Friday, 10 October 2014

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: 50 Magical Stories / review by Stephen Theaker

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: 50 Magical Stories (Archie, ebook, 349pp) provides a cheap, comprehensive introduction to one of Archie’s most famous characters, a peppy teenage witch who, much as she did in the successful television series, usually lives with her aunts, Hilda and Zelda, and their talking cat Salem. Salem is an uncle who tried to conquer the world (or, in other stories, broke off his engagement with the head witch) and felinisation was his punishment. Sabrina is a good-hearted girl, but isn’t above using her powers selfishly. She’s usually an agent of karma (turning chauvinists into pigs, for example), at other times its victim.

One problem with the book is that it zags around from one period to another of the comic without a nod to continuity, which will presumably baffle readers who haven’t had the benefit of reading an overview of the series (like the one in Slings and Arrows). In one strip Sabrina’s aunts are green-skinned hags, in another human-looking and pretty, so dateable they end up double-booked. In one strip Sabrina’s dating Harvey and going to school in Riverdale with Archie, Betty and Veronica, in the next she’s at a monster school, her boyfriend is a vampire, and her best friends are an invisible girl (Cleara!) and a genuinely disconcertingly eyeball-headed girl (Eyeda!). The very first story says Sabrina mustn’t fall in love or she’ll lose all her powers and become human, and in the second she’s smooching Harvey on the sofa.

I’ve read a lot of Archie comics on Comixology over the last couple of years. A lot. For one thing they’re cheap and plentiful, which is how I like my comics. (Compare with DC, who not so long ago had only single issues on Comixology, and Marvel whose Comixology collections are often extremely expensive.) And they are ideally suited to digital reading. The lovely bright colours look wonderful on digital displays, and the simple layouts and square panels work perfectly in Guided View on any device. Almost any given panel of an Archie book looks like a pop art masterpiece when zoomed to fit an iPad screen.

But this Sabrina collection was not my favourite of them, and my daughters didn’t find it as appealing as I expected either (they adored other digital collections such as Betty’s Story Time and The Archie Wedding, and have become much bigger fans of the Josie and the Pussycats movie since realising that it’s part of this comics world). The stories here are readable enough, and there are a lot of them, but Sabrina in these comics just doesn’t have the zip that Melissa Joan Hart gave her on television. She lacks any strong personality traits – unless being able to cast spells counts as one – and she doesn’t face any real challenges in the stories.

If you’re looking for an Archie comic to hook children into reading, go for Betty, Veronica or Jughead instead.

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