Monday, December 19, 2016

Tonal dissonance and sexist bull

Look, I don't hate horror comics, okay? I read through all of Wes Craven's Coming of Rage as floppies this year and enjoyed the hell out of all the blood and guts and gore, The Darkness is the one fucking thing that makes me want to play video games, and any of Stephen King's horror/novel crossover books like The Cycle of the Werewolf are the kind of shit that makes me get up in the morning.

I am also, just by pure happenstance and a long history as a goth kid, not totally ignorant about various forms of witchcraft, including modern branches like LaVeyan Satanism, Theistic Satanism, and Wicca as well as older forms of Paganism, Shamanism, and herbal medicine that are considered witchcraft these days.

AND I have tons of fond memories of reading Archie Comics as a kid and was totally the nerd who had to be home for TGIF to watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch every week.

With those things in mind (that I like horror comics, am kind of into witchcraft, and am familiar with the canon of the universe) The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is shit.

Look pals, just because you CAN grimdark something doesn't mean that you SHOULD. Instead of the light-hearted buffoonery and issue-of-the-week lessons of the original comics and various TV iterations THIS version of Sabrina features the affable Aunts Hilda and Zelda as gluttonous cannibals. In one case a totally harmless woman has her daughter taken from her, is driven insane and institutionalized, and then has her sanity restored so she can suffer more. (SPOILERS) Harvey's mother, driven mad by his death, brutally murders her husband as he tries to protect her. (/Spoilers)

I'm just going to take a second to point out that while witches were frequently accused of human sacrifice and cannibalism it isn't actually something we see much in the European history of witchcraft. Also absent from European witchcraft traditions: the need for a woman to protect her virginity in order to become a witch. That's getting into some gross sexist-as-fuck Gardner shit which, A) doesn't make sense if Hilda and Zelda did the same thing and are supposed to be centuries old and, B) SHOULDN'T SHOW UP IN A COMIC BOOK ABOUT A FUCKING MINOR. (Because, yes, kindly dumbbell jock Harvey is pressuring Sabrina into sex and she can't have sex with him before her sixteenth birthday and still be a witch because what the actual fuck.)

I've seen some commentary about the fact that this book allows women to exist without the need for men as a woo-girl-power kind of thing but that totally ignores the fact that men are also witches and seem to get their way more often (Sabrina's dad's illegal relationship with her mom, for instance) and are supposed to be the virgin servants of a distinctly masculine entity. Also how the hell does the virginity thing hold up - Edward Spellman had a relationship with Lady Satan (the actual FUCK.) before getting his rocks off with a mortal who both he and Lady Satan would eventually torture. Lady Satan also murders the kindly old drama teacher at Sabrina's high school so that she can fill in the position and fill out some decidedly cheescake-inspired suits. For a comic that is supposed to be about women and that some people are offering up as a vehicle for powerful female characters it sure does think of a lot of women as disposable.

What a fucking mess. I like comics but even the pacing of this whole thing feels off - the rising tension of each issue is predictable and tedious, the whole comes to an unsatisfying conclusion, character development is not even on the fucking radar - it's just untidy and the writing seems like it was hurriedly scribbled in the journal of a tween boy who wanted to show it to his friends so they could see how dark and twisted and TOTALLY MASCULINE I GET BONERS FOR HOT LADIES OKAY his mind is.

That's actually another thing I have beef with - one witchy-type article discussed the fact that witches are presented as ugly to match the ugliness of their deeds; that they don't need beauty because their power makes them above it. Well. Sure, that's true, at least of all the witches who are supposed to be over a certain age. Sabrina is cute and sexy by turns and Lady Satan is sexy as fuck, even if she does have to steal faces from mortals.

This book is Sabrina the Teenage Witch as scripted by Eli Roth. It's maybe good enough for a rejected GWAR album cover but probably not even that. You care about the people being ripped to shreds on a GWAR cover, their faces convey pain and horror. Not so here.

Which is the only negative thing that I have to say for the art. The faces aren't great at conveying emotion but I can't tell if that's a lack of practice or if poor Robert Hack just had too much going on in each page to convey the appropriate emotional response in every panel. Jumping from a discussion of physical intimacy and young love to the ritual preparations to slaughter a goat is enough to make any artist tear their hair out, let alone one who hadn't worked on ANY sequential books before this. Hack does a fantastic job with what he was given to work with, and I think the art is stellar. It's got a great vibe that instantly recalls Rosemary's Baby and tries to set a mood much better than any of the writing does. I think Hack is a great horror artist and I hope he continues working in horror comics, I just wish he'd had a writing team worthy of his talent and skill for his first run out of the gate.

(UGH, FUCK, I just realized that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is the one adapting The Stand to comics and fuck half of me wants to read it and see how it went and the other half of me thinks that even the original novel did way too much of the "women are commodities in the apocalypse" bullshit that I feel like Aguirre-Sacasa would have just made worse. FUCK)

     - Alli

Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto (Writer). Hack, Robert (Illustrator). The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
     Vol. 1: The Crucible
. Archie Comics. New York: New York. 2016

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