hit Hot Dog out of spite, wanting to see something else hurt. It’s the sort of thing that does signal sociopathic tendencies, but then Reggie admits his own anguish over it. Aguirre-Sacasa doesn’t Reggie to seem irredeemable, but he does hope for the reader’s sympathies, and that’s where Francesco Francavilla’s atmospheric artwork comes in, highlighting the emotions on Reggie’s and Kevin’s faces after the story is told.
Along with that is some great coloring, as always. Afterlife with Archie has moved from the oranges of Halloween to the blues of winter to yellows and purples in this issue, and it makes sense. Like those two colors, Reggie is right in the middle of two groups; he’s not well accepted in the Riverdale gang, although they do put up with him, but he’s also ignored by the Jugdead and his army of zombies. In the end, Sabrina – possessed by the Ancient Ones Aguirre-Sacasa has referenced previously – offers Reggie a deal that breaks his allegiances: if he kills Betty, he gets Midge.
Lust is a big topic in Archie comics even if it isn’t specifically addressed, but here, Aguirre-Sacasa doesn’t skimp on the sexual implications. There are subtle nods to masturbation, to dominance, and it’s similar to classic Archie stories where Archie, unable to choose between two and sometimes three beautiful women, tries to have it every way instead. Afterlife with Archie #9 finds a different, but common, perspective – Reggie will do whatever he can to get the one woman he can’t have.
Afterlife with Archie #9 is a fantastic return for the series, and Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla have not lost a step in the downtime. Focusing on Reggie could have been a disaster, but there are big payoffs in this issue that keep the momentum moving towards Betty’s ultimate demise – it’s even foreshadowed by the title of this arc. Next up, the Pussycats make their big debut, and I know that I’m insanely (sociopathically) excited to see what the next issue of Afterlife with Archie brings.
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