Two new comics were released last week, and now that I’ve had time to read them, I’d like to review both by making comparisons to each other. I have to say that these are two very different books; I’m comparing them mostly because they are different and both deserving of attention (and your dollars). I also really, really love witches, so it was a great week for me.
First up, Sabrina!
If, like me, you were a fan of the TV show on TGIF, this will tickle your nostalgia. However, it is extremely different in tone from the original series. This comes off the heels of the success of Afterlife With Archie, which was basically Archie and zombies. You do not need to read Afterlife to enjoy this book.
The story starts in the 1950s with the birth of Sabrina. You may remember that Sabrina’s father was a warlock, but her mother was a mortal and that was considered bad as mortals cannot know about the existence of witches. I can’t recall the justification in the show, but the book mentions they could all be burned at the stake again if mortals ever found out. And in this book the risk of that happening is reasonable considering these witches actually do worship Satan and eat human flesh. Her mother is…dealt with, let’s just say, and her father leaves her to be raised by his sisters Zelda and Hilda.
I got to say I’m not sure if I like this universe’s Hilda and Zelda. In the tv show, Sabrina’s father rarely is spoken of and I don’t remember her mother appearing at all; Zelda and Hilda are for all intents and purpose, her parents. It was an unusual and unconventional family, and while they are sisters and not a couple, it was a positive portrayal of two women raising a kid without husbands. They had a relationship that was similar to many sitcom parents; they argued a lot, especially over how to raise Sabrina. But despite arguing they were very close and really loved each other. In Sabrina the comic, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa mentioned in an interview that there’s a bit of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in their relationship. They still argue over how to raise Sabrina, but there isn’t any warmth. I suppose it is more fitting for a horror comic to leave it out, but I miss it just the same.
Sabrina is picked on for being half mortal at witch school, so Zelda and Hilda decide to move to Greendale, where Sabrina can go to mortal school and learn witchcraft at home. I actually really enjoyed that; it kind of bothered me in Harry Potter that they didn’t learn much math or history or whatever; their futures were decided at a very young age that they would have magical careers and they’re screwed if they decide at age 25 that they’d really like to be a physicist.
Sabrina quickly gets a crush on Harvey Kinkle (I had forgotten how ridiculous that name is and glad the comic likes to point it out), and her cousin Ambrose instructs her on how to make a love spell, much to Salem’s disappointment. Salem, you might remember, was Sabrina’s snarky cat. So far in this issue he seems to be her conscience; he doesn’t want her to create a love spell because Harvey should like her on his own for who she is, not because he is compelled. I like that the comic takes issues with free will and consent; making Sabrina’s love spell ill advised and unsettling.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the book, but it ends with the introduction of a major threat for Sabrina, as well as a pretty great cameo for Archie fans. The issue also includes in the back an old Sabrina the Teenage Witch comic, and the contrast is pretty stark. But it also makes this comic a great deal since you’re technically getting two issues in one.
The art was absolutely fantastic. Robert Hack’s art is often beautiful, and often unsettling. There is a lot of black on orange, which gives it a real Halloween feel, as well as making any scene at least somewhat creepy even if nothing alarming at all is going on. I’m sure Hack could make Zelda filing their taxes seem suspenseful. I also really dig Sabrina’s retro look; I’ve been debating about growing my hair out from a pixie cut to a bob and Sabrina’s hair *may* have pushed me towards growing it out.
And now the opponent, Wytches!
Wytches is full of horror from the very start. I have to review this book differently, I don’t want to spoil anything, but it is not like Sabrina where you probably know at least the premise of the story. Wytches I would compare favorably to a good Stephen King book. You don’t really know what the monsters are, where they come from, or the rules of this world, and that is partly where the horror comes from. Unlike Sabrina, the witches in this story are far from the traditional idea we have of witches. They’re monstrous and inhuman, but possibly were once human. This is more Blair Witch than Hocus Pocus.
The hero of our story is Sailor, a teenage girl whose parents recently decide to relocate due to problems she had with a bully…well, there’s more to it than that, but again, if I spoiled it I might ruin it! She is dealing with trauma and guilt, and her father Charles (she has a mother, but she seems to be mostly in the background) tries to help her keep up her spirits. However, something terrible seems to be going on in the woods that surrounds their house.
My only complaint with Sailor’s back story was how absolutely evil her bully was. It was something that always bothered me with bullies in Stephen King novels; the bullies tend to evil and violent and overflowing with malice, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I don’t doubt that some actual people seem like that, but it was never my experience with bullies. It is mentioned that her bully was very disturbed, but it is just so extreme it lifted me out of the book for a little while.
Other than that, however, Wytches was fantastic. it is GOOD horror. Oftentimes when I’m reading horror, there are so many cliches and tropes that come up that it starts to make me feel a little weary, which I think is why the bully bothered me so much, I’ve read this before! But in every other way Wytches feels fresh and original. Jock’s art is great; while Hack’s art in Sabrina always has me on edge, Jock’s art was horrific when the scene called for it, but the mundane scenes felt safe, and therefore more impacted when something terrible happens. Scott Snyder includes in the back where he got the inspiration for this story, and honestly I enjoyed reading that almost as much as I enjoyed the story.
TL, DR, both are pretty good. If you want to check out one, I would recommend Sabrina if you’re a fan of classic horror like Rosemary’s Baby or The Abominable Dr. Phibes. I would recommend Wytches if you’re a big fan of contemporary horror, especially Stephen King. But mostly, I think you should get both!