"Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Book One – The Crucible" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Archie Horror
Originally published as Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 - #5
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Illustrated by Robert Hack
2015, 160 Pages
Trade paperback released on August 16th, 2016
Let's get this out of the way up front. This is not the Sabrina the Teenage Witch TV show you remember from the '90s starring Melissa Joan Hart. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a period piece, set in the mid-sixties. The title character, a half-witch, half-human girl, is about to turn sixteen and pledge her allegiance to Satan like her ancestors have done for centuries. The thing is, she's still a young girl and she's fallen head over heels for football player Harvey Kinkle, so she's faced with a tough decision between the devil and teenage love. We've all been there, right?
Complicating matters for Sabrina is Madam Satan, the jilted former lover of her father, who has returned from the dead to take revenge on the Spellman family. While the villain's plan is terrifying and the results are absolutely chilling, her reason for all of this is pretty weak. One day at the zoo, Sabrina's father, Edward, dropped the bombshell that he was in love with someone else, a mortal woman named Diana. Madam Satan (not her birth name, FYI) did what any sane individual faced with a break-up would do and threw herself into the lion's den to be devoured by the hungry beasts. She then rotted in Hell for about fifteen years until she was summoned forth by amateur witches Betty and Veronica. At the end of the day, it's no one's fault but her own for why she died and went through Hell in the first place.
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Once you get past that strange setup, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is an incredibly creepy read. I don't think that witches have really gotten their due in the horror genre. We've had resurgences of vampires and werewolves, but witches have been little more than a hokey Halloween costume for cheap parents. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa gets to the real terror of these immortal creatures practicing the dark arts in the woods. He also ties in bits of history like the Salem Witch Trials in a natural way that works well with the story.
Although she's capable of great power and can do tremendous things, Sabrina is still a teenager and they do stupid things. She's young and naïve, which doesn't help when she's faced with such monumental decisions. On the one hand, there's real magic. This would mean she wouldn't want for anything for the rest of her life (which would be quite a long time), and on the other is Harvey. She's ready to throw all that away for him. It's rather sweet. This makes the events in the book all the more tragic. The book is called “Chilling Adventures” not “Teen Romance”, so what did you think would happen?
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Cementing that adjective at the front of the title is artist Robert Hack. He delivers a classic look and feel to the book, making it quaint and nostalgic, like it's a piece of Americana. You'd expect these kids to show up in American Graffiti. They're so innocent and completely unprepared for the horror that awaits them. Hack's colors are the icing on the cake. They give the comic a faded appearance, like you're reading a decades old book buried in a forgotten back issue bin at the back of a comic book store.
This normalcy can lull you into a false sense of security until something monstrous pops up to scare the crap out of you. Whether that's Madam Satan emerging from the depths of the swamp with two small skulls for eyes or the Lord Satan himself, conjured forth in the woods as a massive creature of evil power, it cuts right to the bone. What really stands out is the blood. It doesn't flow like normal. Instead, Hack drips it so it looks like it's on the page itself. It's smeared across panels almost haphazardly. It makes it look more real and will have you checking to make sure you're not bleeding yourself.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a welcome addition to the Archie Horror line-up. It serves as a great complement to Afterlife with Archie, bringing a subtle psychological terror not unlike Rosemary's Baby. The real horror comes in that poor Sabrina has no idea of the forces at work around her, manipulating events to tear her life apart. While I feel sorry for her, I can't wait to see how it all shakes out.