Are you looking for a spooky read while quarantined during this pandemic? Maybe wanting to get your TBR ready months in advance for Halloween? Do you like dark and bloody occult stories featuring favorite comic characters from yesteryear? Well, look no further than this re-imagined take on Sabrina the Teenage Witch in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: “The Crucible”.
“On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. Archie Comics’ latest horror sensation starts here! For TEEN+ readers. Compiles the first five issues of the ongoing comic book series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” – Goodreads blurb
I have to admit at the outset that I don’t really know how to review a comic or graphic novel. I didn’t grow up reading them (for the most part) and I’ve never written a review for one, so this will be something of a learning/growth experience for me.
I picked this book up after I started watching the Netflix series by the same name. I was enjoying the show and wanted to see how faithful it was to the book. Prior to that, my experience with the character was limited to watching some of the episodes of Sabrina The Teenage Witch from back in the 90’s. Let me just say if you aren’t familiar with the new series or the book, they are very different in tone and content from the 90’s TV show (and I assume the old comics).
The book is set in the larger world of Archie comics (you know, Archie and Jughead, Betty and Veronica), but it’s an alternate Archie Horror universe. The Archie Horror imprint started with Afterlife With Archie and has grown to include several other titles. Sabrina’s character showed up in early issues of Afterlife With Archie and was then given her own title. Some of the other Archie characters also show up in this title.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa said in the book’s introduction that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a, “love letter to Sandman.” Where Afterlife was more about “Lovecraft and zombies and body horror”, Chilling Adventures would be, “more psychological, a bit more subtle…a bit more sexual…more like Rosemary’s baby and The Exorcist and The Omen and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. A dark, occult coming of age story.”
And reader let me tell you this one is DARK. Like, I was expecting it to be dark because of the show and because I’d peaked at some of the pages before reading it, but I was still a bit surprised. There’s witchcraft which you’d expect. No big reveal there. There’s also the occult, lots of blood and murder, and a bit of praise and worship of Satan. My views on god and religion have changed a lot over the years but I have to admit it felt a little weird reading some of this book. If any of the above bothers you then you might consider staying away from it.
But let me say the dark overtones REALLY lend something to the story. This isn’t a light, cheesy, teenage tale like Sabrina The Teenage Witch. This is truly a horror story in comic form. As such it evokes feelings of fear and psychological dread with characters who at least traditionally are seen as a little more wholesome. This is the kind of story your religious elders warned you about when they disapproved of you reading Harry Potter and said it would take you down the path of other unsavory things of which no good would come. Except…it’s pretty damn good as stories go.
The artwork in this book is fantastic. It has something of an old school vibe to it, but feels very modern as well. It’s a great blend of the two that’s hard for me to describe. Enough of a retro look to really bring out the 60’s setting and modern enough to keep it edgy. The color palette is pretty limited, mostly what you’d first think of as warm hues of red and orange, but they are offset by a lot of black and blue that instead makes the dark tone of the book really pop out. Robert Hack also manages to bring out some of the emotion in the characters in subtle ways through facial expressions and attention to features like the eyes. The lines, at times straight and edgy at other times rounded and curved are always hard, highlighting both the physical and supernatural elements of the book in bold ways. And that cover (actually the cover to issue #2) is one I absolutely LOVE. It brings out the all of the best elements of the art in the book and turns it up to 11. It’s a cover I’d love to have hanging on my wall.
As characters go Sabrina is modern and bold if somewhat naive. She’s a teenage girl trying to figure out who she is and find her place within a world that more and more often isn’t what she thought it was. This isn’t to say she all of a sudden discovers witchcraft — she’s known about that all along — rather she is coming to realize there’s much more to the world, much more that is sinister in nature. Like every teen who encounters the complexities of the world Sabrina has to decide how to tackle it. She takes it head on with the will of a strong young woman, albeit with magical powers, because…you know…she’s a witch. How she handles the situation, and whom she decides to trust will decide the outcome of a story with life and death consequences.
I enjoyed this book. Maybe not as much as the Netflix series, which I think takes some more risks with characters and casting (and succeeds) but enough to definitely recommend it if you like this kind of comic and aren’t turned off by the occult. I’ve only watched the first season of the show however so that opinion on the comparison could change. It’s definitely dark, at times will creep you out, and will shake up your feelings of piety. The art was really good and definitely enhanced the narrative. Nothing about the story blew me away, but I didn’t want to set it down either. I appreciated this more edgy take on Sabrina and the fact it isn’t campy. It may not go down as my fav comic read of all time but I’ll be picking up volume two because I do want to see what happens next.
3.5 of 5 Stars
Story: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artwork: Robert Hack
Lettering: Jack Morelli
Series: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 (issues 1-5)
Publisher: Archie Horror/Archie Comics
Publication Date: August 16, 216