Commentary, Review

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

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Image via The Wrap

In the Fall of 2018, Netflix released the cinematic version of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack. Started in 2014, the comic series ran alongside the popular Archie comics, pulling in various details from Riverdale to populate the strange and often macabre story arcs in Greendale. The story focuses on the beloved Sabrina Spellman on the eve of her Dark Baptism, an ancient rite performed by Witches within this universe. Being the major story arch in the comics, this is also the major arch in the show.

The comics, though, tell a different story, one I’ll be focusing on (as almost everyone I know has watched and knows the arch for the Netflix show).

In summary, Sabrina is conceived by her father, a High Priest of the Church of Night in Greendale, Edward Spellman. A prodigy within the church at age ten, Spellman shows promise and panache, as well as a penchant for conjuring. He’s a showman and he does it well. Edward Spellman is also aware of the power attainable as a High Priest and makes this his life’s ambition from his teen years on. It’s at twenty-five Spellman finally acquires exactly what he’s been working for, and changes the future for his child forever. Through his own self-serving actions, Edward Spellman sets forth the beginnings of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and all the darkness to follow.

While this story centers specifically around Sabrina Spellman, it’s impossible to not see this as Edward Spellman’s story as well. His actions in the beginning affect an entire congregation of people, as well as the several women used and abused by him. Sabrina is merely a means to an end to this Warlock, incapable of love as is native to Witches. Sabrina’s actions are highly reminiscent of her own father, while showing the love her mother was capable of. She’s a dichotomy of what makes us human, both in the light and the darkness. She’s a mediator between two seemingly different worlds, though at sixteen she’s very much unaware of this.

One thing I’ve enjoyed and loved about reading these comics is the darkness not shown in the show. While the show draws on classic ideas and stereotypes of historic witchcraft, the comics do as well, with a touch more Satanic beliefs, even showing Alistair Crowley. Because of the nature of the audience of the show, there are several details and archs that no doubt won’t make it to the show in an effort to protect more sensitive viewers. I would warn the potential reader that there are certain subjects that aren’t exactly easy to stomach or consider, one of which involving Edward and his possible lust for his own daughter.

The comics show a much deeper humanity to the characters and almost take away some of the mysticism and mystery of the Dark Lord, making it more of a side story to the actual happenings. You see very little of the Academy of the Unseen Arts, you’re given an entirely different relationship between Roz and Sabrina, and the addition of two Archie characters made it feel a bit more confusing and jarring to read. I’m not sure if this is because I’m reading the comics post-show, or if it’s just how it’s read, but I preferred the storyline with the Weird Sisters in the show to the one given in the comics.

It’s important to remember that while comics give us more visually, they can also be limiting in their own way. We’re asked to infer between the lines when reading and gazing at comics. What we’re not given are the small, offhand details often offered through the voice of a narrator, be it omniscient or first person in a narrative. While I enjoy the comics and have loved the symbology, the imagery, and the incredible atmosphere created by Robert Hack’s artwork, I feel I would almost prefer a full novel series alongside the comics, not instead of. There’s a mythos behind the Church of Night I’m more interested in than some of the finer details being focused on. This isn’t to say the writing is bad, this is just my preference as a reader.

You can find copies of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in bookstores and online! I’m an avid reader of my Kindle and have all available eight issues downloaded for easy reading at any time. I would highly recommend visiting your local independent bookstore and asking for the actual book to be ordered (or the comics) rather than downloading them or purchasing them somewhere like Barnes & Noble.