Writer: Alex de Campi
Artist: Fernando Ruiz
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: April 14, 2015
Archie vs. Predator #1 is not the first time Archie and his friends have ventured into some dark territory: Riverdale has been overrun by zombies, the Punisher has put Jughead in his crosshairs, and an alternate-reality, adult Archie has been gunned down in the mature Life with Archie series. But in this collaboration with Dark Horse, America’s most wholesome redhead meets the galaxy’s deadliest hunter, and the combination is particularly jarring in a very compelling way.
Written by Alex de Campi and illustrated by Fernando Ruiz, the first chapter of this four-issue miniseries centers around a familiar trope: a group of teenagers try to figure out what to do over Spring Break, when, in this case, the burger-eating dunce Jughead miraculously wins a trip for everyone to a tropical island (found in a bag of chips—natch).
Classic Archie standards abound with goofy jokes, minor class struggle and G-rated hints at hormonally-charged innuendo, but the tone eventually takes a slow slide into more adult territory. The hints at sexuality grow less subtle as Reggie, the testosterone-pumping lady’s man of the Archie-verse, proclaims himself a “sexual tyrannosaur,” and a fight between Betty and Veronica reduces their outfits to frayed bikinis a la Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, also leaving Betty with a broken nose that leaks blood at a swift rate.
This slow burn proves effective as a tension-builder, as the themes creep outside of sterling ‘50s sitcom territory and intermittent Predator-eye views lead to the final reveal: the intergalactic head hunter in a tree with two trophies. These keepsakes happen to be the skulls and spines of two minor—but recurring—Riverdale teens, with their brains sucked out and skinned corpses hanging next to him. No shit.
The gruesome reveal is made more unsettling by Ruiz’s classic Archie art style: the carnage would feel less abrasive if it were drawn by, say, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. Seeing flayed teenagers in Archie’s cartoon-y world is like a visual loss of innocence. The death of two recurring characters also raises the stakes—since this is presumably happening outside of main Archie universe continuity, anyone is vulnerable (see the Jug-head alternate cover).
The plot is ultimately simple and the characters archetypal, but Archie vs. Predator serves to reinforce the juxtaposition between comics for a younger audience and some very mature violence. The resulting thematic car wreck might not resonate with anyone unfamiliar with Archie Comics, but could be a very rewarding experience for curious rubberneckers.