Archie Comics has been making strenuous and largely successful efforts, over the last decade, to redefine their septuagenarian franchise and open up new channels, but early reports of this series – basically, The Walking Dead in Riverdale – raised skeptical brows. A zombie drama involving the Archie cast would seem not to appeal to horror fans. And such a gory concept would surely be one “innovation” too many for traditional Archie readers?

In addition, announced writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was indelibly associated with an excruciating Lieutenant Mary Sue story (writing himself as a character into the narrative) in the Marvel Knights version of the Fantastic Four, so his efforts here were approached with some reservations.

Long story short? He pulled the trick off – marvelously!

We open with a desperate appeal by Jughead to Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Jughead’s pooch, Hot Dog, has been the victim of a road traffic accident, and Juggie wants Sabrina to save him. The best efforts of Sabrina – and her aunts Hilda and Zelda – are too late; Hot Dog is gone. The tender-hearted Sabrina, against the commands of her aunts, makes a compassionate but foolish decision. Engaging in the most dangerous of magics, necromancy, she arranges for Hot Dog and his master to be reunited… and sets off a chain of events that threatens cataclysm for the inhabitants of Riverdale, and possibly the world beyond.

While there are some questions as to how far the ongoing series can ongo – Riverdale’s a small town, after all – it has been, for the duration of this first story arc, a gripping read. Aguirre-Sacasa manages to keep all the Riverdale regulars on-model with their established traits and relationships, while adding a couple of edgier strokes to spice things up, for instance, the Blossom Twins’ whole Flowers In The Attic riff. He also switches to outright terror or heart-tugging poignancy with admirable dexterity. No explicit spoilers, but the farewells we get for some of the cast may well have you crying like a babyman.

Francesco Francavilla’s artwork is masterly; deceptively spare, atmospheric, and subtly disturbing even in the day-to-day sequences before the supernatural elements kick off. Francavilla’s colouring also deserves mention. Ordinarily, if the colouring in a comic draws attention, it’s not doing its job, but Francavilla’s muted palette of primarily black and orange, in addition to being delightfully and appropriately halloweeny, emphasizes the claustrophobic menace of the story.

The first volume also features twenty pages of the myriad variant covers produced for the five issues collected, and a further twelve pages of Francavilla’s layouts, making for a very appealing package.

Archie Comics has succumbed, belatedly, to a phenomenon which swept DC and Marvel from the 1970s onward, the fan-turned-pro syndrome. Having decided, by some unspoken zeitgeist, that it’s not uncool to admit to liking Archie comics, folks who read them as kids have stepped up as contributors, and while this syndrome had a wildly hit and miss effect on the Big Two, Archie is so far benefiting from this enthusiasm. It’s pushed their traditional safe envelope and garnered them more attention, publicity, and sales than they have had in years.

Afterlife With Archie was confidently predicted by many to be the reboot that jumped the shark, but instead we have the fan-turned-pro syndrome at its peak; giving new relevance and immediacy to characters who have been doing the same narrative dance for the best part of a century.