It’s been a long time since Archie Comics/Archie Horror released a new issue of either of their much-beloved series; Afterlife with Archie went dark after the Josie and the Pussycats interlude with issue #10 in August 2016, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s sixth issue released nearly a year ago today. That’s a long time to wait for more horror from Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Chilling Adventures artist Robert Hack, but that waiting is finally over: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #7, the start of “Witch-War,” is finally upon us. The question for many fans is whether Aguirre-Sacasa can recapture the energy the series had generated a long 360 days ago.
It’s helpful to note that Chilling Adventures did not pause during an arc; instead, Aguirre-Sacasa’s storyline ended on a one-shot tale about witch familiars like Salem the cat. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #7 begins a long-awaited arc where Sabrina’s father Edward returns from witch purgatory, and instead of launching into a full-blown arc, Aguirre-Sacasa gingerly tells the story of young Edward as he grew through the dark Satanic ranks to become the evil and iconic figure of Sabrina’s childhood. It’s a delicate way to begin the proceedings, but for a comic series that has lingered in its own purgatory, it’s the best way to continue this tale – rebuilding the atmosphere and intrigue that early issues captured.
Even so, the issue picks up right where the first arc left off: Sabrina had taken her Satanic rites and her boyfriend Harvey had perished, and “Witch-War Chapter One: The Truth About Demonology” follows up with Harvey’s rebirth after Sabrina’s resurrection spell. Except Aguirre-Sacasa veers in a surprising direction; like his Madam Satan character, he allows Edward Spellman room to tell his own backstory. In this case, Edward returns as the resurrected Harvey, stealing Harvey’s body and making his way back to the grieving Kinkle parents so that he can feast on Harvey’s father and tell his story to Mrs. Kinkle.
The majority of Chilling Adventures #7 takes place in flashback as Edward details his journey through the Dark Arts. He focuses on his upbringing at a Church of Night, wherein he fostered his conjuring skills under Father Constant’s tutelage. Aguirre-Sacasa’s writing has a way of highlighting both the eeriness and humor of Edward’s black studies: there are summoned demons to add scares, but he also showcases the politicking behind the scenes of Black Mass, the same kinds of hierarchies that take place in all organized religions. It’s not clear if this is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek representation or a more serious one, but the issue does elicit those connotations.
Robert Hack really gets a chance to flex some artistic muscle in this issue; here more than ever, his retro artwork feels important, especially since Edward’s past is about relatively ancient in comparison to Sabrina’s life of sixteen years. There are also a number of demon designs that Hack gets to play with, plus a few mature panels that are surprising, even for a comic in the Archie Horror lineup. Hack’s young Edward Spellman design even conjures similarities to Eddie from The Munsters, a fun homage intentional or not.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #7 delivers some excellent backstory for Edward Spellman, including his exile from the Church of Night by his sisters Hilda and Zelda, but it also manages to set up a future arc in the process. The final panels of the issue show Edward making his way to Sabrina in a deliberately unsettling development – chiefly being the creepy incestuous elements of Sabrina’s father in her boyfriend’s body – and also Madam Satan looking in on them from her mirror, promising an important meet-up between the two and hinting at the meaning of the “Witch-War” title.
So, to answer that drifting question above about whether Aguirre-Sacasa can rekindle the magic in this issue: he absolutely can. And this return from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina also bodes well for Afterlife with Archie‘s imminent arrival. Call it a Satanic rite Aguirre-Sacasa has invoked for his writing muse.