Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (writer), Robert Hack (artist), & Jack Morelli (letterer)
Archie – Archie Horror
April 15, 2015
After six months of trepidatious waiting, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has returned in all its macabre glory. If six months seems too long to wait, have no worries because issue #2 proves to be worth the wait.
The first issue made a promising start with a chilling atmosphere and female-centric cast of characters, and the second issue builds upon this start by introducing us to a new, but familiar character with an eye towards vengeance—Madam Satan.
If you aren’t familiar with Madam Satan, she is a fantastically evil and over-the-top character from the predecessor to the Archie Comics known as Pep Comics. Madam Satan first appeared in 1941, on the cover of Pep Comics #15. Her backstory was introduced in #16. Iola, a conniving and money-grubbing mortal woman, caught the eye of Satan when he learned of her dastardly plans for offing her fiance and his rich parents. She ends up dying as a result of her own poorly plotted scheming, but Satan takes an interest regardless and immortalizes her as Madam Satan. Her duty? To dash out purity, innocence, and all that other so-called good crap by seducing men away from their lily white and totally boring significant others. Madam Satan only lasted seven issues before she was replaced with the infamous Archie Andrews. Perhaps, she will make an appearance in Afterlife with Archie and seek her vengeance on him! But I suppose that is unlikely since Archie seems to have his hands full with all those zombies. Drat. (You can read all of the Madam Satan stories at the Digital Comic Museum.)
In appearance, Madam Satan resembled the many goth vixens that owe their lineage to Maila Nurmi—the original Vampira and horror host and camp icon. However, in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2, Madam only echoes this image with her exaggerated curves, dark hair, red lips, and sharp features. Her origin story parallels the first Madam Satan, but this time, she is a woman scorned, and “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” While this could easily veer off into camp, Aguirre-Sacasa maintains the focus on the horrific by grounding the mythology in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. In a series of gory panels, Iola winds up in the seventh circle of hell reserved for suicides. There are no trees and harpies, but I will let that slide this time because the scene is suitably horrific.
Madam Satan immediately blazes a path of destruction, and it is at both times gratifying and disturbing. Sometimes she wavers in her determination to kill, but ultimately it never stops her. These instances evoked the kinds of feelings I rarely experience in reading horror comics, but often struggle with when watching horror movies. Perhaps this is because the killings largely happen off-panel. But it does the work of establishing her as a horrific character and despite her position as a scorned woman, I felt no sympathy for her (which, yay, I am sick of sympathetic villains).
Considering the title of the comic is The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, thus far, Sabrina is one of the least developed of the characters; she’s merely a teen witch going to a normal high school. But this feels deliberate on the creators’ part.
In the first issue, Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose encourages Sabrina to perform a glamour spell for her first day of high school. After Sabrina leaves, Salem chastises Ambrose, but Ambrose justifies the spell by comparing high school to hell. Of course, this was the very successful premise for Buffy the Vampire Slayer—successful because it resonates with teenagers by legitimizing their experiences through metaphor, and this comic is targeting a teen and up audience. However, instead of the common horror trope of absent adult figures, the adults in CAoS are the focus with Sabrina at the center as an intriguing mix of naivety and ambition. However, this Sabrina is not the saccharine Sabrina of the 90s; she is snarky like the original Sabrina and willing to use her witchy powers towards her own ends. And considering the hints at her abilities, she should be an eventual formidable adversary to Madam Satan.
Now, the art. I mean. It’s amazing. It’s warm, sepia tones, and it feels humid and sickly like the whole setting is gangrene. Lines and edges are rough and scratchy, and this is all finished off by the matte paper used for printing. I mean it’s lovely, but also a little nauseating. The issue needs little dialogue when so much is conveyed through action and atmosphere.
If you are concerned about yet another hold up, the creative team has promised that there will be no more six month waits for subsequent issues. So go ahead and pick up #2.