"The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" takes its darkest turn yet in issue #4. Heavy on narration and light on visual pyrotechnics, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack's vintage-style approach to horror spooks the reader with slow, serious pacing and chillingly normal scenes of Americana. The wispy pencils and moody captions bring to mind "Misty" and other classic horror titles, a devious little twist on the Archie line's usual nostalgia pull, and the creative team isn't afraid to make big plays with the "Sabrina" canon. Altogether, this is a bold re-launch that deserves your attention -- just maybe not late at night.
There is certainly gore and grotesquerie in "Sabrina" #4, but most of the horror comes from a creeping sense of inevitability. Rather than providing introspection or a strong sense of Sabrina's voice, the captions here act as a narrative force. Lines like "Harvey Kinkle is young; he's strong...Tonight, though, it won't matter," "Are you praying yet?" and "the business they'd begun in the woods so long ago was nowhere near over" compel the action forward with a terrible all-knowingness.
That narrative sense of foreboding, somewhat vague and untethered in issue #3, feels visceral and heavy in this one. After Harvey interrupted Sabrina's induction in the last issue, the consequences come quick and heavy, and Aguirre-Sacasa doesn't hold back. Some of the lines are admittedly a touch campy, but the pacing is so sharp that "Sabrina" never loses its weight. If there's a bit of winking to the narration, the powerlessness of the characters is far more compelling.
Hack's artwork adds to the sense of urgency. Most of the panels look like watercolors over pencil and ink -- a hasty, artsy rendering of New England, as if the artist is rushing to tell the story. Backgrounds are rarely distinct or detailed, and the characters' faces can change in small details from panel to panel. At times, it feels intentional, an effect of Hack's style; at other times, the inconsistencies feel unnecessary or contradictory. For example, the texture of Veronica's hair is radically different from one panel to another.
As far as coloring, Hack's technique for bloodshed is particularly interesting. Spilled blood is colored with bright, almost glossy globs of red. Without the pencil-on-a-page texture of the rest of the artwork, these shiny splashes of red look unnatural and awful, as if they shouldn't be there. I'll admit I'm conflicted about this effect. On the one hand, it emphasizes the unnaturalness of the murders and sacrifices in the book; on the other, the incongruity almost took me out of the world.
Letterer Jack Morelli takes an issue that's packed with panels and text and manages to make it read like a storybook. Hack's pages are tight and many-paneled and, between the captions and the dialogue, Morelli doesn't have much extra space to play around with. In the first issue, I didn't love the mustard yellow caption boxes but, in this issue's chase through the woods, I came to appreciate how they complemented Hack's other colors while still keeping the text distinct. This is a thematically and aesthetically autumnal comic, and the color of the captions really brings that out.
I never thought I'd be recommending an Archie comic to fans of "Wytches," but "Sabrina" is the next creepy title to put on your list. This is shaping up to be one heck of a horror comic.