Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: best comic of the week. No, really.

Welcome to the world of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Now most of you reading this (especially if you are British) probably are unaware that Sabrina was a comics character. Archie comics never really caught on over here, but there we are.
In the USA Archie comics is the only publisher with as long and rich a history as Marvel and DC only their stock-in-trade was not superheroes (well mostly but they had a few - we'll come to that at some other time) but humour strips about teenagers.
Mostly these were built around Archie and his friends in the town of Riverdale and their romantic misadventures. 90% of the stories were about whether Archie should date Betty or Veronica, though what either of them saw in him is a mystery to me.
You may also be aware of the accidental innuendos from their front covers.
Ha ha. Things mean different things sometimes.

Anyway, among the many other characters created in the Archie universe, the ones of which you may have heard are Josie and the Pussycats (mystery-solving rock band) and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. And this is entirely because of their appearances in other media.

So let's talk about Sabrina. And to clear up any confusion before we start, I do not mean the British model Sabrina, the frequent Goon Show punchline, although she did appear in Blue Murder at St Trinians so has a comics connection.
I also don't mean the Italian pop star Sabrina, who helped me through my difficult teenage years...

Although either one of them may have influenced the episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch where Melissa Joan Hart magically got huge boobs she couldn't get rid of.
Not a joke. That really happens in the Weird Science-ish episode Sabrina Unplugged. Seriously. Look it up.
You've probably seen the sitcom that ran from 1996 to 2003, starring Clarissa Explainsit All. If I were snarky I'd point out the Hart was 20 when the series started. But I'm not.

So Sabrina first appeared in Archie's Madhouse issue no 22 in 1962 as a back-up strip by  writer George Gladir and artist Dan DeCarlo. She is introduced as an almost malevolent character and we are shown the "rules" of witchcraft in the Archieverse. For example, witches don't sink in water.
Just like those medieval murderers said! Also she is not allowed to fall in love.
This is all intended to set up teenage hi-jinks; Sabrina has to keep her magic powers secret and must not be distracted by boys... It's halfway between Samantha Stevens and Buffy.
Her magical whims can seem quite sinister....
And she lives in Greendale (not the one from Postman Pat, the one next to Riverdale) with her two aunts, Hilda and Zelda and a talking cat called Salem. An hilarious reference to the mass murder of teenage girls brought upon by religious zealotry in 1692. (Hey! The witch hangings at Salem were in 1692, the debut Sabrina was in 1962. Coincidence? I'll have to ask the Top Gear producers)

Also worth noting (if you're me) is that there was a cartoon series that ran from 1971-74, itself a spinoff from The Archie Comedy Hour, which was a show that also gave us The Groovie Goolies.
Remember them?
All this brings us to 2014, and the debut of a new Sabrina comic; Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. And it's great.

Archie has been making huge advances in its storytelling in the past ten years or so. Previously being a regarded as horribly stuck in its past having refused to move with the times it seemed to exist in a perennial 1940s, a world where the civil rights movement never happened, women were second class and homosexuals did not exist, now it gave us lots of interesting new spins on the traditional Archie stories.

We were given Kevin Keller, Riverdale's first gayer, who was seen eventually marrying his soldier boyfriend.
"Possible future" comic Life With Archie showed us Archie marrying Pussycat Valerie, shunning both pretty white girls Betty and Veronica for an interracial relationship. Which is apparently still a big deal in America.
Then last year we got Afterlife With Archie, a full-on horror comic wherein Archie's ever-hungry friend Jughead, distraught over the death of his dog, goes to Sabrina (who had previously told him about her magical powers) to bring the pooch back. Things go wrong and it instigates a full-on zombie apocalypse. For real.
And the brilliant thing was: it wasn't played for laughs. It wasn't like a Treehouse of Horror, it was like an actual horror story. All the regular characters fitted extremely well into horror movie archetypes. A sobbing Archie had to beat his own father to after-death with a baseball bat. It was great. The writer was Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and the artist was Francesco Francavilla and the writer was teamed up with Robert Hack for the new on-going Sabrina series.
...It's great. We get a new origin of Sabrina, albeit in the time frame of the original (it starts in the 1950s and she comes of age in 1962). We are shown why she lives with her aunts....
A beautifully horror-movie inflected backstory (shades of Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen and others) tells us the fate of her human mother...
...and "witch" father...
It's dark. And it works marvellously. We're shown her introduction to "cute" talking cat Salem...
...the first time another witch-child calls her a mudblood...
...and what Aunt Zelda does to the child who said that...
We are also shown her meeting camp cousin Ambrose (and his talking snakes)...
Serious bonus points for invoking Alan Moore's deity-of-choice, Glycon, the snake sock-puppet god. He also has a Josie poster in his room. And then there's Sabrina's major love interest, Harvey Kinkle...
...and finally we get to the meat of the story when we find that "two young witches in the town of Riverdale were trying to summon a Succubus". They are clearly Betty and Veronica, the implication being that they were using dark magic to solve their eternal "who gets Archie?" dilemma.
And as for the creature they summon....

Well, I don't want to spoil it. It's a masterpiece of horror comics art. Sabrina #1 is available right now and I highly recommend it.


  1. a) you drowned a LOL with "Ha ha. Things mean different things sometimes."
    b) you spawned one with top gear
    c) you make me want to buy Sabrina. Kudos.