Believe it or not, there are times when I’d like to just skip all the formalities and get straight to the reviews…
…but business comes before pleasure!
Yes, the grand Capcom tradition of having the most ridiculous hair this side of Final Fantasy lives on in both comic and video game form, but alas, there’s no time to throw hadoukens, as it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Magical Comics Reviews!
Here’s what I got this week…
…and in a moment, what I thought about them. But first, I’d just like to say that this is honestly one of the best weeks for new comics we’ve had in a while. There’s great stuff from guys like Paul Tobin, Jeff Parker and Phil Hester, Matt Fraction is in the middle of one of the most fun X-Men stories we’ve had in a long time, and even GI Joe Origins is Larry Hama at his fun, just-kooky-enough best. There’s even a couple of milestones for me personally, as the last issue of Birds of Prey ends its 108-month streak as the comic I’ve been reading the longest without stopping, and the arrival of Teenagers from the Future means that you can now buy something I wrote at your local comic book store! So yeah, a pretty good week.
But really, there’s only one comic that’s really important this time around.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch #100: It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the world of comic books, but truly, this is the end of an era.
Specifically, it’s the end of writer/artist Tania Del Rio’s tenure on the book, which redefined Sabrina not only in terms of its manga-influenced art, but in the fact that it abandoned the traditional gag strip format in favor of a more cohesive adventure story, which is something the folks over at Archie comics have very rarely attempted. They’ve been dabbling in it more recently with the “new look” story arcs, but while I have sincere doubts that they would’ve even gone that far without Del Rio’s success, they’re really just putting a fresh coat of paint on the same old stories.
With Sabrina, however, it was different. There are people who felt like the manga-style art (not to mention the similarly shojo-meets-Harry Potter direction of the stories themselves) was something of a slap in the face to Sabrina creator Dan DeCarlo–and it wouldn’t be the first one–but in reality, Del Rio was exactly what the book needed to avoid the stagnation that permeates the rest of the line.
Sabrina’s always been one of the more marketable corners of the Archie universe, and it’s worth noting that after the popular success and eventual decline of the live-action show starring Melissa Joan Hart, it was retooled again as a Saturday morning cartoon, with the current series launched as a tie-in that featured what are without a doubt some of the worst comics Archie has ever published. Seriously, they’re still running those things in Betty & Veronica Digest, and even by the formulaic standards of the rest of the line, they are darn near unreadable. Just think of the regular Archie comics, and then imagine what would happen if they tried to dumb them down even more.
The series was eventually reverted to the more traditional version of Sabrina–you know, the one where she’s actually a teenage witch–but the very nature of Archie comics limited what could be done with the character. After all, a teenage witch is a great gimmick, but even Jughead’s Time Police had a little forward momentum to allow things to play out, and by sticking to the time-capsule storytelling, interest was bound to fade. Thus, Tania Del Rio was brought in to capitalize on the growing success of manga among young readers by completely revamping the title, and while Archie missed the boat in typical fashion by only ever collecting one volume in trade, the result is something truly epic.
Really: Del Rio’s run on Sabrina lasted an incredible forty-two issues. In today’s market of twelve-issue written-for-the-trade runs, that’s almost unheard of, but to give you some historical context, it’s only three issues less than Walt Simonson on Thor, Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, or Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, all of which were, coincidentally, 45-issue runs. Although actually, now that I’m thinking of it, Thor had a few fill-ins, which means that Tania Del Rio did more on Sabrina than Walt Simonson did on Thor.
And she defined the character just as much. In her 42 issues, Sabrina not only juggled her dual lives and her romances with classic love interest Harvey and new, blue-haired Shinji, but also–and again, I am serious–joined a secret underground organization designed to overthrow the government of the magical realm. That’s right: Sabrina was an anarchist in a witchity secessionist militia, and that was before the unforgettable Duality Wands arc where she was briefly turned evil and started wiping people’s memories. Seriously, it was like Identity Crisis, only written by someone with talent.
And all of it has led up to this issue, the thundering climax of the story where the Four Blades unite with Queen Seles to stop Vosblanc from destroying the Mana Tree, and really, it’s got all the action you’d expect. Spells, explosions, Sabrina turning into a tiger and riding a flying carpet, hell, somebody dies in this story, and I’m pretty sure nobody’s gotten killed in an Archie Comic in like thirty years! It is nuts.
But it’s also pretty exciting, and it’s the kind of well-done climax that you can tell was neatly planned and years in the making. And while it does get a little maudlin at the end, well, it’s a shojo-style Sabrina the Teenage Witch; I think a little melodrama is to be expected. Either way, it’s a fitting end for Del Rio’s run, with a payoff that actually lives up to the stakes it raised along the way.
As for the future, well, the next arc on Sabrina is going to be a four-part story about Salem from not only before he was a cat–as Del Rio did a few months back in a story that proved to be the lynchpin of the whole Four Blades saga–but even before he was an evil wizard bent on world domination, which doesn’t really excite me, although there are lizardmen and swords involved, so who knows? And as for Del Rio herself, she’s apparently working on a new Katy Keene story, but for my money, I’d love to see her do an ongoing, movie-style Josie and the Pussycats. She did a few JATP backups in Archie & Friends a while back, and while I’m not sure how they went over with the fans, I think taking the characters as established rock stars and throwing them into adventures (in Persia, or maybe France) would be right up her alley.
Well, that or my long-awaited Crisis In Riverdale, but I’m still waiting to hear back on that one.
And that’s the week. As always, feel free to add to the discussion in the comments section below, but please: Sabrina-related questions only.