[Editor's Note: Welcome to Archie's House of Horror! We're thrilled and chilled to team up with Archie Comics for this recurring column written by Jamie L. Rotante, writer and Senior Director of Editorial at Archie Comics. Each column takes a closer look at the ever-expanding world of Archie Horror, with this month's column focusing on Chilling Adventures Presents... Madam Satan: Hell On Earth, now available from Archie Comics!]
All hail the antihero.
The idea of an antihero has always been one that’s appealed to me. Grey areas, especially in morality, make for dynamic storytelling and sometimes, even if we don’t want to admit it, relatable characters.
In horror, villains are often more memorable than heroes—after all, you’re more likely to wear a Freddy Krueger costume for Halloween than a white cropped football jersey, but that doesn’t mean that even the worst villains aren’t without their own tragic backstories. However, a tragic backstory does not necessarily make a villain worthy of sympathy. If their actions are purely guided by evil without remorse, then does it really matter if their background dictates it? This doesn’t change what happens to their victims, it only adds context that’s merely for the viewer or reader’s entertainment. Antiheroes, however, can often be worthy of both sympathy and adoration, while still giving themselves over to their worst impulses.
A bit of context for the uninitiated: an antihero is not the same as an antagonist, though it can be a villain, depending on your perspective. Antiheroes are doomed to fail before they even begin whatever mission they embark on, though their persistence is often unyielding. They can offer critiques of reality and society, while also being focused squarely on their own personal motives and (an often warped) moral code.
Some of the most iconic characters in film and comics are antiheroes. Spawn is literally spawned from Hell, but his righteousness is as furious as his need for revenge. Light Yagami, aka Kira, from Death Note uses his powers to rid the world of only the worst evils. The Crow works the “reborn” to enact revenge on those who have killed them. Vigilante justice and antiheroes often go hand-in-hand. But antiheroes do not need only to be vigilantes. While the latter often work outside the law for the greater good, the former does good without noble methods, often struggling with many internal conflicts. Think of it sort of like the road to Heaven being filled with bad intentions, substituting Heaven for whatever the antihero’s primary goal happens to be.
Is there an antihero in Archie Comics’ vast library of characters? Certainly, it would seem that in the multitude of iterations of these characters, many could be considered antiheroes in whatever strange, alternate reality they land themselves in. However, there is a universal truth when it comes to at least the core Archie characters: do no harm. Archie may be clumsy, but his intentions are good. Betty and Veronica may let their fight for Archie’s affection cloud their judgment and actions, but they’ll always put their friendship first at the end of the day and do what’s best for each other. Jughead’s unyielding quest to satiate his hunger doesn’t stop him from being a moral compass, especially for his best friend, Archie. Hell, even Reggie Mantle on his worst days is a mischievous prankster whose primary goal is just getting attention. Okay, in his case maybe he’s just more of a villain since his intentions can be murky at best.
All that said, to find a true antihero in Archie, you’ll have to dig into the expanded cast of characters, especially those in the Archie Horror-verse. And if Spawn is any indicator, it is entirely possible that someone who comes from the underworld can be considered one. In that case, it makes perfect sense that Madam Satan would be Archie’s foremost frontrunner for the title of “tragic antihero.”
Madam Satan is, interestingly enough, one of Archie Comics’ earliest characters, debuting all the way back in Pep Comics #14, in May 1941. Originally named Tyra, Madam Satan was first just a cold-blooded figure who murdered the parents of her wealthy fiancé when they were onto her schemes to marry him just for his money. Before they succumb to her poisoning, his parents let him know that their deaths are at her hands, and in the ensuing fight between Tyra and her fiancé, she falls on her own knife and dies. Her spirit is summoned by Satan, who makes her his partner (the whole “Madam Satan” thing makes sense now, doesn’t it?). On his orders, Tyra returns to Earth, now with the name Iola, to wreak havoc on mankind. She does this with powers of hypnotic control (thanks to the skulls in the eyes of her green-skulled face), shapeshifting, teleportation, and her deadly kiss.
But enough about the past. What about the Madam Satan of the present?
She made her big return in the last pages of CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #1 in October 2014, once again as Iola, but this time as a witch and the former flame of Edward Spellman, aka Sabrina’s warlock father, who mercilessly ditched her for Diana Sawyer, aka Sabrina’s human mother. Heartbroken by this, Iola threw herself into a lion pen to be devoured alive. Landing in the pits of Gehenna, she remained there until accidentally summoned to Earth by a few meddling kids dabbling in incantations.
On Earth, Madam Satan literally steals the face off a poor, unsuspecting woman and, beautiful again, sets her sights on reuniting with her former lover. Putting an end to Edward’s miserable existence and trapping Diana in an asylum, Madam Satan has only one last target: their child, the half-mortal, half-witch Sabrina. She does this by donning the new alias of Evangeline Porter and posing as a teacher at Baxter High School in Greendale.
In the most recent iterations of her story, masterfully told by the fantastic writer Eliot Rahal with gorgeous and haunting art first from Julius Ohta and later Vincenzo Federici, Madam Satan finds herself banished to Hell, desperately trying to make her way back to Earth, more specifically to Greendale and Baxter High, to finish what she’s started. In her journey, as seen in the one-shots MADAM SATAN (2020), CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SORCERY (2021), THE RETURN OF CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SORCERY (2022), and today’s release, MADAM SATAN: HELL ON EARTH, she’s met various lost souls along the way, telling their stories as she positions herself back at Baxter High. But now, Hell has come for Madam Satan, and she’s once again fleeing from the demons who only want to see her sitting pretty on a throne in the underworld, not living her truth and finishing her story.
In this case, the road from Hell is paved with, well, maybe not good intentions, but certainly self-justified ones.
It might seem like with all the information presented, it’s hard to categorize Madam Satan as solely an antihero and not just a true villain. I am still inclined to call her the former. She’s not without her faults, but even at her worst she’s got a purpose, no matter how misguided it may be. And she’ll do anything to achieve her goals.
The Tyra/Iola of yore may have been driven by selfish intentions, only roaming the Earth for evil, but the current Madam Satan is a lot more complex. She’s been hurt in ways so few could possibly imagine. At her core she just wants to be loved; she wants to matter. Despite her quest for beauty, she wants to be more than just a pretty face. She is Tyra/Iola/Evangeline Porter/Madam Satan. A woman without anything that truly belongs to her, save for her trusty crow companion. She is without an identity, and no matter how much adoration she receives in Hell, it will never truly feel like it’s hers. A villain? Sure, in many ways. There’s something hauntingly beautiful and, dare I say it again, relatable about someone’s passioned journey to be relevant, to matter, to feel complete.
If that’s not what you’d consider a tragic antihero, I don’t know what is.
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After Madam Satan waged war on Baxter High, Hell descended upon earth, and even she isn’t safe. Madam Satan seeks refuge from the forces of Lucifer in a random suburban home… and who she meets there is surprising. But is this powerful person a friend or foe? And can the two of them work together to summon Eldritch Terrors and stop Satan’s rampage?
Script: Eliot Rahal
Art: Vincenzo Federici
Colors: Ellie Wright
Letters: Jack Morelli
Cover: Vincenzo Federici
Variant Cover: Soo Lee
On Sale Date: 9/20
32-page, full color comic
Cover by Vincenzo Federici:
Variant Cover by Soo Lee: