Trigger Warning: This article contains conversations about rape
Along with Mark Waid’s reimagining of the main Archie title, the Archie Horror imprint was instrumental in breathing new life into the Archie brand in the 2010s. The two biggest titles from this era, Afterlife With Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina never got a chance to finish, however, and the two were left on hiatus for years. With Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #9, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa finally returns to his Archie Comics roots and continues the tale he left off in 2017.
To enjoy Archie Horror books, you have to realize they’re elseworlds tales intended to unsettle. For that reason alone, these boldly different reimaginings of the beloved Archie characters can work — they have no bearings on the main titles. In comparison to Afterlife With Archie, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is certainly the title where Sacasa lets his more messed up ideas come to page and it works to varying degrees of success.
In Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #9, it feels like Robert Hack and Sacasa have taken no time off from the series at all, making the transition back into the story feel quite seamless. The cover itself is a great nod to the franchise, a cute little nod to Sabrina’s first appearance in 1962’s Archie’s Mad House #22, dressed up in Hack’s signature style.
While the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina may have newfound fame because of its Netflix TV show, the comic has always been much darker than the show ever really went — issue #9 is no stranger to this concept. On the one hand, it’s great that Sacasa was able to change enough between the show’s iteration and the comic to make the plots fresh and new, never overlapping too much to render the comics now pointless.
The most interesting plotline in the Sabrina comic is how Ms. Porter (aka Madam Satan) is weaving her complicated little web to trap Sabrina, unbeknownst to the teenage witch. While other characters in this series are drastically different than the versions of these characters we know and love, Sacasa stays true to one vital part of Sabrina’s character: she has a conscience.
By attempting to bring Harvey Kinkle back to life, Sabrina broke witch law and played right into Madam Satan’s hands without knowing it. Now, she must take a life in order to balance the scales — and she decides to take the life of a known serial killer. The bits of Sabrina in the jail might be the standout portions of this comic as she decides not to kill the man after realizing he’s technically innocent since a demon compelled him to act out in the first place. Based on where the comic ends, it appears this concept will be expanded on in issue #10 when that comes out.
The other stand-out moment is Edward becoming aware of Madam Satan’s presence and the two finally meet, promising an explosive exchange on the horizon. As the web unravels, so too does Madam Satan and Edward’s secrets — it really is only a matter of time before Edward learns she’s Iona, Sabrina learns “Harvey” is Edward, and Sabrina learns she’s been playing right into Iona’s hands this whole time. Sabrina Spellman is, if nothing else, someone who makes things colossally worse before they get better.
Certain sections in the middle part of this book are a bit…trickier. Edward is certainly one of the central antagonists of this book and is in no way framed as a good person, but his actions are a bit unsettling to read even in a “Horror” imprint comic. Edward actually rapes two women in this issue and it’s really hard to read these scenes without wondering “why?” The scenes with Rosalind are classic “rape by deception” since she thinks she’s sleeping with Harvey Kinkle, not Edward Spellman — but it’s made even creepier with the knowledge that Edward is a grown adult man and Rosalind is a child (a child who is Edward’s daughter’s age no less).
We’ve always known Edward is a creep in Sacasa’s writing, but even then you have to wonder why this exists in the story. We already knew Edward was irredeemable without those scenes. The most jarring one, however, is when Edward rapes Empusa and the reader not only sees him choke her with the snake but her bloodied body discarded after the fact. It’s one of those things in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina that seems to exist for the sake of being “edgy” and “dark” and for little other reason — and this seems to be a problem that exists only in Sabrina and not in something like Afterlife with Archie.
When stories introduce things like rape into the narrative, I often find myself asking why. It doesn’t seem like this is a story that will ever touch on this in any meaningful way (least of all through the lens of the victims), so why does it exist? We knew Edward was a bastard without it — he was using women throughout the entirety of his narrative, lied to become head of the church, caused all of Diana’s misfortune, and is currently lying to his daughter by inhabiting the daughter of her boyfriend. To include something as serious as rape so flippantly seems unnecessary at best.
And in a way, this highlights an issue with Chilling Adventures as a whole: the women seem to have no agency in this story. Iona’s entire motivation hinges around Edward and how he chose Diana over her — even her turning on Sabrina is because of this. Perhaps that’s one thing the show actually did better, divorcing Madam Satan from the Dark Lord she served to become her own full-fledged character and including plots like Sabrina’s outright refusal to sign her name in his book. This is one case where I actually hope the show does influence the original text a bit. I’d like to see the women have more agency and challenge some of the power structures in place. I’d like to see Sabrina call Edward out on how he’s used and abused women for years, including herself.
At its best, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #9 is a comic that sucks you right back into the world that Sacasa and Hack left, making it feel like the duo never left. At its worst, issue #9 reminds us of the shortcomings of the series that often feels like it heads into messed-up territory for no other reason than the sake of being edgy. Nevertheless, the continuing of this comic is exciting for what it means for Sacasa to finish up the tale he started in 2014 –and if we’re lucky, maybe even a return to other titles like Afterlife with Archie?
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