Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has been gone a long time: nearly a year, to be inexact. That’s difficult to come back from, especially since issue #4 wasn’t really even the end of an arc. Harvey Kinkle had just died because he happened to stumble upon Sabrina’s initiation in the woods; a mortal isn’t supposed to experience that kind of terror, but the downfall was really due to Madam Satan’s manipulation. But leaving so wide a gap during this pivotal time, when Sabrina is meant to experience the loss and grief of her only love, was probably not Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s intention.
And so Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #5 doesn’t pick up directly after Harvey’s death. One gets the feeling that some time has passed, or at the very least some discussion between Sabrina and Madam Satan (only known to Sabrina as Ms. Porter) about the impending High Witch trials that will ensue from Harvey’s viewing of the rites. It’s a good decision, one that promptly gets the reader back into the storyline rather than wasting time grieving over an event that – for fans of the series – happened ten months ago.
But this issue isn’t one of Chilling Adventures‘ best, and the witch trials are partially to blame. Aguirre-Sacasa is pulling from a variety of inspirations – The Crucible and other witch literature, for one, but also the Witches Council from Sabrina the Teenage Witch – and that effort is certainly appreciated. But overall, the issue suffers from exploring too much of the politics behind witchhood. Whereas the previous issues were deeply rooted in the eerie mysteries of witches and the rites that they partake in, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #5 gets too close to it, and that makes this issue feel a lot denser.
That density results in a slow pace, though, one that loses a lot of the chills that Chilling Adventures contained in its first issues. There are still some good scenes thanks to Robert Hack’s vintage artwork, and notably these involve Betty and Veronica acting as human voodoo dolls so that Sabrina can withstand witch trials like shoving her hand into a burning pile of coals or refraining to bleed when a dagger pierces her. But the first half of the issue is too weighted down by the narrative and the uninteresting dynamics of the Witches Council, removing the tension the series has crafted thus far.
Things get better in the second half of the issue, when Sabrina, Madam Satan, and Betty and Veronica meet to raise Harvey from the dead. At first, it seems like Madam Satan really is working with Sabrina’s best interests in mind, and Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack play with expectations. The narrative switches to Harvey’s parents; his mother is unable to accept that he’s dead, since his missing body gives her hope he could still be alive, while his father has given up all hope of finding their son. As Harvey rises from the grave, the suspense builds – he visits his parents, and his mother, supernaturally knowing it must be Harvey, goes insane when her husband stops her from opening the door.
The reveal shows that the body truly is Harvey, but the soul within is none other than Edward Spellman, back again thanks to Madam Satan’s magic. It leads to one of Chilling Adventures‘ most violent events thus far, and it also sets up the coming retaliation from Madam Satan and Spellman; as such, it adds quite a bit to this uncharacteristically below-average issue, and indicates that the series will get back on track in coming issues.
That’s the problem with such an extended hiatus, though. There’s a lot of catch-up and setup to be done, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #5 suffers from Aguirre-Sacasa reintroducing those set pieces. Perhaps if this had been a month since issue #4’s release, the slow build might not have been so noticeable, but this isn’t quite the return to form many will probably expect. I’m not ready to give up hope, though, and the conclusion shows that there’s definitely still some black magic in the series; hopefully Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #6 can channel it a bit better.