I was going to wait until October, but since the news broke last week that it’s getting a TV option and I LOVE this series, I decided what the hey.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is another offering from Archie Horror, who brought us the magnificent Afterlife with Archie. A few things to keep in mind:
This is based off the 60’s comic book Sabrina, so it takes place in 1966. It has absolutely nothing to do with the 90s television series – the character went through a lot of incarnations before this point. Honestly, for me it makes it a little easier to take, because there’s less of an association with the outright familiar.
This series has much more of an existential dread vibe than Afterlife. There’s not really any humor, and between the time period and the art, there’s a nice tension throughout the story. In the intro to vol 1 the comparison is that if Afterlife is Evil Dead, Chilling Adventures is Rosemary’s Baby or Exorcist.
If you are offended/bothered by anything of an occult nature, you will not like this series. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. You can dislike that they did this, dislike that it was with this character, but there are a lot of Archie stories, so luckily you don’t have to wander into this if you don’t want to. There is no denying that the witches are malevolent in this series. The occult/satanism vibe is extremely overt, so it’s not something you can really read around if it bothers you.
This story has nothing to do with Afterlife – Sabrina, Betty, and Veronica are characters in both, but the stories don’t cross over at all, so just pretend they’re not even in the same world.
There are some similarities to the show, mostly that Sabrina is half witch/half mortal. Also, like in the show, witches aren’t really supposed to fall in love with mortals. That’s about where things end.
The day that Sabrina is supposed to be claimed by the coven as an infant, her mother rebels, which leads her being lobotomized by spell and put in a mental institution. For other reasons, her father is sent to Hell, so she’s raised by her aunts in another town. As she hits her sixteenth birthday she has to make a decision as to which way she’s going to live her life. Meanwhile, her father’s old ex, Madam Satan, has been summoned from Hell and is after revenge, and Sabrina.
So, yeah, little different.
There are a lot of interesting things going on here. The time period lends itself not only to the horror vibe, but to the subtexts of racism and gender roles, as well. You always get a sense that Sabrina is fighting to be who she is around different groups of people, which makes for an interesting read. It’s also picked up with the Betty and Veronica practicing witchcraft in secret storyline, and some other places, as well. A lot of the characters we’ve come to expect as being benign become super-interesting in this version. Hilda and Zelda, as well as Sabrina’s father, project a definite malevolence, though her aunts sort of swing back and forth. They want the best for their niece, but they also definitely want her to commit to the coven.
And by commit I mean sign her name in Satan’s book. Let’s just put that out there now so I don’t get yelled at when someone tries to read this thing. I told you, this ain’t yer 90s Sabrina. There’s also some very sixties stuff with school shenanigans and trying out for a play, and other things that are foiled when Madam Satan shows up in disguise and takes Sabrina under her wing.
Sabrina, herself, is facinating. She’s the protagonist, but she also isn’t the goody goody we’re used to seeing. She’s somewhat victim to manipulations, but she also is ready to stand firm in what she wants and believes. She’s hardly innocent and uses her powers however she wants. I think there’s even a moment where she says something like ‘I’m a teenage witch, this is what I’m supposed to do!’
Honestly, after so many seasons of seeing her as a kind-hearted goofball (and I love Melissa Joan Hart’s portrayal of her), it’s kind of awesome to see her like this. She’s still kind of at the mercy of some things, but more of her decisions (even if she’s being misguided) come more from her.
You’ll still see familiar faces – there are some from the comics that we don’t see a lot of in the show. For you 90s fans, Harvey makes an appearance (heh), and Salem is there, though in a much less comedic capacity. Ambrose, her British cousin, also shows up and ends up joining Salem as more of a sympathetic sidekick.
It’s very important to note that this isn’t Sabrina as Buffy, Sabrina as Practical Magic, Sabrina fighting evil. And honestly, I don’t want those. This is what I want. This is horror. This is dark. This is something distinctly of and for this character. This reads like a showrunner snapped after being criticized over the 90s show one too many times and decided: FINE, SEE HOW YOU LIKE THIS. (note: this is my headcanon and not the actual origin of this series. The writer and artist are amazing in their own bodies of work and deserve a ton of praise for this). This is something that absolutely should not work because it is definitely against type and uncomfortable.
And it is magnificent.
Honestly, I was shocked when I read it. I did not expect it to be good, let alone this good. Does it unnerve me? Sure. Does it make me uncomfortable? Yep. But that’s what good horror does. Seriously, if you can step back from your expectations and how you feel about the television show, if you can embrace this for what it is, it’s truly amazing how strong of a title this has turned out to be. My only gripe is that it’s super slow to release (something that I hope changes now that it’s under the public eye).
The art is also some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve seen in a horror comic in a while. It has a distinct retro/vintage feel (some of it has a straight up EC or Creepy/Eerie vibe), and with the majority of muted colors, you just feel everything knot up inside you while reading. Characters you want to like and agree with become horrifying then revert back, and the familiar never feels altogether safe. It’s easy to fall into this series based on the art alone.
As for my thoughts on the television show…I’m not sure. I think it could be amazing. I really want it to be all that’s in my head. However, I also expect that because it’s going to CW that there will be changes (there’s at least one aspect that I kind of wonder if they’re going to have to change), or be dialed down, or whatever. I hope I’m wrong, because I think there is a market for this as is, if it can overcome people’s nostalgia over the 90s show.
For what it’s worth, I loved the 90s show. I thought it went on too long and became somewhat stale and a caricature of itself, but I loved the first few seasons. It’s cute, it teaches lessons, it’s feel-good. Salem is one of my favorite characters. However, it’s been done. I don’t need the further adventures of, I don’t need soap opera Sabrina or teen angst Sabrina or whatever.
Something based straight from Chilling Adventures would give them a lot of room to build (it’s only 2 collected volumes so far, I think), plus it provides a lot of subtle social commentary. I don’t know that marketing it is going to be the easiest thing between instant knee jerking and people wanting something close to what they remember, but with Riverdale’s success, hopefully I’m wrong.
If you’re brave enough to check out the comic, you can find the first volume here. It’s absolutely not for everyone, but if you like horror and different takes on the familiar, definitely give this a try.