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Review: ‘Sabrina The Teenage Witch’

Sabrina The Teenage Witch
Writer: Kelly Thompson
Artists: Veronica Fish and Andy Fish
Archie Comics; $14.99
Rated Teen

For Archie Comics’ latest reinvention of their Sabrina The Teenage Witch character, new writer Kelly Thompson has selected a pretty compelling starting point: Sabrina Spellman’s first day at her new high school in a new city.

The five-issue 2019 comic book series, which is now available in its final trade paperback collection form, therefore pretty much mirrors the audience’s experience and familiarity with Sabrina.

Chances are, the reader already knows the basics from one of the live-action or animated TV shows Sabrina has starred in over the years, and/or her appearances in various comics, including plenty of supporting roles in disparate recent Archie Comics. Sabrina is a half-witch, half-mortal who lives with her two witch aunts and her talking black cat familiar, Salem. She can cast magical spells, but she’s supposed to keep that ability a secret, leading to a tension that often results in comedic mishaps or genuinely scary stuff, depending on the story.

So relatively little time is spent on rehashing Sabrina’s backstory, but when it comes to the rest of the cast, many of whom are unique to this particular comic, and the particulars of the story line, and even the tone, the reader, like Sabrina herself, will be encountering them all for the first time.

On Sabrina’s first day of school, she gives in to the temptation to use her magic for a fairly frivolous concern, like dying her white hair blonde. She then immediately runs afoul of resident mean girl Radka Ransom, befriends Radka’s victim Jessa Chiang, and catches the eye and interest of not one but two particularly nice, dreamy boys: Harvey Kinkle and Ren Ransom, Radka’s brother.

Then, on their way home from school, Sabrina and Jessa are attacked by a monster…and then a second monster. It turns out that the reason her aunts relocated to Greendale was because it’s something of a hot spot for supernatural activity, but the appearance of the monsters, each of which is a recognizable creature of myth or legend from different worldwide cultures, doesn’t register as strictly supernatural, so something else is going on. Oh, and those monsters are also apparently her new classmates, unwittingly transformed and unaware of what they’re doing when given their monstrous makeovers.

And so Sabrina must try to solve the mystery on her own, while navigating the particular social challenges of high school, some of which are more enviable than others (like having two different cute boys liking her at the same time, for example).

As for the tone, this is neither the simple gag comic or straightforward sitcom of previous takes, most recently in the pages of the short-lived 2015-2017 Jughead series, nor is it outright horror and suspense, like the 2014-2017 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comics (or her appearances in Afterlife With Archie or Jughead: The Hunger). Rather, Thompson and artists Veronica Fish and Andy Fish are telling what is basically an adventure comic, with character-driven humor, drama, and yes, plenty of cool-looking monsters, but never so much of any of those elements that they threaten to overwhelm the comic and push it into another genre.

Likewise, the Fishs’ style is well-suited to the book’s mode, realistic without ever being overly so, and the artists are equally adept at drawing subtle emotional interplay between characters and big action scenes, interesting-looking teenagers in a school or strange-looking monsters in the woods.

Archie has rated the book “Teen,” but if anyone’s leery about putting this in front of any kid’s eyes due to the reputation of the most recent Sabrina TV show, Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, it’s well worth noting here that there’s nothing even potentially questionable about the book’s content: There’s no swearing, there’s nothing more sexual than a couple of kisses on the lips, and there are no devils or demons or religious content of any kind. It’s basically safe for an all-ages audience…although younger readers may find the storytelling a bit over their heads and therefore less interesting than the many other options they have.

The book ends with a pretty dramatic, out-of-left-field cliffhanger, but although this original series has ended, the exact same creative team is following it with a sequel series, Sabrina: Something Wicked, the first issue of which was scheduled for release this month.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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