Exactly twenty years ago, a television show called Sabrina the Teenage Witch debuted on ABC—a sweet, kitschy, fun show about a sixteen-year-old girl who discovers that she is half-mortal and half-witch, and all of the ties that come with that magical heritage. Like so many other millennials, I grew up with fond memories of Melissa Joan Hart’s interpretation of Sabrina Spellman, as she struggles to navigate a mortal world (and high school) as a teenage witch.
But Sabrina wasn’t just a television show—the series originally began as a spinoff of the popular Archie Comics in the 1960s (and then became an animated series of the same name shortly thereafter). Set in a fictional New England town called Greendale (located closeby to Riverdale, home to Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the whole gang), the Sabrina the Teenage Witch comic focused on many of the same themes as the ‘90s TV show: Sabrina learning about the extent of her magical powers, struggling to find balance as a witch in the mortal world, dealing with crushes/frenemies/boyfriends, high school, and so on.
All very sweet and, magic aside, totally relatable. Right?
Enter The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Volume 1) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, with art by Robert Hack. Published by Archie Horror, an imprint of Archie Comics, Chilling Adventures tells the same story of Sabrina Spellman’s struggle to grow up in the mortal world as a half-mortal, half-witch—but from a much darker and downright horrific perspective. This new series, started in large part due to the success of the Afterlife with Archie horror comics, officially began its run in October 2014; this fall, the first six issues have been gathered in a single graphic novel (finally!), making it a must-read for the Halloween season.
The story basics are the same: born on Halloween, Sabrina Spellman is the daughter of a male witch and a human mother. However, unlike the television show or original comic, we learn from the first frames of Chilling Adventures that mortals and witches are never supposed to date (let alone procreate), and that Sabrina’s father, Edward, sacrifices his baby mama for the good of his coven. Sabrina’s mother is stripped of her sanity and sent to live out the rest of her days in a mental asylum; shortly thereafter, Edward Spellman is dispatched of in the woods by that same coven, punished and set to live out his days in a truly horrific fashion. The half-breed girl goes to two of the coven’s other members, Hilda and Zelda Spellman, who lay down ground rules for the burgeoning witch—no telekinesis in the house, if you use telepathy to speak, do it quietly—and who decide to whisk her away from the old coven. Relocating to a small town called Greendale, Hilda and Zelda hope to give their niece a chance at a better-adjusted adolescence by pulling her out of witch school and allowing her to attend public school.
For the most part, her aunts’ gambit is a success. Sabrina is no longer bullied or teased by her peers for being a filthy mudblood—I mean, half-breed—and she quickly falls into the rhythm of high school life, auditioning for the lead role in the school play, befriending some of the popular crew, and catching the eye of high school stud Harvey Kinkle. Things come to a head on October 31st, 1964, the eve of Sabrina’s sixteenth birthday, as the young witch must make a choice: to become formally baptized by her coven and accept her place as a witch in service to Satan (and therefore never allowed to truly be with a mortal), or to embrace her human side and abandon the path of the dark (and therefore losing her witch powers, and aging and dying as regular mortals do). To further complicate things, Sabrina’s big night is threatened by the rise of an old enemy—faceless succubus spirit Madam Satan, who is accidentally summoned and unleashed on the world by two cheerleaders from Riverdale (in what is arguably the best Betty and Veronica horror comic cameo ever). Madam Satan has a bone to pick with the Spellman clan, and fixates her revenge on unsuspecting young Sabrina.
Suffice it to say, things are dark in this version of Sabrina’s story—she is a witch, and her aunts and father are witches in the most traditional and terrifying sense of the word. That is, they are devoted lovers and minions of Satan, complete with naked rights in the New England woods, cavorting with sacrificial goats, signing names in books, cannibalism, blood rituals, and so on. When Sabrina wants to get the attention of her crush, Harvey Kinkle, she decides to use a love spell and when questioned about the morality and danger of using a spell by her cousin Ambrose and familiar Salem, she responds that she will of course use black magic to turn his heart—she is a witch.
True to its original roots, this comic is set in the 1960s, which makes the focus on sex, adolescence, and blood somehow even more potent—there’s a total Rosemary’s Baby meets The Horror Chamber of Doctor Faustus vibe, thanks in large part to Robert Hack’s true-to-era artwork, muted, bloody colors, and classic B-movie style frames for each scene. The pulpy feel to the art and the story only intensify as Madam Satan shows up on the scene in her disguise as bombshell drama teacher Evangeline Porter. Sabrina, however, is the star of this particular show, and her struggle to find balance with her family and her powers, the witch community (which has been pretty crappy to her and her family), and her human-half are incredibly compelling, ongoing storylines.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina totally lives up to its name, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the confluence of Halloween and the twentieth anniversary of a beloved ‘90s television show. If you’re a fan of witches, Archie comics, or Halloween in general, you’ll want to check this graphic novel out. I’ll certainly be back to know what happens next with Sabrina as she squares off against Madam Satan in volume 2.
In Book Smugglerish, 8 levitating teenage witches out of 10.