The demure, innocent Sabrina you know is gone. Make room for a much darker teenage witch and her world of terrors as imagined by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack. This new horror-focused origin story for Sabrina Spellman is more than just a fun concept, it is one executed to near-perfection. Aguirre-Sacasa’s second go at Archie Comics horror is another triumph, and perhaps more delightful than his first. From the suspense-driven story to the elegant dreary art, “Sabrina” is essential Fall reading.
ART BY: Robert Hack
PUBLISHER: Archie Comics
RELEASE: October 8, 2014
REVIEWED BY: Lonnie Nadler
The creative team makes sure you know that this is a horror story from page one. It begins on Sabrina’s first birthday, October 31st, 1951, and introduces her father, Edward Spellman, as a great warlock “who has conjured his lord Satan, in the flesh, numerous times”. Sabrina has been promised to the witches, but her mother, a mere mortal, refuses to let go of her beloved blond baby. The result is a grim showdown between mother and father that establishes the witches in this world as dark, powerful beings, unafraid to perform wicked deeds.
The issue then jumps through time to highlight major events in Sabrina’s strange youth, her growing powers, and her dismay at her parents’ absence. Ultimately it settles in 1964, approaching Sabrina’s Sweet 16, on which the rest of the arc will focus. It is quick jump across those 16 years, and some story elements get a bit muddled, however, Aguirre-Sacasa packs in everything required of an origin story without getting wrapped up excessive detail. He gives only what is required to tell the story, and the result is a tight first issue that plants many mystery seeds that are bound to bloom further into the series.
Not unlike “Afterlife With Archie”, it is clear how much the writer and artist adore horror. This is a story from a team that has delved deep into the vaults of horror across all mediums. The little touches of abstract shadows, mentions of cannibalism, and a blood moon help to create consistent creepiness throughout the book. In addition, they address the metaphorical horrors of high school life that await Sabrina down the road. Threats approach Sabrina from all angles, showing that the creative team knows that the best horror is often built with empathic characters and the suspense of the unknown horrors that await them in the shadows.
Despite all the elements of horror and macabre in the script, the Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack do not forgo the essential elements of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. You still have Salem the talking cat, Aunts Zelda and Hilda, and, of course, the dreamy Harvey Kinkle. These familiar elements ensure that this is still an Archie comic, while also adding a sense of nostalgia to the story that compliments the 1960s timeline. There are several allusions to other characters in this version of Archie universe that are bound to crop up in later issues.
Robert Hack’s stunning Gothic art is an impeccable fit for Sabrina’s reinvention. His color palette encompasses the best and spookiest parts of Halloween. His pulpy work is confident, full of gloom, and, above all, beautiful. As good as Aguirre-Sacasa’s writing is, Hack uncovers the script to bring its full potential to the surface. He nails the tone, delivers scares with potency, and helps to build the mystery Aguirre-Sacasa has laid out. The final pages are chilling, reminiscent of the best of the classic “Eerie” and “Creepy” tales.
The creators take a self-reflexive approach here in that are aware they are tainting something that has been innocent for so long, and they use it to their advantage. They constantly play against expectation, while simultaneously keeping the important elements that make it feel familiar, like an old friend. Allowing Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to build horror stories in the Archie universe is the best thing the publisher has done in years. It makes their comics important again.
As Aguirre-Sacasa states in his letter at the back of the issue, it would have been easy to spin a new Sabrina tale out of the “Afterlife with Archie” series, but in developing a completely new, dreary world, it is all the more impressive, satisfying, and devilish.
Editor’s Note: What you get here for $3.99 is more than worth it. A 28-page story, a letter from the creator, a classic “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” story reprinted, and a sketch gallery.