For those who rue the involvement of zombies and killers in the wholesome world of Riverdale as a recent phenomenon (or not so wholesome, depending on what you read or watch), it might be reassuring to know Archie Horror’s been around for a lot longer than Afterlife with Archie. One brush with horror in Archie Comics’ past is Chilling Adventures in Sorcery, a comic series originally published in the 70’s and collected last month into a seven-issue volume.
Completely black and white, each issue includes a selection of short horror comics and a one-page prose story. The covers are classic horror, with the first two taking the style of double bill posters, and the others providing insight into which characters will appear.
In most ways, though, the first two issues are different from the last five. The quality is the same, if subject to personal preference, but the difference comes in there not being anything to tie the later issues, starting with three, to the Archie brand. They’re great horror comic,s but you wouldn’t know who published them by sight (it’s also at this point that the covers start saying Red Circle Comics, which should sound familiar to Riverdale fans from a reference made in Season Two).
The same can’t be said of issues one and two, which use the Archie house style for the art. A young woman in “The Cameo’s Curse” shares a likeness to Veronica, while Stanley in “The Boy Who Cried Vampire” looks a lot like Archie. Their resemblance to the high schoolers we love makes their pursuit by monsters more scandalous, but in a way where readers are in on the joke.
The other difference goes against the volume’s advertising, as “Presented by Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” What that description doesn’t mention is that this is true of the first two issues, but not the rest. With her coifed hair and inviting smile, there’s an unnerving dissonance between what Sabrina’s saying, so politely and without alarm, and what’s going on in the stories she tells. On a dime, she can turn sinister, like the look she shoots in “Assignment of Fear,” and I’m not sure what made the series stop enlisting her narration, but the dark humor she infused, by going out of her way to cite the weakest silver linings, went well with the series’ dearth of happy endings (a hallmark of all seven issues).
Chilling Adventures in Sorcery isn’t always great about giving credit to the writers and artists of each story. There’s a list of names in the beginning, and Jack Morelli (Jughead: The Hunger) remastered the lettering for issues one and two, but it’s especially tough, in the early pages, to know who’s responsible for what. This improves as the volume goes on, and Gray Morrow is almost entirely responsible for the writing and art in issue three. His evolution story, “Missing Link,” is a blast to take in, from the questioning eyes of a woolly mammoth, to karate being used against Neanderthals.
For seven issues, there’s a surprising amount of repetition. You can’t point fingers when vampires show up more than once, but the ideas being repeated are fairly specific: Multiple incidents of being tricked into reading spells from books. Multiple people trying to murder their way into early inheritances (the picture frame panels in “Haunted Gallery” are tops in that department).
It’s also worth noting how women are treated over the course of the series. That’s not to say there aren’t victims (“Golden Touch” puts a dark spin on the Midas touch) and slapping comes up enough times, but there are also quite a few stories where the ending has a woman outsmarting everyone. If you can’t have Sabrina’s wit brightening up the proceedings, at least women are coming out in front.
Chilling Adventures in Sorcery is on sale now.