For those who don't read Archie regularly (myself included), Life With Archie is an alternate universe Archie story set in the future. In Life With Archie there have been two different stories told, one where Archie marries Betty, and another where he marries Veronica (yea!). Here in Life With Archie #36 though, those two worlds have converged to give us a tale where as readers, we're not sure who Archie is married to, and it drives so much impact as you read through this story.
Full disclosure here - I run marathons, and the entire first half of this story is told through a series of flashbacks, interactions and memories while Archie is running, so right away, they had me at page one. During these memories, writer Paul Kupperberg recreates Riverdale and the story of Archie's life in a way that brings this whole universe rushing back to the reader. I have read Archie intermittently throughout my life, but never regularly, and the primary strength of this world has always been familiarity. While the characters that inhabit Riverdale have been around for decades, and they have grown in their own ways, ultimately they have remained similar enough to be comforting and familiar, like old friends that you can always drop back in on to catch up with.
Kupperberg gently guides the reader experience not only through Archie Andrew's history in Riverdale, but introduces characters both new and old, while encapsulating the experience of reading an Archie comic book so perfectly. The faces and places come rushing back, and the emotion that Kupperberg instills throughout the journey is a powerful ingredient that only adds to the final culmination of this story. Knowing that this issue will be the one that Archie dies in, it is that much more impressive that Kupperberg manages to guide the story in such a way that when the death is finally revealed, it is still shocking, tragic and most of all, sincere.
The subtle touches used to remind the reader that Archie is married, but to whom we do not know, build up to an incredible final moment for Archie, one that packs solid emotion that can't be understated. While Archie Comics has spent years satisfying Betty and Veronica fans by having Archie be married to both of them (in alternate realities), they manage to pull it all back together here and reestablish the camps into sides, and that delivers a truly powerful final moment for Archie Andrews.
As good as 'Afterlife With Archie' has been, and as high as my expectations are for the new Sabrina book coming out this fall, there is no way I could have prepared myself for how much I would love this issue. It is everything pure and simple about the Archie universe all wrapped up into one beautiful, over sized issue, and it delivers emotional depth that isn't easily achieved in comic books. This is a worthy story, and a worthy death, to a character and franchise that has managed to survive on the fringes of the industry for endless decades.
With Archie Comics relaunching their superhero universe soon, the success of 'Afterlife with Archie' and the expansion of that universe, it is a better time to be an Archie fan now that it has been in a long, long time. Kudos to everyone involved with this amazing issue, and to the growing success of a classic American comic book brand.