Updated: Jan 25
CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA (BOOK 1)
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist: Robert Hack
Publisher: Archie Comics
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Book One) turned out to be the biggest surprise hit from my reading list. I hate to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this Archie book. Under their imprint of Archie Horror, I was thinking this was going to be hot topic meets Sabrina the Teenage Witch. However, this book proved to be a beautiful addition to the gothic horror genre.
What strikes you first is the artwork and coloring done by Robert Hack. It looks like nothing else on the stands. For one, the style is a nod to classic 1960s horror comics. It’s retro look is achieved by what looks like a mix of pencil and charcoal work. There are no clean, crisp lines. In fact, Hack’s work is fluid
and loose. It feels incredibly imaginative and dreamy, something the horror genre has moved away from. It truly feels as if this was a passion project by the way each character is drawn and shaded. Every single one of them has special detail from their clothes to their facial expressions. This is particularly showcased well via the character Madam Satan. She is a newly resurrected witch from the depths of hell. As she becomes a mortal being on earth again, her face is depicted as bony with small skulls for eyes and bright red lips. It looks distorted and grey to further the imagery of decay and rot. However, she eventually steals the face of a beautiful young girl and Hack’s art transforms with her. All of a sudden, she has sharply arched black brows, jutted cheek bones, and fuller lips. It’s admirable how Robert can draw something legitimately creepy and gross to transformative beauty while still honoring the vintage feel of this 60s period piece.
The artwork alone isn’t the only strength of this book. The color story is relatively simple however adds so much more depth to tone and atmosphere. Burnt oranges, muted yellows, and soft browns dominated the pages. Seeing as this story takes place around Halloween time, it’s no surprise that it indulges in the most standard of fall colors. This works to it’s advantage when it introduces a vibrant blue-based red for either Sabrina’s lips, clothes, and even blood. It’s a nice stand out that I found myself appreciating.
Moving on to the narrative structure, the simplest premise of this book is that witches cannot be with mortals, as it breaks witch law. Sabrina's father Edward was punished eternally for doing so with her mother. It runs parallel to Sabrina and her love for high school heartthrob, Harvey Kinkle. I personally am very fond of parallel narrative structure. I thought the flashbacks were handled wonderfully to add weight to Sabrina's present day situation. As a reader, if all of Edward's past was explained from the start, this story wouldn't flow right.
Plot wise, this reimagining of Sabrina has her at her 16th birthday waiting to profess her soul to the Dark Lord (Satan) and become a true witch, as she is half-witch and half-mortal. She goes to Baxter Senior High School in Greendale, where just a town over is Riverdale. This story offers some nice nostalgia pieces while Sabrina tries to live her normal high school life. She auditions for Bye Bye Birdie; She listens to The Beatles; She reads In Cold Blood. These nods to the '60s never feel forced even at the forefront of the narrative. It's easy to make a piece seem too focused on vintage items but Sabrina avoids that.
Our antagonist is Madam Satan, the witch that Sabrina's father left for Sabrina's mother. As Sabrina preps for her big 16th, Madam Satan is on a mission to destroy her happiness as an atonement for the wrongs of her father. She is expertly crafted as a cunning, malicious, beautiful witch of trickery. She pretends to be a teacher for Sabrina to get an in with her. The emotional manipulation of Sabrina is incredibly twisted and depressing. As a reader, you empathize with both the protagonist and antagonist to varying degrees but you still care. I think Roberto did a fine job at humanizing a revenge story that wasn't just set up to be an overly mad and angry enemy for Sabrina. But rather, a women hurt over the love of her life betraying witch law for a human.
In five issues, Roberto and Robert created something truly special with CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA. This isn't for the faint of heart with its teen+ rating. It's gritty, sexual, violent… as most witch stories traditionally are. However, this doesn't feel traditional; it feels transformative and new. Unlike anything any other publishing company is creating, Archie Horror is brilliantly bring horror back in a big way.