Last issue marked the end of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s first arc, and before jumping into the second, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa takes an opportunity to explore the backstories of some of the comic’s minor characters. When I say minor, I don’t even mean that they have to be human; titled “Familiars,” issue #6 is primarily focused on telling the tales of Sabrina’s household familiars, specifically Salem the cat and cousin Ambrose’s snakes Nagand Nagaina. Aguirre-Sacasa blends fables and classic witch tales into his own unique mix, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #6 becomes less a filler issue than a surprisingly intriguing look at the past lives of those surrounding Sabrina.
The first tale follows Nag and Nagaina, who were the children of a rich Maharaja; a story about greed and filial betrayal, Aguirre-Sacasa unravels a Shakespearean-influenced plot to kill Nag and Nagaina’s new stepmother, only to be sold out by the sorcerer Sorcar whom they put their trust in. All of this is by way of Robert Hack’s beautifully detailed artwork featuring ornate Indian dwellings and beautiful colors. Nag and Nagaina are often secondary characters throughout this series, so it’s nice to see them getting fleshed out here with an origin story that shows how disturbingly willing the two were to commit a heinous murder.
It also works in a couple of fun references, including a direct mention of Rudyard Kipling – who bought Nag and Nagaina for his nephew Ambrose – and also his story “Rikki-Tiki-Tavi,” with a subtle allusion to the mongoose of that tale. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #6 feels like Aguirre-Sacasa’s ode to these influential classics, and he certainly adds depth to what could have only amounted to namedropping.
Salem’s backstory, though, is longer and more important, which he shares with Nag and Nagaina only after they beg him to do so. Salem was once a man named Samuel, arriving in Salem village without a home or a job after landing at Boston Harbor. Aguirre-Sacasa details a man who loved to sleep with his foster family’s servant, Abigail Williams, but who was not responsible enough to help her once she became pregnant with his child. Salem, in retelling this story, doesn’t show much remorse for the whole thing either, and Aguirre-Sacasa presents an interesting scenario where Salem the cat, forced to protect Sabrina, is himself an unlikable human being; while one can feel bad for Salem’s eternal curse, it’s difficult to have much sympathy for him, especially after his story. Aguirre-Sacasa presents characters in Chilling Adventures who are terrible people – they do pledge allegiance to Satan, after all – but who are still compelling primary characters, and with Salem, his past life directly influences his curse to protect Sabrina. Though he’s not a good person, Salem is at least true to his word (especially when eternal damnation is the other option).
Salem’s story blends a lot of witch tales together; the names all reference The Crucible, but he also throws in quite a bit of allusion to contemporary film The Witch as well with Satan’s appearance as a black goat. It doesn’t feel like stealing, though, and the appearance of Satan in goat form is terrifyingly documented by Hack, who does a great job with the look and feel of Salem village in this time period.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina doesn’t require the backstories of these characters, but Aguirre-Sacasa does such a good job with this issue that the reader doesn’t even question the direction here. This issue is dark and often disturbing, and Aguirre-Sacasa doesn’t shrink from the most blasphemous moments (like a reference to Satan feasting on an unborn baby). Instead, he proves that the Archie Horror universe is a lot less peaceful than the alternative Riverdale presented in the regular Archie comics; and with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #6, he doesn’t even need the regular characters to craft a satisfying issue.