When we think of Sabrina Spellman, often the first thing to come to mind is the hit 90s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch starring Melissa Joan Hart. Teenage Witch was based on the 1960s comic series of the same name and is mostly about Sabrina attending a regular high school and trying to keep her powers a secret, despite frequently using them to help people out – which usually lands her in some kind of trouble or amusing situation.
After the success of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s horror-themed Archie Afterlife comic series, it seemed only fair that Sabrina should also get the spooky treatment. So in 2014, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was published. This version of Sabrina is a reimagining, set in the 60s like the Teenage Witch comics but with some dark, sinister twists.
Then with Netflix’s success with Riverdale, an adaptation of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was a no-brainer. But there are huge differences between the comic and the show. The show is more topical, covering modern day issues. Other characters and major storylines have been fleshed out, making it a better choice for television. There is also the addition of completely new characters and plotlines, with references to many classic horror flicks including “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist”. The comics, however, are much darker and dare to go where the show doesn’t.
At their core both the Netflix show and the comic series are about a half-witch, half-mortal, 15-year-old girl whom must make the most important decision of her life when she turns 16. She must choose whether to walk the path of night and live as a witch, or walk the path of light and live amongst the mortals. Ultimately this is a story about freedom of choice – but there are those who are out to manipulate Sabrina for personal gain.
Here are thirteen ways in which the Netflix show takes different paths from the comics.
1. Edward and Diana Spellman
In the show, Edward and Diana’s relationship is portrayed as romantic. Marrying a mortal was forbidden in the Church of Night but Edward and Diana were granted special permission. Even so, many members of the coven frowned upon their union. When Sabrina was young, they died in a tragic automobile accident. Her mother is stuck in limbo with unfinished business but appears in spirit to Sabrina several times.
The story behind Sabrina’s parents in the comics is a lot darker. Edward is a bit of a playboy ,as well as being a high priest of the Church of Night. He visits “The Weird Sisters”, a trio of old, wise witches and they tell him that he must breed with a mortal woman to “keep the gene pool fresh” and by doing so he will father a daughter. So, he marries Diana, a mortal woman and then after she gives birth to Sabrina, he snatches his daughter away so she could be raised the traditional way, by witches. To cover his tracks, he erases Diana’s memory and then commits her to a psychiatric institution for the rest of her life. Soon after, Edwards sisters Hilda and Zelda discover that he has been deceiving the church by pretending to summon Satan. In actual fact he has been summoning a shape shifting demon who disguises herself as Satan. As punishment they trap Edward inside a large tree in the middle of a forest and then raise Sabrina themselves. All is going according to plan until Madam Satan helps raise Edward’s soul, so he is free again…
2. Madam Satan/Iola
Madam Satan is almost as central to the story as Sabrina. Her role in the show is somewhat confusing as she plays the part of both friend and foe.
She is first seen on the side of the road hitching a ride from Mrs. Porter the school teacher, only to murder the poor woman and inhabit her body. Madam Satan then makes it her mission to ensure Sabrina chooses the path of night. We are not told what Madam Satan has to gain from all this, only that she is doing Satan’s bidding. At the end of season 1 she goes to great lengths to manipulate Sabrina into signing the Book of the Beast.
In the comics Madam Satan’s interest in Sabrina has nothing to do with Satan, but rather revenge. Many years earlier Madam Satan actually used to be a witch named Iola and was dating Sabrina’s father. She thought they would be together forever but instead, he announced one day that he would be leaving her for Diana, a mortal, and (then later) Sabrina’s mother. Madam Satan does not take the news well and as revenge she dramatically commits suicide by throwing herself into the lions’ cage at the zoo and allowing the creatures to tear her to pieces. She thought after this she would be at peace, instead she is banished to pits of Gehenna, the circle of hell reserved for suicides, where she remains for the next 16 years until Betty and Veronica accidentally raise her.
3. The Weird Sisters
Much like their namesakes, The Weird Sisters in Macbeth, this trio of witches has only a very minor role in the comics. They prophesize that Edward will father a child who is “less than a witch and more”.
The Weird Sisters in the show play a much bigger part. They are a trio of orphans named Agatha, Dorcas and Prudence, who have bonded together to form a sisterhood and wear matching dresses modelled on one of the main dresses worn by the title character in “Rosemary’s Baby”. They take the place of several characters from the comics including Betty and Veronica and Sabrina’s school rival, Rosalind. They are almost like magic “queen bees”, tormenting Sabrina at every opportunity for being a “half breed” – they put a curse on her, and when she attends The Academy of Unseen Arts, they carry out harrowing rituals. They are also responsible for the death of Harvey’s brother. But later, they help Sabrina bring him back with a resurrection spell.
