Friday, October 31, 2014

REVIEW: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1

Story: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artwork: Robert Hack
Review: Will Dubbeld

It's that time of year again, ladies and gents. The air turns to chill, leaves change color and drop to loamy earth, and costumed urchins prowl the streets panhandling for treats.

It's the best time of the year for a stereotypical comic book/sci-fi/horror fanboy like yours truly. The time of the year when things go bump in the night and rap on your chamber door, when Jaime Lee Curtis runs like Hell from a Shatner-faced ghoul, and T-Bird, Tin-Tin and the boys set fire to Detroit.
Peter Cushing's Van Helsing smites Christopher Lee's Dracula with the holy hand of God and all those old Misfits records sound that much better.
Somewhere H.P. Lovecraft's shade nods approvingly.

I love it.

I'd love to say I spent the month of October rolling around in Pre-Code comic books, but alas even in reprinted form those things are a bit pricey. That said, I search instead for the next best thing.

Quick caveat: Rachel Rising is the best horror comic on the stands right now and the lot of you should be buying it. For purposes of this experiment we'll take RR out of the equation.

Yoe Books tossed us a few affordable Pre-Code reprints, but not enough to slake my thirst. At one point my LCS was kind enough to stock a dollar box with a good sized run of Tomb of Dracula and that was a godsend.
Finally, a decent amount of publishers (who will remain unnamed) print a decent amount of horror titles (that will remain unnamed) written by a decent amount of highly lauded creators (who will remain unnamed). Unfortunately many if not all of these wildly popular horror comics are sub-par. C minus books full of trite human drama, eye-rollingly bad twists, or straight up barrel-scraping torture porn.
Few, if any, current horror books channel that lightning-in-a-bottle magic of an old EC comic or a Hammer Studios gothic horror film.

So I figured, what the Hell, I'll check out this Archie Comics zombie apocalypse book.

Impressed with that little endeavor, my brow raised with inquisitive scrutiny when I heard about a Sabrina comic in the same vein from Archie Comics.
I debated, hemmed and hawed, and finally opted out of pre-ordering the book.
Flash forward to Halloween Comicfest at my local brick and mortar shop and . . . well it is the season and it WAS Halloween Comicfest and there was only one copy left on the stand and alright fine give it to me.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 has a gimmick cover, a die-cut, nothing as 1990s cliched as a lenticular 3-D cover or, god forbid, a hologram, so it's a good gimmick on thicker, nearly cardstock paper. The interior pages feel almost a hybrid of slicks and newsprint and the book even smells unique, as if blended from a nontraditional paper recipe.

The art is fantastic, conjuring stylistic images reminiscent of 1970s horror comic magazines.
The full, magazine-sized books mind you, not the standard floppies.
Vampire Tales and its ilk.
The color palette is subdued, almost dull, with slashes of bright color here and there for a beautiful contrast on page and panel.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa opens the tale on October, 31st, 1951. Sabrina's first birthday.
It seems young Sabrina Spellman (I know, bear with me...) is the daughter of a Satan-summoning warlock who has promised his little girls upbringing to a witch coven.
Mrs. Spellman will be having none of these monkeyshines and she flees with baby Sabrina into the Dark Foreboding Woods.

Needless to say it doesn't end well for Mrs. Spellman...

After the brief intro, the book details several points in Sabrina's life and her burgeoning sorcerous abilities.
1957, 1962, and finally settling on 1964 as young Sabrina readies herself for high school, helped along by her cousin Ambrose and her 2 maiden aunts. We're introduced to her smart-mouthed cat familiar, Salem, a potential love interest, and by the end of the book we see a succubus summoned from Gehenna who appears to be a future antagonist for the teenage witch.

The book is great, not necessarily the elixir I need to fill the horror comic void, but a great book nevertheless. It's extremely atmospheric, a bit thick, stuffy like an episode of Dark Shadows.
The one with Jonathan Frid.
Not with Jack Sparrow...

There's more than a couple of Easter Eggs enclosed as well.
Ambrose mentions sending someone to "the cornfield" (canny Twilight Zone fans take note), his cobra familiars are scions of the Roman snake god Glycon (canny Alan Moore fans take note), and the two coed witches who summoned the succubus appear to be thinly veiled pastiches of Archie Comics own Betty and Veronica.

I'm on the fence as to whether I'll continue to pick this book up on the regular or not, but there's plenty of worse choices a reader could make. The script and art are solid thus far; it'll be up to the story arc's progression to pass final judgement on the book.
Curiosity has been piqued.

I'm off to convince Barbara Steele to read ghost stories for my bedtime. Until next time, kiddies, candy apples and razor blades...

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