Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Which Witch Is Which?

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 13th, 2014

Last week saw the release of a number of impressive and strong samples of comics storytelling, and two of the titles I picked up, both debut issues for new series, had a lot in common: witches. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Wytches were both engaging reads delving into witchcraft, supernatural lore and the overwhelming challenges of adolescence, but they were also far from carbon copies of one another.

VariantChilling Adventures of Sabrina #1
“The Crucible – Chapter One: Something Wicked”
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Robert Hack
Letters: Jack Morelli

“Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch”
Writer: George Gladir
Pencils: Dan DeCarlo
Inks: Rudy Lapick
Letters: Vincent DeCarlo

Publisher: Archie Comic Publications
Price: $3.99 US

For almost three decades, the two biggest publishers in mainstream American comics, Marvel and DC, have embraced a darker edge in their super-hero comics, and in more recent years, they’ve come under fire for some of the more gratuitous and repetitive aspects of that trend. Lately, there seems to be a shift, though, toward some lighter fare, and it think it’s a recognition of an expanding readership and what the market wants. Interestingly, Archie Comics has been in an opposing shift in recent years. With the recent “death” of future married Archie and Afterlife with Archie, the longtime publisher of teen-humor comics has focused efforts on more mature fare, bringing more depth and new interpretations to its iconic characters. Spinning out of Afterlife with Archie is this Sabrina book, which continues that edgier trend. I didn’t find this quite as compelling as the first story arc from Afterlife With Archie, and I assume it’s because I don’t have the same affection for and familiarity with the title character. But writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa nevertheless brings something new, intriguing and still consistent with past depictions of perhaps the best-known witch in pop culture.

The main story focuses on the writer’s new origin for the famous teenage witch, and what I found most curious and pleasing was the fact Aguirre-Sacasa kept the story firmly set in the title character’s original 1960s backdrop rather than a modern take. That brings the potential for an exploration of a different time, a different culture. There’s not really much in the way of plot here. Rather, the writer brings a haunting and bloody quality to Sabrina’s world while still sheltering her from that new, harsh context. Sabrina remains the relatable anchor in her weird corner of the world. Aunts Hilda and Zelda are depicted as being much more monstrous, but ultimately, a more maternal, caring instinct nevertheless manages to peek out of that new facade. Robert Hack’s artwork is appropriately consistent with the horror-genre look established by Francesco Francavilla in Afterlife with Archie, but he also doesn’t try to mimic Francavilla’s unique style. I’m reminded a little of the styles of Michael (Lazarus) Lark and Stephen R. (Saga of the Swamp Thing) Bissette here, and the muted color palette Hack employs really brings out the tense, eerie atmosphere of the story nicely.

Easily the most surprising aspect of this comic was the reprint of Sabrina’s first appearance from 1962’s Archie’s Madhouse #22. Sabrina was a much different character when she was first introduced, more mischievous and less benevolent than she would later become. She also drips sexuality (though not in a gratuitous fashion) in the short piece, thanks to the thoroughly effective artwork of Dan DeCarlo. George Gladir’s story also touches on an emerging identity crisis for the girl, and I was surprised at how much characterization he managed to instill in such a brief story in a comic crafted for a much younger audience five decades ago. 7/10

VariantWytches #1
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Jock
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Letters: Clem Robins
Cover artists: Jock (regular)/Bill Sienkiewicz (variant)
Editor: David Brothers
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

Scott Snyder has quickly proven himself to be one of the writers to watch in the mainstream comics industry. His three-year Batman run has been quite entertaining, but honestly, I found other works, such as The Wake, to be indicative of smarter, even more engaging imagination. Wytches sees him tackle another genre, and while he’s no stranger to horror (see American Vampire), this seems more focused on atmosphere and more darkly surreal. The plot — a bullying victim who finds unexplainable forces coming to her aid — isn’t exactly breaking new ground, but Snyder’s initial approach to establish mystery and a strong, enveloping mood makes for a compelling read. Teaming with his one-time Detective Comics collaborator Jock was a great move as well, as his angular style suits the intense and weird woodland violence from which the most horrific moments of the story flow.

What really draws one into this story is the main character and her family. Sailor is the ultimate outsider and it’s incredibly easy to relate to her. But she and her family are so sympathetic, the reader can’t help but cheer for them, to hope for them to overcome the latest, unimaginable challenge in their lives. They’ve
suffered and lost, but they’re nevertheless devoted to one another. The violence in the bully character is unsettling, and some might think it’s over the top, but the truth is there really is that kind of rage among some youth. Snyder’s choice to make the brutal bully a girl is an interesting one, as it doesn’t follow the predictable path.

The focus on the forest as a place of power for these witches is something this comic has in common with the Sabrina comic, but the woodland mysticism is depicted as being far more grotesque and torturous, and it makes for a chilling effect. Jock’s art brings that twisted dark magic to life overtly and clearly, which really steps up the horror. His work here should appeal to fans of Charlie Adlard’s work on The Walking Dead and Sean Phillips’s art, especially his stuff from Criminal and Marvel Zombies.

Also noteworthy about this comic is its value. For three bucks, the reader gets 28 pages of story and art. I also appreciated Snyder’s afterword, which shed some light on where the idea for this comic came from and gave the reader some insight into who the writer is and what childhood experienced shaped him to some extent. 8/10

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