By Matthew Jent
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1
Story: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artwork: Robert Hack
Lettering: Jack Morelli
Covers: Robert Hack
Publisher: Archie Comic Publications, Inc.
Poor little witch-girl.
Where can we start with Sabrina, the Teenage Witch? She has a history that goes back to 1962, which makes her the same age as Spider-Man. She’s been spun off into different comics, prose novels, cartoons, manga, and a seven-season primetime live-action series. Her new book is an in-spirit (but not in-continuity) spinoff of Afterlife with Archie, a horror series in which the Riverdale gang fights a zombie outbreak.
Written by Afterlife’s Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrated by Robert Hack, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a straight-up horror book with a side of teenage romance. It’s paced well — slow, measured, and confident — and it maintains the well-known Sabrina-lore. She’s the daughter of a warlock and a mortal woman, and she is being raised by her aunts, Hilda and Zelda. She has a talking familiar, a human-turned-cat named Salem. She goes to high school, likes a cute (human) boy named Harvey Kinkle, and has a redheaded rival named Roz. But from those building blocks, Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack have built a house of horror.
Aguirre-Sacasa, in addition to being Archie’s Chief Creative Officer, is a successful playwright and TV writer. He’s written for Glee (on television and in the Archie Meets Glee comics crossover), wrote the book for the London musical based on American Psycho,and did rewrites on Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Sabrina’s scenes and dialogue are brisk, confident, and spooky. The issue begins in 1951, “a year after the birth,” and moves quickly over Sabrina’s adolescence, introducing us to her father, “who has conjured his Lord Satan, in the living flesh, numerous times,” as well as to Hilda and Zelda, who eventually move next door to a cemetery, where they’ll have an “endless supply of food,” supposedly the “sweet meats” of corpses. By the time we reach 1964, 13-year-old Sabrina is being advised in love by both Salem (a human turned into a cat as punishment for trying to “enact the Book of Revelation”) and Ambrose, her warlock cousin from England, who, according to Sabrina, “sounds like Ringo.” Sabrina is scary, smart, and funny, and I’m glad it’s a comic book and not a TV show. Too many cooks in the kitchen would dilute the soup, and as it stands, this soup is really, really good.
As good as the words are, Aguirre-Sacasa knows when to let the art speak for itself. Hack’s illustrations are reminiscent of Warren’s Eerie heyday in the 1970s, with shades of Eddie Campbell (also of note — a brief mention of Glycon, the snake-god/hand puppet favored by Campbell’s collaborator, renowned author and magician in his own right Alan Moore). The color palette is wonderfully autumnal and spooky, and Hack’s Rosemary’s Baby-influenced variant cover looks unmistakably illustrated in the style of John Severin. Hack’s Sabrina looks closer to 16 than 13, and Sabrina’s rival-in-love Rosalind definitely looks older than she’s supposed to be, but you know what? Robert Hack can draw people dancing and they look like they’re dancing. That’s fun.
Also of note: a psychic communication page that speaks to how well Sabrina will lend itself to scenes of family drama. It’s well written, but Hack’s visual representation of the psychic asides that accompany Sabrina’s family’s verbal communication is what sells the scene.
The lettering, by Jack Morelli, is also very pleasing to the eye. I love comics letters that use capitals and lowercase as needed. My only qualm — and this is pure preference, your mileage may vary — is that I wish the familiars had a different font or word balloon outlet. Sometimes Salem and Ambrose’s twin cobras Nag and Nagaina speak to the witches and warlocks, but most of their dialogue comes as asides and little jokes. Which are fun, but it would be less distracting if they stood apart from the rest of the word balloons somehow.
I was more than happy to live in the world of high school witchcraft and romance as presented by Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack, but the issue’s final three pages throw a wrench into the works that really have me ready for issue two. If nothing convinced you beforehand, the terrifyingly weird final page proves that this is not an ironic horror comic. This is not a book that’s steeped in nostalgia.
This is a comic book about a teenage witch, and it is scary.