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Late to the Party Reviews: ‘Night of the Living Deadpool’ and ‘Afterlife with Archie’

I can’t review a single issue of a magazine formatted comic book, let alone the first issue. It’s just not possible. Like a lot of Fridge Nukers out there, I’ve simply been stung one too many times with promises of comics gold, only to be rewarded with pyrite after the read. Or sometimes, a series with a weak start can really turn it around in the span of an issue. So this is a round about way of saying that I generally wait until a series — limited or long term — is a couple issues in before I buy it, let alone say anything about it. Comics aren’t cheap, and when you take into account that virtually no book is written toward a single issue, you’re not really buying an issue. You’re committing to a series for anywhere between four to six issues – at $3 to $4 a pop.

So… in the spirit of not wasting your time or money, I am presenting the following reviews of a couple series to which I have been willingly forking over my hard-earned dollars, or – Late to the Party Reviews!!!

In this installment, two heaping scoops of undead awesomeness. While the entertainment industry’s “zombie hole” may seem over-stuffed, the truth is that you can’t keep good characters and stories down, especially when they’ve been infected with some form of reanimating force, turning them into monsters with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. And… these stories don’t even take place in Georgia!

Night of the Living Deadpool [Images property of Marvel Entertainment]:

“When Deadpool woke up to find a world of ambulatory undead, he thought it was going to be lots of fun — like that movie with zombies in it. Instead, it turned out to be really depressing — like that TV show with the zombies in it…”

— Cullen Bunn (most likely), taken from prelude to issue #3

Our hero pauses a moment to reflect on a fate worse than the zombies themselves

A “food coma” is a dangerous thing, and so begins an alternate reality tale of Wade Wilson — otherwise known as the “Merc’ with a Mouth,” Deadpool — as he makes his way across a post-apocalyptic landscape littered with flesh hungry zombies, and even crazier humans, in the form of a limited series, Night of the Living Deadpool. It’s bad enough to wake up, face down in a taco platter – still worse is waking up face down in a taco platter, and the world…

Cover to Issue #1

From there…? Well, I’m not sure how much there is to say about it without spoiling it all. It has everything we have come to expect from a Deadpool title — humor, ultra-violence, and ever increasing insane situations — but that is not saying that it’s predictable. And as Deadpool’s somewhat official offshoot series’ writer,  Cullen Bunn always nails the dismount when it comes to expanding the character’s world via miniseries, while still maintaining the tones established by the various writer(s) working on the mainstream book.

Obviously, in this limited series, we’re talking about Deadpool vs. Zombies, and while I do love the world of the Marvel Zombies‘ various miniseries, four issues in, NOTLD has nothing to do with the heretofore established MZ universe. [Though I guess it could be the same world, and our hero has simply not run into the zombified superheroes.] Driving home that point, as well as the connection to the titular parody, is the art by Ramon Rosanas. Other than Deadpool himself (and in flashbacks), the visual palate for this tale is greyscale. So love much like the Grendel: Black & White mini, or select Sin City stories, the contrast of one, bold, basic color (here, Deadpool’s trademark red ninja-esque getup) against a black and white background, for lack of a better way to put it, is very effective. Here, it serves a couple purposes. First, like the title, it’s a nice, visual way to acknowledge George Romero, who pretty much created the genre. Second, the color scheme drives home the point that you are NOT reading a mainstream continuity story, but a self-contained tangent.

There have been four issues so far, and if you aren’t hung up on first printings — especially for issue one — should be easy to find at most specialty shops. However, if you’re more into trade paperbacks, you don’t have long to wait – it will be available almost immediately after the magazine format run wraps up in June – specifically June 14.

Afterlife with Archie [Images property of Archie Comics Group]:

America’s squeaky clean teens get the “Buffy” treatment in ‘Afterlife with Archie’

The Archie books are the comics on which many a four-color funny book fan cuts their teeth. For roughly 70 years, the ongoing love triangle between Archie, Betty and Veronica, as well as the trials and tribulations of supporting characters like Jughead and Archie’s “nemesis,” Reggie, have been, without even being dramatic about it, a backbone of the American comics business, if not a paragon of Americana in general. Archie Comics is one of the few publishers to proudly display the now-outdated Approval Seal of the Comics Code Authority, and with good reason – in seven decades on the popcult landscape, Archie books have never crossed the G-Rated line. [Mostly. There was Archie vs. The Punisher in the 90s…]

Until now.

As Nuke the Fridge reported waaaaaay back in June of last year, Archie Comics Group was not only taking the plunge into zombie fiction, but a huge risk in doing so with their flagship characters. Written and drawn respectively by Harvey Award winners, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla, Afterlife with Archie (parody of the original title, Life with Archie) is, in a nutshell, The Zombie Apocalypse in the iconic town of Riverdale, USA. Because the authors are playing with squeaky clean icons of American comics, AWA might be even more screwed up than NOTLD. It’s one thing to watch Deadpool hack, slash and shoot his way through a throng of mindless zombies, and it isn’t his first outing dealing with the undead [see current series issues 1-6]. Watching the Riverdale Gang either get attacked by zombies or degenerate into survival mode is, in a word, unsettling. How unsettling?

[WARNING: The following paragraph contains spoilers!]

When Reggie runs over Jughead’s dog, Hot Dog, Juggy takes his body to Sabrina the Teenage Witch and asks her to reanimate him. Though she initially refuses — warned by her aunts not to practice necromancy — but Jughead more or less guilts her into it. However, as we learned in Pet Sematary, when the dead come back, they aren’t the same. Hot Dog bites Jughead, making him “patient zero” for Riverdale’s version of the Zombie Apocalypse.

A darker take on a classic

If you aren’t familiar with Archie, you are probably thinking, “Big deal.” If you’ve read more than one Archie comic in your life, I’d hazard to guess it’s a little mind-blowing. Similarly strange are the more mature takes on the supporting cast. No stone is unturned, nor is anybody safe from the inevitable: including fan favorites like Moose, Mr. Weatherby, Ms. Grundy, Big Ethel (poor, poor Big Ethel) and even more obscure, recent(ish) additions to the cast like Cheryl Blossom. Though the action and plot are a fusion of Pet Sematary and Night of the Living Dead, the characterization and dialog play out more like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, had zombies been her undead foe of choice.

Aside from more contemporary and realistic takes on the stock characters, the art is a departure from the more cartoony look of the standard books. On one hand, it’s unique, and it looks great. Like the art in NOTLD, it visually telelgraphs that you aren’t reading your parents’ (or grandparents’… or great-grandparents’) Archie. However — and it could be my sick sense of humor talking here — but I’d very much like to see vicious zombie attacks, a town in chaos, and teen promiscuity rendered in the traditional Dan DiCarlo inspired style. [Although Larry Welles sort of did the latter in his XXX, Cherry Comics.] No matter what, another worthy read for fans of zombies, made all the better if you know a little bit about the world of Archie Andrews and company.

Afterlife with Archie is also four issues into its run — same rule with first printings applies — but the TPB is scheduled to come out this Spring on May 13. [Be advised that the book has been on a somewhat inconsistent schedule, which may affect the release of the trade.]