Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (writer), Robert Hack (art), Jack Morelli (letters)
July 29, 2015
(Spoiler Warning: This review contains spoilers for The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #4 and is based on an advanced review copy from Archie Comics)
Ginnis: Art, art, art, art! That is my very articulate way of launching right into: can we talk art? I think it is important to start with this because of that third panel on the first page. I’m assuming since Hack is listed for the artwork and there is no colorist listed that Hack does his own colors. The coloring is similar to his Swords of Sorrow variants.
Claire: That vivid, viscous red? It’s a shock, the changes from the burnt-orangey regular scheme, but the more tentative brushstrokes in her hair stand out too. Usually an obvious “here’s loads of realistically dribbled blood, but I’ll just add a dab here and here” blood splash would annoy me, but in this case I think tentative is exactly the right word. Sabrina’s been shocked out of, if not a trance, then a cultural pressure cooker—and she’s suddenly just a teenager again. Her eyes are beautifully framed. I really feel her urgency.
Ginnis: I think there’s urgency throughout this entire issue, which is conveyed equally well by the art and the narrative. We start out with Harvey running, soon followed by that amazing panel, and so on. I actually read it very quickly, because the pacing just encouraged that. Now, I have to go back and pay closer attention. What was your reading experience like?
Claire: I zipped straight through it, just like you. It was fluid! I went back a bit over Harvey’s hideous corpse because … like wow. But three glances were enough to assure me that This Really Happened, and on I went. Bit of a heart-render, this issue.
Ginnis: Definitely. I hurt for Sabrina, but it still left me just conflicted enough—like, okay, these are not “good” witches. Is Sabrina less evil, because she’s half-human? And her aunts—they are evil witches, but they also want to protect their niece. I like the ambiguity of it all. Are there “good” witches and “bad” witches in this ‘verse, or is Sabrina the exception on account of being half-human. I WANT TO KNOW MORE!
Claire: Mm, me too! I get the impression (just formed on my own, so perfectly possibly nonsense) that Sabrina’s lack of evilness comes from her youth, rather than her mortality, but only in terms of how she hasn’t yet had cause or opportunity to actually Make The Choice. She’s killed a goat (Ginnis: Poor goat), and the aunts didn’t seem too worried about her nerves on that point; she knows the cellar is full of dead bodies, etc. So she doesn’t exactly seem averse to evil, you know? But thus far she’s not started acting on her own—her teenaged-ness means that she hasn’t really got the agency to be evil, because she’s not reached the age of majority: she’s not “legally able to consent,” so her mind hasn’t closed around the reality of moral choices yet. It does seem like witchcraft means being a person who is willing to say goodbye to regular scales of morality, and Sabrina’s not been able to acclimatise herself to that sort of decision making, yet. I think. It looks like she’s about to, though.
Ginnis: I think the narrative establishes that lack of agency well. Like, she’s been told she has a choice, but when she is living with her aunts who have clearly chosen the “bad witch” side of things, and her mortal mom is dead, of course she’s going to go with what is familiar, but her “normal” teenage life is conflicting with that. But when she burst out of that witchy trap, it really got me jazzed to see Sabrina as she develops in this way, because clearly she is a very powerful witch. Her characterization thus far shows that she will not settle for not being her own agent, and that has got me damn excited. Just like I have experienced with each issue so far—I enjoy the issue, and it still sets me up to be super excited about the next issue. I find few comics can do that really well and especially with this consistency.
Claire: It’s really good drama writing! You’re right about how her aunts seem to have protected her—it’s ridiculous to think that this is a comic about a rather sheltered teenage girl, when it’s also a comic about a girl who’s a witch born of witches who EAT PEOPLE RAW, but there we are. It’s that sense of the absurd that appeals to me. And it’s used really well in Harvey’s life flashing before our eyes? Making a sequence involving a sixteen-year-old boy running for his life about the shame and shock involved with titty mag stashes and looping the interest and excitement he found in those into his sweet, sweet, marriage-intending feelings towards Sabrina. It’s nuanced! I love it!
Ginnis: Isn’t that just great horror? Overlaying these two incidences of fear and sex together? Ha, I love it, too. Can we talk about when the rest of the Archie gang showed up?! I must know your thoughts, Claire!
Claire: Haha! Okay, to be honest, for the first second or so I was like … ughhh. These fuckin’ guys. I’m guessing your reaction was different?