4. Betty and Veronica
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina timeline does not cross over with the Netflix Riverdale series. But there is a crossover between the “Archie Afterlife” comics and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, in the form of Betty and Veronica, who appear as cheerleading amateur witches.
They are responsible for accidentally raising Madam Satan from the pits of Gehenna, when they had simply been attempting to summon a demon. Later on, Madam Satan calls upon them to help when Sabrina is on trial with the witches’ council and then again when Sabrina wants to raise Harvey from the dead. They bring a more fun, light-hearted element to the story which we don’t see with the weird sisters in the show.
5. Harvey Kinkle
The Harvey of the Netflix series is a sensitive guy. He spends his time drawing comics, reading, and hanging out with Sabrina and her friends. He lives with his brother and alcoholic father and they own the mines on the edge of town. The Weird Sisters discover that Harvey’s family are descendants of witch hunters. As punishment for their doings they cast a spell and cause the mines (where Harveys family work) to collapse, killing Harveys brother in the process. In the comics it isn’t Harvey’s brother who dies, but Harvey himself (more on that later).
Harvey is more of an alpha male in the comics, he is a good-looking jock and a star of the Baxter High football team. Sabrina and Ambrose cast a spell to get his attention, it works and then he and Sabrina end up dating for the next two years. In typical American-sixties-high school-fashion, Harvey is pressuring Sabrina to “go all the way”, and is planning on asking her to marry him on her 16th birthday.
In the 90s television series Sabrina the Teenage Witch”Salem pretty much stole the show with his mischievous nature and witty one liners but he has a more subtle presence in Chilling Adventures.
In the Netflix show, familiars are goblins who assume the shape of an animal and form a bond with a witch or warlock, offering mutual protection. In what is a nice touch, Sabrina puts out the black magic equivalent of a personal ad looking for a familiar and Salem signs up for the job. He communicates only through meowing.
In the comics, however, Salem is a gift given to Sabrina by her aunts on her 6th birthday. She really wants a puppy, but Zelda says, “dogs aren’t nearly smart enough”. Similar to the 90s sitcom, Salem is not a goblin in the form of a cat but rather a human, trapped in a cat’s body. However, where the sitcom and the comics differ is how Salem came to be in this predicament. In the sitcom his cat form was a punishment for attempting to take over the world. But in the “Chilling Adventures” comics he was once a man named Samuel, but he was turned into a cat by a scorned witch. After the Salem witch trials Satan appeared to Samuel, and renamed him “Salem” as a reminder of what happened there. He then grants Salem the power to speak so that he can better serve witches.
7. Sabrina’s friends
In the comics Sabrina is not portrayed as having a group of friends. Instead she has Rosalind who is her rival. Before Sabrina started at Baxter High, Rosalind was the “Queen Bee” with an eye on Harvey. But as a teen witch Sabrina quickly dethrones her by becoming Harveys girlfriend and then competing with Rosalind for everything from popularity to the lead role in the school play. We know that Rosalind is out to get Sabrina by constantly spreading rumours about her, but it is hinted at that there is more to Rosalind than just schoolyard bitchiness. Sabrina has a dream where her mother is warning her about Rosalind.
In the show, Sabrina’s friends serve a much more central role. They are also used to highlight topical, real-life issues such as discrimination, disabilities, transgenderism and acceptance. Rosalind is Sabrina’s best friend, not a rival, who knows her witch identity but accepts her anyway. Then there is Susie, a transsexual who identifies as a boy and is the victim of relentless bullying as a result. Sabrina’s friends are strong feminists, they stage a protest against banned books and even start a club called WICCA (Women’s Intersectional Cultural and Creative Association).
Ambrose is Sabrina’s cousin from London who is under house arrest and staying with Sabrina and her aunts to be rehabilitated. In the comics Ambros’ crime was revealing his true, warlock self to a mortal. After a mortal short sheeted his bed at a boarding school, Ambrose used magic to remove the mortal’s hands. Ambrose has a pair of cobras, familiars he inherited from one of his ancestors, the author Rudyard Kipling.
In the show Ambrose is guilty of a completely different crime: decades ago he and his friends conspired to blow up the Vatican. As part of his punishment he is not allowed to have a familiar for the duration of his house arrest.
9. Father Blackwood
One of the more interesting additions to the show is the character Father Blackwood. Much like The Weird Sisters he takes the place of several different characters from the comics and neatly ties up plot threads, as well as introducing a few storylines of his own.
Father Blackwood is the high priest of the church of night and headmaster at the Academy of Unseen Arts. He and Madam Satan are working together to manipulate Sabrina into signing the Book of the Beast and leaving her friends and the mortal world behind her. The question is, if Sabrina chooses the path of night, what is in it for Father Blackwood?
