"The Final Battle" (part 3)
Sigh. Itís over. Tania Del Rioís magnificent manga-ized Sabrina the Teenage Witch run ends with this issue. And what an issue it is! The fate of the Magic Realm hangs in the balance as Sabrina and her allies face off against the evil Vosblanc and the misguided citizens of the Realm. Battles, heroics, and sacrifices abound as Sabrina shows her mettle as a leader, witch, and friend. The teenagerís maturation from an unsure girl to a confident young woman over the course of this series has to be one of the most satisfying character arcs Iíve read. Plotwise, Del Rio ties up the storylineís loose ends, answering questions such as where Sabrinaís amped up powers came from and explaining the connection between Queen Seles and the traitor Hemlock and between Vosblanc and Sabrina.
In an issue full of wonderful moments, three stand out Ė and two of them donít even feature Sabrina! The first is the scene between the badly injured, perhaps dying, Shinji and Hemlock. As the battle rages around them, the two teens who used to be a couple and whoíve become enemies share a moment of honesty. Their dialogue rings true to their characters as portrayed throughout the series. Itís a conversation that can only be had by two people who have a history and it gives readers a deeper insight into who Shinji and Hemlock are.
The second moment involves Seles. For most of the story arc the Queen has remained behind her fan, hiding from her subjects even when appearing before them. Here she strides barefaced to Sabrinaís side, confessing that she is in fact powerless and that she supports Sabrina and the Four Blades. Itís a stunning moment of honesty from a woman whoís risked the realmís welfare many times over in an effort to protect her pride.
The third moment is all Sabrinaís as she makes a difficult choice at a crucial moment. Her decision shows just how far sheís come from the witch who casually used her magic for her own benefit at the beginning of Del Rioís run.
My one complaint with this issue is its length. Or rather its lack of length. If any issue deserved to be double-sized, it was the 100th. Twenty-three pages were just too few. While the character moments, in general, donít come across as cramped, the actual battle does. If Del Rio had only had a few more pages to show the various characters in action it would have helped the issue feel more balanced.
The splashpage depicting one of the battle scenes, though beautifully done and capturing the chaotic feel of events happening at a breakneck pace, demonstrates the point. The eye is immediately drawn to the central, horned figure menacing a retreating, but still fighting, Sabrina. From there it moves counter-clockwise to the cat Salem, gleefully attacking. The eye then moves up to Vosblanc and the figures behind him. His magic flashes across the page, drawing attention to Llandraís vine attack against Council Member Galiena. The layout is clear, dramatic, and easy to follow, but for all of that, itís only one page. It would have added immensely to the drama and tension of the story to see each of those battles in a bit more detail. I would have loved to see Llandra, Salem, Zelda, and Batty cut loose and Iím sure other readers would have too.
The contribution of Jason Jensenís colors to this series can not be ignored. The jeweled-tones heís used have established the magic of the Magic Realm as much as its design.
Del Rio gives readers a satisfying ending to the saga, though itís not so final that it couldnít be revisited should Archie Comics want to follow up on it in the future. For the moment though, it looks like Sabrina will be relegated to reprints in the companyís digests. However, on the plus side, fans have 42 issues to reread and enjoy. Now if Archie would just collect them in manga-sized volumes.
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