Ah, Archie comics, as American as Apple Pie, Baseball and Milkshakes, they formed a big part of my life growing up as I benefitted not only from my Mum's 1960's comic collection, but also some 1980's "digest" editions I picked up on a trip to the States. Largely fun, light-hearted tales about teenage life, the comic occasionally introduced new characters to the core Riverdale cast to freshen things up, and Sabrina was one such resident - originally a white-haired, bob-sporting teen, she soon graduated to her own stories.
As a peripheral Archie character, Sabrina has fared remarkebly well in recent years, with a hit live-action TV show and a cartoon incarnation long before a certain boy wizard made his debut. This manga-inspired version by Tania del Reo initially turned up around 2004, and this collection is the first of (presumably) 4, since it collects 10 of the first 43 issues to recieve the manga makeover.
American manga (well, any non-Japanese manga-style artwork) tends to incite hackles, and despite the very fetching cover, Tania's artwork is unlikely to sway many from finding it inferior. This is a shame, because on its own merits the artwork is excellent - it conveys movement and emotion deftly from panel to panel, character designs are largely imaginative & distinctive and the narrative flow is excellent. But it still stands out a mile as an imitation of another art form, there's just something about Japense manga that's hard to imitate for Westerners.
The plot, for those unfamiliar with Sabrina, revolves around Sabrina Spellman, a witch living in the mortal realm who attends schools both on Earth and in the magical realm (not sure when she sleeps actually!). She has romantic interests in both worlds, with the nice-but-unaware Earthbound Harvey, and the cocky young wizrd Shinji.
Unlike the core Archie titles, which are usually self-contained stories that reset the status-quo at the end of each tale, The Magic Within weaves a narrative through a series of stories that progress the plot. Although this first book is light on overarching plot, there are some morsels inserted that will come into play later, and it's a gentle, fun introduction to the slightly skewed Sabrina world in which Tania sets her tale.
It would be easy to dismiss Sabrina as a gimmick designed to broaden a characters appeal through what was, at the time, seen as a popular fad. And while it is that, it's also a very solid, entertaining book that deserves to be read on its own merits. Being an Archie book, it has no fan-service or ample bosoms to detract from the story, and in this alone it's a refreshing take on a genre that includes Rosario + Vampire, Negima et al. Give the book a go, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Writer/Artist: Tania del Rio