Normally, it would be considered bad form to bump the title character from the center stage of her own series when you’re only on the second issue. In the case of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” #2, however, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack take a good portion of the comic to focus on Madam Satan — the jilted ex-lover of Sabrina’s father who was accidentally freed from Hell — and it not only works, it’s enthralling. Now, that’s good storytelling.
What’s nice here is that Aguirre-Sacasa manages to make Madam Satan thoroughly evil but also equally compelling. At first, it’s easy to write her off as a stereotypical scorned woman (although admittedly one fresh out of Hell), but he doesn’t let the comic fall into that trap. Instead, he shows us someone who is full of rage, but also one who made some bad decisions that trapped her in the worst place possible. Every now and then, you see little sparks in her that keep her from being a villain to simply write off, first in her dealing with the nasty truck driver who gives her a lift and has ulterior motives, and then in dealing with Sabrina’s mother in the insane asylum. She’s got a real bite to her, and it’s that mixture of cruelty and a perverse sense of justice that makes her a force to be reckoned with. By the time her path formally crosses Sabrina’s at the end of the issue, you not only want to see more of the dreaded Madam Satan but you genuinely fear for Sabrina’s fate.
Sabrina may take the back seat for part of this issue, but don’t think that she’s entirely absent. Aguirre-Sacasa shows us how high school life is working out for Sabrina, between her slightly enchanted boyfriend Harvey and the high school production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” I like that, even when things are dark in this book, Aguirre-Sacasa doesn’t lose sight of a little vein of humor running throughout its pages. There’s a great revelation on a famous movie star who turns out to also be a witch, and Sabrina’s interactions with her are genuinely funny even as it’s a clever nod to the 1966 setting of the comic.
Hack is an artist whom I hadn’t encountered before “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” but I think, based on his work here, we’re going to see a lot of him. It’s an attractive, sketchy sort of style that balances acts of horror with cold beauty. The scene at the zoo works in no small part because both Madam Satan and Charles Spellman look like average, everyday people who are talking about horrific, nasty things. He knows when to bring in the horror elements, and the sudden shift to a bloody, gory death works in no small part because of the visual contrast. Hack’s color palette is also top-notch here; the oranges and yellows evoke (without directly going for) a sepia-tone effect, and it can’t help but cast your mind back to an earlier time when you look at a page. This is a look that isn’t quite like anything else on the market right now, and I hope that Hack continues forward in this style.
Between “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and “Afterlife with Archie,” Archie Comics has created a surprisingly successful little horror sub-imprint within the greater confines of the company. If you’d told me a year ago that there would be a dark horror rendition of the classic Sabrina Spellman character and that I’d eagerly await new issues of it, the response would have almost certainly been a hearty laugh. The reality is that Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack have created a horror comic that would work well even if it wasn’t attached to the iconic “Sabrina.” The fact that it is — and that they integrate all of the classic “Sabrina” comic characters — makes for an added bonus. This works not just because of the concept, but rather because of the strong execution. There’s always room in my world for cute and perky Archie Comics but, when it comes to “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” I’m ready for more horror, please.