Super Visions: Witchery renascent

Archie Comics recasts an old spell


  • THAT WITCH: Archie Comics stylishly revives its Sabrina character in the new version of Chilling Adventures.

Until this week I had never seen more than a few seconds of the mid-1990s sitcom “Sabrina: The Teenage Witch.” My general allergy involving sitcoms (which may spring in part from sharing laughter with the dead) surely accounts for part of my avoidance. The bit of the show’s pilot that I did manage to sit through served as explanation enough for me: It was comedically inert and Mack truck subtle. Once I’ve recovered from these traumatic banalities I’ll sample a later ep, just because the rule of thumb in television is that shows often get retooled between their pilots and what follows.

I self-administered this minor torment because Sabrina has returned — not to the screen, but to her birthplace, the comic book page.

Possibly she never left, but Archie comics, whence sprang the teen witch, had grown harder to find for comics shop devotees like me. Largely the company’s products seem to have found a different niche as digest editions hovering along grocery checkout lanes. There, I have trained myself to avert my eyes, because the not-so-minor torments of tabloid headlines can inflict damage disproportionate to their brevity.

Imagine my surprise, then, to recently find Sabrina staring at me from the cover of a not-at-all cartoony, standard-size comics cover. Above her unfamiliarly realistic rendering was a dimly recognized title: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I read the first iteration of this comic during the early 1970s, when it was called Chilling Adventures in Sorcery (as Told by Sabrina). It made quite an impression, as I tried to remember that unwieldy title many times in the subsequent years.

Sorcery combined the unshaded, bouncy cartooning style of Dan DeCarlo (who created Sabrina, among other characters) with some damn dark horror stories. The format lasted only a few issues before the corporate Archie Comics entity decided to retool it into something far more conventionally drawn — and I either lost interest or stopped “seeing” the book, as conventional horror comics in those days were cookie-cutter productions that struggled against the bonds of the now-vanished Comics Code Authority.

What I know now is that some of the code’s restrictions had just been relaxed in those days, leading to, so to speak, a flowering in the graveyard: Monster comics appeared from Marvel, DC, and — yes — Archie. My love of monsters predated my love of superheroes, so I was in hog heaven then. But, again, for many years I tried to recall the name of that Archie book with the poignant beast-saves-blind-beauty tale I had enjoyed so much. Finding Sabrina was like balm to an ancient and periodically (no pun intended) recurring ache.

And, bonus, it lives up to its title. The melding, this time, involves elements that may stem from the comics but are just as likely to come from the old sitcom: a hidden society of witches dwelling among us mortals, a talking cat, guardian aunts who are also sorcerous but definitely not teenaged. A whiff of H.P. Lovecraft lingers hereabouts, though, and that’s a good thing. Plus, there’s a character design in the comic so disturbing that I won’t be surprised to find it invading my (bad) dreams.

Archie Comics seems poised to capitalize on what feels like an industry resurgence amid steady interest from Hollywood. I anticipate revisiting the company and its shiny new wares soon. Meantime, enjoy a few (good) bad dreams of your own, courtesy of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina creative team, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrator Robert Hack.

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