Today, Taylor and Ryan M. are discussing Afterlife With Archie 9, originally released May 25th, 2016.
Taylor: At the beginning of Afterlife With Archie, Reggie says, “everyone is the hero of their own life story.” This is an old saying that certainly has some truth to it; the world as any individual conceives it, necessarily revolves around themselves. This is a powerful idea and it speaks to the nature of how persuasive solipsistic thinking can be. However, after stating this, Reggie imagines himself saving the day by leading some horses back to the survivors of the Riverdale zombie outbreak. The message seems to be that not only are we the center of our own stories, but we are also always the good guy in our personal narrative. But Reggie doesn’t see himself as the good guy in his own life story, he sees himself as the bad guy.
Reggie is dealing with some heavy shit. It turns out he is the one who hit Jughead’s dog, Hot Dog, which led to the eventual zombie outbreak in Riverdale. In Reggie’s eyes, he’s the one responsible for the dead rising from their graves and the reason everything has descended into chaos. Feeling that he is the bad guy in his own narrative, he tries to sacrifice himself to the zombie hoard, only to be crowned their prince instead.
Issue 9 is a character study. People have always been curious about why people do evil things — the continued popularity of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the proliferation of serial killer biographies are proof enough of that — and it would seem writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is no exception. Aguirre-Sacasa chooses to explore this idea through Reggie’s past experiences in an attempt to explain why someone would be driven to do something most would consider evil. In doing so, Aguirre-Sacasa offers up a couple of possible reasons for Reggie’s negative behavior.
The first reason is Reggie’s status as an outsider. Throughout his life, Reggie has always viewed himself as someone set apart from the rest of society. The example given in this issue is that Reggie frequently doesn’t understand the humor or horror of the movies his peers seems to enjoy so much.
Reggie sees himself as being different not only because he doesn’t laugh at the same things as other people, but also because others think he’s weird for doing that. This ostracizes Reggie from his peers and makes him a text-book “bad guy” because like a lot of villains, he just doesn’t seem to get people. The fact that he has Archie to compare himself with doesn’t help the situation much either. Archie fits the mold for a hero and in most stories there can be only one of those. It would appear that Reggie sees this and believes that his only choice is to be something other than a hero, aka, a villain.
The second reason Aguirre-Sacasa gives for Reggie viewing himself as a villain is his own sense of self-worth. As he’s confessing his murder of Hot-Dog to Kevin, Reggie admits even he thinks there is something wrong with himself.
That Reggie admits to feeling like “something’s missing or broken” inside of him hints at potential mental instability. This reason, like the feelings of being different, are another textbook explanation for why people do evil things. This confession could easily feel contrived but the narrative created before this moment helps to keep it sounding genuine. I feel for Reggie in this moment, not because of his confession, but because he’s facing the fact that he isn’t perfectly heroic. Most people have to face up to this fact at one point or another in their life, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever easy for anyone to admit to themselves. This second reason, more than anything, makes it clear why Reggie views himself as the villain in his own narrative. He thinks he has to be perfect, but hasn’t yet learned it’s OK to be flawed.
Ryan, I was pleasantly surprised by this issue. I think it would have been easy to make Reggie’s story and confession disingenuous, but the creators pulled it off with a deftness of touch. Do you agree? Do you think Reggie is right in blaming himself for the Riverdale zombie apocalypse? And do you think Reggie has truly accepted his “evilness” enough to be crowned the dark prince and kill Betty?
Ryan M.: You’re right that Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla are able to finesse Reggie’s story in such a way that I could almost empathize with a dog-murder. By rooting much of the story in Reggie’s childhood, it became easier to understand him, even if his choices were abhorrent.
The issue opens with Archie and Reggie getting the “Goofus and Gallant” treatment. The layout is identical to the Highlights recurring feature. It immediately triggered memories for me, but the text of the page is much more upsetting than would be appropriate in a pediatrician’s office.
The first set of panels fits perfectly in the G&G style. It’s about a set of behaviors. One is clearly good, the other is clearly bad. It’s not okay to get angry or obsessive over a girl that rejects you. That said, comparing a reaction to having your feelings rebuffed to how you treat the girls who inexplicably swoon over you is not apples-to-apples. In the next set of panels, the differences become even more stark. Reggie’s side of the parental divide is much different. The caption is written in the voice of a judgemental fellow tween. Hopefully an adult would realize that whether a kid works for his allowance is not a reflection of that child’s character but is instead a choice of their parent. The accompanying drawing is sparse, but Francavilla is able to communicate the nature of the fight Reggie has with his dad. Mr. Mantle towers above a young Reggie, hand raised behind the boy’s head. While not explicit, there is implied violence in the relationship. With this kind of home life, how could Reggie ever live up to his red-headed friend?
It may not be fair, but comparisons between Archie and Reggie recur throughout the issue. Archie was raised by hard-working kind people who gave him unconditional love. He is now engaged to the moral center of the gang. Reggie, on the other hand, grew up only seeing parental love as modeled by his friend’s parents. He fell for a girl who used him for comfort and as a emotional punching bag. It doesn’t excuse Reggie’s behavior, but it certainly casts it in a different light. Aguirre-Sacasa imbues Reggie’s story about the night of Hot Dog’s death with emotion and sketchy confusion.
Midge’s request for money is obviously coming from a desperate place, and Reggie’s feelings for her have been established. Aguirre-Sacasa chooses to leave the reason’s for the money vague and contradictory. My immediate thought was that one of Midge and Reggie’s “drives home” resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, but there is no confirmation as to whether the money is for an abortion or something entirely different. The borders of the panels look to be painted by a shaky hand, underlining the emotional tenor of the scene. The push-pull of Midge’s distress and Moose’s attack certainly set the scene for Reggie in his car, wanting to inflict all of his dark feelings onto another living thing.
Taylor, you pose a pretty important question about Reggie’s guilt. In some ways, it’s a bit misplaced. Yes, he did something cruel and likely unforgivable in murdering Hot Dog. He made an impulsive choice fueled by emotion and unconcerned with consequence. In this case, the consequences were so unimaginable, it doesn’t seem fair to lay the end of civilization at his feet. When Reggie contemplates the broken part of himself, he wonders if he may be a sociopath. He points to his obsession with Midge and his guilt over Hot Dog as signs that he is human, but he doesn’t know how to address his basic weakness of selfishness.
As for whether Reggie will allow those selfish desires to overcome his empathy and allow him to murder Betty, the kindest person he knows, it is unclear. I mean, the arc is called “Betty: RIP” so I don’t have a ton of hope for her future. Part of me hopes that Reggie is able to fight off the temptation of getting the girl who never really cared and channel whatever helped him carry Jughead to the hospital all those years ago.
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