Ginnis: Well, yeah, ha, in Afterlife with Archie, they just touched on the witch stuff with Betty and Veronica, and it has been hinted at before in Sabrina so when I saw Betty and Ronnie, I was like, “Yesssss!” But I am also way more invested in the rest of the Archie-verse than you. 🙂 But as someone who isn’t invested in these characters, why was your reaction “these fuckin’ guys”?
Claire: I just … these DAMN ARCHIES! They’re everywhere! I thought I was reading a nice scary witch comic, and then these ubiquitous, regular teens show up. It had the joint palls of uber-continuity and over-exposure. But I’m nothing if not forgiving (hahaha, lies), so I gave it a moment, and Veronica’s awfulness and Betty’s bizarre hair and sickening earnestness seemed more horror-comic with every panel. There’s something very chilly, in the ice-in-your-lemonade way, about two girls getting bored looking for a dead boy and bunking off at the edge of a wheat field. Notes of Stand by Me, all very agreeable. And honestly, I’m too invested in enjoying this title to take too much notice of my Archie misgivings. If they’re in it, then they’re in it, and I will make the best of it. If they’re evil-ish horrible sickening witchy versions of their more usual selves, then that’s all for the better! What did they do in the woods? I’m keen to find out. And then I thought about how much all of the pro-Archie WWAC crew would dig the Riverdale kids turning up and my icy heart melted, or whatever:
Ginnis: I liked that while we got glimpses of the male members of the gang—Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Chuck, and Dilton—the focus is all on Betty and Veronica. The comic is still very female-centric, which is something I always loved about Sabrina, because Harvey was always a stock boyfriend character, and Salem was the only major male character, and he’s a cat. So, that pleased me immensely. Remembering that you aren’t invested in the Archie characters reminds me of just how much I am invested. I mean I love many current comics, and on the Myers-Brigg’s scale of Thinking vs. Feeling, I am way over on the Thinking side, but I am deeply, emotionally invested in these characters since they were so formative to my early years (I mean Archie was my entry into comics!), so it surprises me to see how strong my emotional reaction is to this comic … speaking of melting/robot hearts that is.
Claire: And it’s satisfying us both! That’s quite a feat.
Okay, three more favourite points of mine from this issue:
- The focus on Sabrina’s obsession with Harvey’s parents “never knowing.”
- The single panel, and caption, of Billy Repperton’s “being questioned.”
- The reveal that Harvey had been planning to propose, as a final cherry on the tragedy sundae.
All of these have such depth! Sabrina thinking of never booms out big corridors of time and guilt; she feels bad for her part in hurting Harvey’s family as a second consideration to how she feels about having lost Harvey for herself (although, of course, her regard for his parents will be enhanced by her care for him), and that’s a sin that’ll only get worse. It’s a classic trope, the “we never knew, and now I am an old person who just wants to find out about my missing child before—I—die—,” and it’s a very nice trick to add that scope without even taking the plot down that path. And it doesn’t really matter that Harvey was going to propose (they’re teens, who knows how it would go); it doesn’t make him more of a loss, but it’s a nice way to bang the gong again, the no-life-for-Harvey reminder, the live-with-this-forever reminder. It piles the same problem higher and higher, creates more and more pressure, and ever narrows Sabrina’s perspective. So, it’ll be no surprise if she makes a bad decision. Or two.
Billy Repperton being beaten by the cops doesn’t widen the scope of the story, but it does quietly cough and whisper “it’s not just witches who do evil.” Everything gets a little more ambiguous.
Ginnis: There are definite consequences here, which is a departure from Archie comics in general where continuity is not a big deal, and often from comics in general, there’s serious stuff at stake and the impact is shown. I like that a lot.
And, yes, that scene with Billy Repperton was great at driving home that point and especially in light of contemporary issues regarding police brutality (even though Billy was white), but again, there are consequences and stakes. It just really hooks the reader in and invests them in the story.
Claire: I didn’t notice during my first read-through, but the aunts’ framing of Billy and his gang, and their explanation (“They’ve done terrible things. These scapegoats were carefully chosen … a kind of justice will be served”) is an excellent counter to the way that Sabrina’s aunts love and protect her, but also are Satan-praising horrors. There’s a lot of questioning of defined identity through implication in this issue, which follows very nicely on from how we were puzzling about Harvey and his romantic and sexual intentions when we discussed the last issue. How do you know what somebody is? How do you define “a good person?” Which are the acts that count? Top horror, just the best.
Ginnis: Absolutely, ambiguities of good versus evil, identity issues, sex, and fear; I am looking forward to #5.
Claire: Hear, hear!