Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Shows Archie Continue Marketing To Horror Fans With ‘Great Comics’ Gimmick.

It’s quite a world we live in these days. You can watch movies on the internet, there are places that serve shawarma at three in the morning, and the best […]

It’s quite a world we live in these days. You can watch movies on the internet, there are places that serve shawarma at three in the morning, and the best horror comic on the stands this year was published by Archie comics. Afterlife With Archie was a surprise for everyone. When it was announced I thought everything about Afterlife With Archie felt like a lazy bid to jump on the waning zombie fad. (Maybe if I keep calling it that we’ll move on to something else soon like mummies or werewolves or those Japanese umbrella-eye things) Surprisingly not only was Afterlife With Archie not a lazy comic, it was the most earnest horror comic that has come out in a long time. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script eschewed any too-cool-for-school self-aware horror jokes and instead gives us a straightforward horror story, all the more powerful for how it stuck to convention. The pencils of Francesco Francavilla certainly didn’t hurt either.

While it may have been a surprise to many comic readers, it definitely isn’t to those that have been paying attention to what Archie comics have been doing. While you weren’t paying attention they have become possibly the most progressive of major American comic companies, being bold enough to have the openly gay character Kevin Keller in an all-ages book and they even had him get married in the pages of Life With Archie, months before the much more hyped gay wedding between Northstar and Kyle Jinadu in the pages of Astonishing X-men. They also adopted digital distribution for all of their titles on the day of release well before either of the big two. Archie has displayed an earnest move to keep up with the times both from a business perspective as well as a moral one. It’s not surprising that they’d work to expand their market line as well, with Afterlife With Archie being their first ‘teens and up’ book as well as their first comic made exclusively for the direct market.  The comic was a success, trading off on both the popularity of zombies and its own excellent craft. Of course they’d decide to expand with the character that made the most sense: Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

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Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina is not in continuity with Afterlife With Archie. Some may be disappointed with that, especially since Aquirre-Sacasa is also writing this comic, though Robert Hack handles the art. However it makes sense to put Sabrina in her own story since her magical nature means that the threats she has to handle are of a different nature and scale than those of the rest of the Riverdale gang. The comic is set in the fifties and sixties with Sabrina being put in the care of her amoral, cannibalistic aunts.

While there’s the obvious supernatural element to the story, the specter of familial abuse also hangs over this comic. It’s easy to see with Sabrina’s father -absent for his child and committing his wife to a mental ward- but it is also present with her literal man-eating aunts. Their controlling ‘but we’re just doing it because we love you’ attitudes belie the control they wish to maintain over their talented niece, only begrudgingly allowing her to go to high school. Even her growing attraction to longtime love interest Harvey Kinkle is treated more as something tense than romantic.

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Of course as an alternate and definitely darker take there has to be the question of how well these characters make their transition from the all-ages friendly spellcasters to the haunting world they have now. For the most part, they maintain their original personalities with the aforementioned darker takes. Aunt Zelda and Hilda are still her guiding mentors, Salem is still the snarky companion, Ambrose is still a mischievous prankster, and Harvey is still a dream guy. The characters are recognizable enough to be known but different enough to be surprising and intriguing

Robert Hack’s art is a definite departure from the work of Francavilla, taking emphasis to portray the horror story as a period piece. Not only does the comic feel like it takes place in the past, it feels like the comic itself comes from that era … if comics had cost four dollars. The faded coloring works to establish the drab world it is, almost making each panel look like its own painting.

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Being the first issue the name of the game is set-up. These characters may have been around for decades but they don’t have quite the power of Spider-man or Batman even with a rather successful sitcom. As a result, the prime conflict has yet to properly surface and explain itself. Fortunately, the characters are all introduced in a way that is interesting and there are enough of them that it always feels like something new is happening. However, if the comic tries to keep this holding pattern beyond its first issue it could become dull very fast.

As an added bonus the comic comes with a back-up of Sabrina’s first appearance in Archie comics. It’s a fairly standard comic of the era and nothing particularly noteworthy other than perhaps the introduction of an openly magical character in the Riverdale area. Even so, it’s worth a read for the humorous amount of whiplash you get from the moody restricted Sabrina of the current horror comic to her past chipper and sly version. Fans of comic history may also be interested in it. It’s not much but with the increased price the gesture of some extra content is certainly appreciated.

While they don’t share continuity, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a perfect companion to Afterlife with Archie, both portraying a refreshingly earnest level of throwback horror. It reminds me of the work of Sam Raimi, in that its throwbacks to classic horror storytelling are paradoxically what make it feel so fresh and new. I feel like Sabrina has been around for a long time thanks to this single issue. Of course that’s probably just because she actually has been and I haven’t been bothering to notice until now.

Still, it’s a heck of a wake-up call.