You might think you know Sabrina the Teenage Witch, either from her long run as the chipper spellcaster in the Archie-affiliated comics, or from the bubbly Melissa Joan Hart-led TV series. Sabrina Spellman does magic, has a talking cat named Salem, and lives with her doting aunts, Hilda and Zelda. But The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes this teen witch premise down dark and blood-stained paths that’ll give you a new appreciation for the Samhain-celebrating young lady.
Ever wonder what happened to Sabrina’s mom and dad? How she ended up with her aunts? Or what the trade-off for great magic might be? Prepare yourself. This Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa‘s comic series gives answers. But they aren’t for the faint of heart.
Set in the 1960s, the first issue kicks off with the night Sabrina set forth toward her destiny. Though born to a warlock and a mortal woman, the infant was promised to Satan, and thereby entrusted to the care of a coven. But when the time came to give the pretty blond baby away, her mother Diana fearfully fled into the woods, teeny Sabrina clutched close to her trembling breast. Sadly, Diana wouldn’t escape. She will pay a terrible price, and she won’t be the last.
As Sabrina grows up, aunts Hilda and Zelda attempt to respect both the girl’s obligations to the coven, and her wish to live like a “normal” human teen. But magic has a way of creeping in to the everyday, whether it be in hooking the interest of the dreamy football star Harvey Kinkle with the help of a love potion, or punishing a childhood bully with a bit of monstrous revenge she won’t soon forget. Occasionally, Sabrina will even cross paths with the Riverdale gang, in a timeline distinct from Aguirre-Sacasa’s zombie-centric Afterlife with Archie comics.
Sadly for Sabrina, she is not the master of her own fate. Nor are her aunts, parents, peers, or her chatty cat familiar. Instead, it’s the malevolent and merciless Madam Satan, a villainess from 1940s Pep Comics brilliantly unearthed for The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. An ancient betrayal marks Sabrina for revenge. And as the comic’s issues dash by, one frantically flipped page at a time, the design of Madam Satan begins to take its terrible shape, forcing the teen witch to make harrowing decisions that will bring no happiness, only horror.
Suitably, the art by Robert Hack is graphic and gruesome, not only capturing the blood, bone, and violence of Sabrina’s world, but also carefully capturing the expressions of pain and terror that streak across the faces of those who suffer within it. Better yet, the design that looks rustically sketched and painted with rust and fresh blood gives the feel of something illicit. It’s as if this weren’t a popular comic kicked off in 2014, but instead the kind of strange sketchbook doomed teens would find in the first act of a horror movie, nestled in a rotted log deep in a dark forest, or buried in the wall of a dirt-floored basement that smells of death.
Issue after issue, Aguirre-Sacasa unfolds a story with a delicate balance of horror and heart. For all the awful things Sabrina’s seen and done, she’s still the sweet girl who desperately wants love and to make her family proud. This quest most often leaves her with blood on her hands, figuratively and literally. Such satisfying horror with stakes, violence, and emotional resonance, is only heightened by the tie-ins to the previous Sabrina incarnations. Teasing what you thought you knew and making it something familiar but monstrous is one of the book’s most devilish delights. With the final panel of each issue, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina casts a spell that leaves us enchanted, craving more, more, more.
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Image: Archie Horror