Warning: Massive spoilers ahead.
At the end of the sixth issue of Afterlife with Archie, Sabrina the Teenage Witch gets married to Cthulhu.
Just take a minute to let that settle in. Because this development marks the moment where a great comic transformed itself to something truly special, one for the (apparently dark) ages.
When we last saw Sabrina, she had her mouth removed, Twilight Zone-style, by her aunts and was banished to a creepy netherworld for using witchcraft to resurrect Hot Dog and inadvertently kickstarting the zombie apocalypse. It happens. This latest issue of Afterlife with Archiedoesn’t show us any of her time in that haunted limbo, instead focusing on a very different Sabrina as she recovers in a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown brought on by the death of her two aunts in a fire. But as the doctors attempt to convince her that the visions of monsters she keeps seeing aren’t real, she begins to question her true identity…culminating with Sabrina meeting her dark fate. But more on that in a minute.
While trying to unravel the mysteries about her past and the disquieting hospital she has been recovering in, Sabrina begins to uncover the shocking truth about her situation and how alone she truly is. This journey for the usually unflappable character is fascinating to watch. Even without her powers, Sabrina is still a brilliant force to be reckoned with and, after a run-in with a fellow patient, she uses her smarts to figure out the horrible for her/delightful for readers truth about what is really going on.
Unlike previous installments, this issue doesn’t feature Archie and the gang. By focusing solely on Sabrina here, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa pulls the rug out from readers by making them wonder if the entire “Escape from Riverdale” cycle was just a dark dream. It also serves to shine a light on what exactly Sabrina has been doing while the only home she knows has been falling apart in her absence. However, soon you realize that the world has far greater things to worry about than a small town overrun by zombies. Yes friends, the second Afterlife with Archie arc (ominously titled “Betty R.I.P.”) shows that there are other terrors in the world than just brainless automatons seeking to eat flesh. Here, Lovercraftian monsters are introduced. And they are glorious. Broadening their supernatural palette, Aguirre-Sacasa and artists Francesco Francavilla have exponentially expanded the book’s creative potential. Oh yeah, and the comic has now fully embraced its most shithouse bonkers aspects. It is letting its freak flag fly and is all the better for it.
Francavilla’s art here is at a series best. His monsters –culiminating with a jaw-dropping splash page of that most terrible of Old Gods, Cthulhu — are full of ghastly detail that reinforce how Francavilla is the most talented artist in the industry today. In the book’s letters section, Aguirre-Sacasa declares that he and Francavilla are absolute H.P. Lovecraft fanatics. But more than that, each subsequent issue illustrates their combined passion for the horror genre as a whole. (The Wicker Man is referenced repeatedly here, and spotting the nods to other horror classics is quickly becoming a pasttime for Afterlife with Archie readers). This issue’s Hammer Horror meets American Horror Story by way of Lovecraft may be a full of familiar patiches, yet it is one that makes readers eaglerly anticipate each new development in this bold twisted Archieverse. Things keep getting scarier in each new issue, and that is a wonderful thing.
It should be noted that this issue features a brief preview of Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Robert Hack’s upcoming Sabrina ongoing series. If the pages featured here are any indication, the comic will be another unmissable addition to Archie’s ongoing horror stable. Albeit one that trades in zombies and ancient gods for Rosemary’s Baby-esque psychological chills. Bring it on.