There’s always been a strange dichotomy to horror as a genre. There’s the real, hard-edged, genuinely scary stuff, but also the cheesy and hilarious, where we delight in the misfortune of the characters we watch instead of fearing for them. But where things get really interesting is when those lines get blurred, intentionally or not. That’s when you get scary things coming from places you wouldn’t expect, or the unintentional comedy that comes from something trying really hard to be scary.
With October being the designated month for all things spooky, and Halloween just hours away, now’s the perfect time to consider two of the most interesting horror comic books that debuted this month: Archie’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 and Boom! Studios Memetic #1.
First, the obvious: Yes, it’s that Sabrina. The teenage witch that Melissa Joan Hart made famous on television has a new comic book, and it is genuinely, surprisingly creepy. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa with art by Robert Hack, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes the familiar premise from the original 1962 Archie character that was created by George Gladir and Dan DeCarlo (which was kept more or less intact for the 1996 TV show), with one major difference: What if it were scary?
Everything you know about Sabrina Spellman is the same: A half-witch who lives with her 600-year-old aunts and a talking cat tries to live a normal teen life. But instead of playing the witchcraft up for comedy, Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack go for straight horror, choosing to open on a creepy prologue showing the occult circumstances surrounding Sabrina’s birth and having her powers manifest in unsettling ways. It’s also a period piece—the comic is set in the ’60s, and it contributes to the creepy, otherworldly atmosphere that the book pulls off exceptionally well.
Of course, none of it would be successful without Robert Hack’s delightfully eerie art. His heavy linework and limited color palette that, outside of a few select items—a pair of blue jeans, a girl’s red hair and lipstick—covers everything in an orange wash that gives even mundane interactions a sense of foreboding.
If you’ve been following Archie Comics recently, none of this will surprise you—the company’s Afterlife with Archie, does the same thing to equal success, telling a really good, genuinely creepy zombie story using the Archie cast. But it’s hard to shake the idea that part of what makes Sabrina such a satisfying horror story is the way it delightfully plays against assumptions. It’s right there on the cover—Sabrina’s grim face peering out of a window gives way to a horrific-yet-stunning tableau that instantly tells readers that yes, things are going to get spooky.
On the other end of the spectrum is Memetic, by James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan. Like Sabrina, if you were to describe it simply—an internet meme goes viral, causing everyone who looks at it to feel immense euphoria, and then go stark raving mad exactly 12 hours later—it sounds quite silly, although for very different reasons. But the desired effect seems elusive—while that’s a seriously creepy premise (really, anyone who spends a considerable amount of time on the internet has to shudder just a little bit at the thought), it’s not hard to see someone finding the story hilarious throughout.
That’s not to say Memetic is by any means a bad comic—it’s quite excellent, really. Frightening, even. Tynion’s script is well-paced, and Donovan’s art, while it doesn’t establish any sort of heavy atmosphere, is expressive and pleasant right up until the point at which people start bleeding through their eyes and turn murderous. Although it initially seems to focus on a certain Luddite paranoia, there’s something about contagion stories that are endlessly fascinating and terrifying (as illustrated by the continued popularity of The Walking Dead).
Memetic is a three-issue miniseries, so regardless of whether you find its premise genuinely scary or totally hilarious, it’s a taut, fun story that won’t waste any time. At the very least, it’ll remind future generations that before the internet, going viral was not a good thing.