10. The Baptism
In both versions Sabrina is to take part in a dark baptism on her 16th birthday, where she will sign her name in blood and her soul will then belong to Satan. In the show, when Sabrina arrives at the altar, she discovers she has been deceived: she had been told by Father Blackwood that even by signing her soul over to Satan she would still get to maintain her free will, however, this is not the case. After having a vision of her parents telling her not to sign and to run away, she dramatically runs away from the ritual.
The dark baptism is an even more exciting affair in the comics: Sabrina rides to the alter where she is to be baptised, on a goat. She then must slaughter the goat in order to conjure the dark lord. Sabrina is all set to sign the book when she is interrupted, by HARVEY of all people, he was tricked into turning up by madam who told him that Sabrina has been going into the woods at night to cheat on him. Harvey is not welcome at the baptism because he is a male and because he is mortal. His presence will greatly offend Satan and so a human sacrifice must be made to make amends. Sabrina tells Harvey to run away but one of the witches catches him and kills him.
11. The Academy of the Unseen Arts
The Academy is barely present in the comics, but it is a welcome addition to the show – it’s a boarding school for witches and warlocks, kind of like an evil Hogwarts. Much of the architecture in the Academy of the Unseen Arts is reminiscent of the surreal sets Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film “Suspiria”. At the beginning of the comics Sabrina’s aunts decide to home school her in the dark arts and send her to public school for her academic education. Meanwhile much of the show centres around Sabrina’s school life while she attends both High School in the mortal world and the Academy of the Unseen Arts in the witch world.
In both versions Sabrina must decide on her 16th birthday whether or not to be baptised and be a witch or to lead a mortal life, in the comics however, she never has to choose to completely cut off contact with the mortals in her life should she choose to be baptised.
12. The Trial
After her abrupt departure from her own dark baptism, Sabrina is called to stand trial before the witches’ council: she is sued by the Greendale Coven for breaking her promise to sign the Book of the Beast. It is then revealed that her father already signed her name when she was a baby and that her mother secretly had her baptised in the Christian church. As a result, it is decided that for the time being Sabrina will be permitted to walk both the path of light and the path of night, attending both Baxter High and The Academy of the Unseen Arts for her education.
In the comics Sabrina stands on trial not for running away, but for allowing a mortal male to be present at the baptism – even though she had no idea Harvey would show up. Sabrina must pass 2 tests in order to prove her innocence and then she can walk free. Firstly, she must place her hand in “the hot coals of truth”, without her skin burning. Secondly, a large needle must pass through her hand without drawing a single drop of blood – Sabrina passes both tests unscathed thanks to Betty and Veronica. Madam Satan casts a spell which causes them to be injured by the 2 tests of truth instead of Sabrina.
13. The Resurrection
After the weird sisters perform a magic ritual and cause the mines to collapse, killing Harvey’s brother in the process, Sabrina decides to resurrect him. She calls upon the help of The Weird Sisters, they perform a chant and then Sabrina slits Agatha’s throat in order to make a sacrifice. However, she then buries the body in enchanted soil so Agatha will come back to life. But because she has messed with the dark arts and tried to cheat Satan by not offering a true sacrifice the ritual goes horribly awry. In an homage to Stephen Kings Pet Sematary, Harvey’s brother comes back, but he comes back wrong, a sort of human shell, a zombie without all the brain eating. Agatha meanwhile returns from the dead, but she is also not herself either and she is coughing up dirt.
The resurrection ritual takes an even darker turn in the comics as Sabrina is raising Harvey, rather than his brother, so she is more emotionally invested. After Harvey’s death, Sabrina decides she can’t live without him, so she performs a resurrection with the help of Madam Satan, Betty and Veronica (since they have experience raising people from the dead). But what they conjure up is not Harvey. Well, not exactly. Harveys body returns but instead of housing Harvey, Sabrina’s father, Edward now lives there. Things take an even darker twist as Edward then begins posing as Harvey, even going so far as to make out with his daughter. Meanwhile, nobody has told Sabrina that for Harvey (or Edward in Harveys body) to be back amongst the living there needs to be a sacrifice…
Judging by the promos, season 2 of the show looks like it is set to be darker, edgier, and more in line with the source material. After signing the Book of the Beast at the end of season 1, Sabrina appears to have embraced the path of night, walking the Academy halls with The Weird Sisters. Will she completely leave the mortal world behind and lead the life her father had planned for her? Where will Sabrina’s decision to join the witch world leave her relationship with Harvey? It is possible she will follow in her father’s footsteps in more ways than one and choose to be in a relationship with a mortal.
Now that she is a more powerful witch, even resembling her white-haired persona in the comics, will Salem gain the power to speak so he can better serve her?
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