Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa brings the same horror stylings of his “Afterlife With Archie” series to Riverdale’s resident teenage witch with the help of artist Robert Hack in “Sabrina” #1. Sabrina makes the most sense of any of the Archie characters for a new, darker horror book, and she makes herself at home nicely in this first issue.
“Sabrina” #1 presents an origin story, which isn’t as annoying as most known character origin stories, because this one readers haven’t actually seen repeatedly over the years. Aguirre-Sacasa doesn’t pull punches on letting Sabrina’s family (her father and his sisters — notably Hilda and Zelda) be super dark. They worship Satan, they eat human flesh, and they all but kill Sabrina’s human mother Diana in order to get to Sabrina. It’s not clear what they actually do with Sabrina, but whatever it is, it doesn’t go well for mother Diana who ends up in an institution, possibly with a lobotomy. Aguirre-Sacasa skips over what happened to Sabrina’s dad, but it’s suggested that he was killed (or worse) — leaving her living with her aunts, Hilda and Zelda. It’s pretty horrific stuff overall, but it’s great that Aguirre-Sacasa isn’t afraid to go there. He embraces the idea of these characters being people too, even if they have different (and alarming) ideologies and practices that drive them.
There are a couple looks at young Sabrina, kind of a spoiled brat that throws tantrums and isn’t afraid to be magical while doing it. But the book wisely skips ahead to a teenage Sabrina living in a new city (Greendale) where Sabrina and her aunts move into a funeral home across from a cemetery. Teenage Sabrina is not necessarily a bad girl, but she has no qualms about using a dangerous love spell to get the attention of a boy she likes and the suspect morals is a nice change of pace. Her cousin, a slightly older boy, is staying with them and is a bad, but wonderfully enjoyable, influence on Sabrina, allowing her familiar — a cat named Salem — to play the voice of reason to good effect. There are some fun details as well — a couple panels of best friend Riverdale cheerleaders who will be familiar to any Archie fan — are especially delightful.
However, all of Aguirre-Sacasa’s good work would be for naught without Hack’s fantastic visuals. Hack’s style is a perfect tonal match for the dark, period tone of “Sabrina.” While it’s not quite to the level of “Afterlife With Archie” artist Francesco Francavilla’s illustration work, it’s still wonderful in its own right. Hack’s work has an evocative look thanks to his painterly style that really conveys emotion well. It capitalizes on some of the darker aspects while still keeping them pretty enough that the book doesn’t fall too far into any gory sensationalism. The work is extremely expressive, and just loose enough to maximize characters body language and emotions.
While the work is beautiful and well considered overall, there are some minor inconsistencies in how characters are rendered — especially Sabrina. Though Sabrina’s looks as she ages are well done overall, she does sometimes change too much panel-to-panel, which can be frustrating. Hack’s palette is smart and moody for the most part, with an orange-y cast to the entire book and plenty of deep black shadow to anchor things. However sometimes the execution of the color and shading does muddle certain panels, making them feel too fussy and distracting from some of the lovely illustration work.
Overall, “Sabrina” #1 is a great start to a nice little surprise of a book. With a lot of extras — 28 pages of original story, three sketchbook pages, and a five-page classic Sabrina reprint (in this case, Sabrina’s first appearance “Archie’s Madhouse” #22) — it’s also a pretty great deal.