By now, anyone who’s seen or read anything about Chilling Adventures of Sabrina knows that this isn’t your old-school teenage witch. Although the new Netflix series features the same characters as the ’90s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch, this version has different genre touchstones. In fact, one of the big inspirations for CAOS’ occult aesthetic seems to be Neil Gaiman’s iconic comic The Sandman — as seen in the new dynamic between Sabrina’s aunts, Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis).
Co-created by Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg, The Sandman focuses on the character Dream, who is the king of dreams and the living embodiment of storytelling. Dream rules over the Dreaming, the collective subconscious where living beings’ minds drift during sleep. Dream has many attendants among the Dreaming’s permanent inhabitants, but two of the most prominent are Cain and Abel. They are, indeed, the infamous brothers from that early Bible story. In fact, having committed “the first murder,” Cain and Abel are forced to relive it for all of time. As they appear in The Sandman, Cain has a tendency to kill Abel anytime his brother annoys him. Considering that Cain is gruff and irritable, while Abel is shy and timid, this happens quite a lot.
Every time Cain kills Abel, though, it’s only a matter of hours before the original murder victim comes back to life. This same dynamic is replicated by Zelda and Hilda in CAOS. In the second episode, after Zelda overhears Hilda tell Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) that she sometimes regrets signing the Dark Lord’s book, the older sister retaliates by killing Hilda in broad daylight. When Sabrina’s warlock cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) returns to the Spellman house later in the day, he finds Zelda burying her sister. After a few hours, though, Hilda digs herself out of her grave and walks back to the house, having been thoroughly chastised.
There are a few clues that indicate this Sandman homage is intentional. First of all, the plot where Zelda buries Hilda in the Spellman mortuary is called the Cain Pit. Then there’s the fact that in the second episode of CAOS, the very same one in which Zelda dispatches Hilda for the first time, Ambrose name-checks Gaiman as one of his favorite comic writers (along with Gaiman’s fellow Brits Alan Moore and Grant Morrison) during a conversation with aspiring comic artist Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch).
CAOS is also based on a recent comic of the same name, which was written by showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. At the very start of his foreword to the collected edition of the CAOS comic, Aguirre-Sacasa invokes Sandman as a primary influence. “After the success of Afterlife With Archie, I pitched Archie Comics’ CEO and Publisher Jon Goldwater a companion horror series about Sabrina, the teenage witch,” he writes. “‘If Afterlife was my love letter to Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing,’ I said, ‘Sabrina would be a love letter to Sandman.’” The CAOS comic was set in the ’60s, but while the show moved its events up to the present day, it’s clearly kept the Sandman influence.
Zelda and Hilda aren’t the only ones invoking The Sandman’s influence these days. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo recently included Dream in their Dark Nights: Metal superhero crossover for DC Comics. Then, this fall, Sandman comics returned in a big way with the launch of the Sandman Universe line at DC, which includes four related comics: The Dreaming, House of Whispers, Lucifer, and The Books of Magic. Cain and Abel appear in The Dreaming, where they are still up to their old habits of murder and resurrection.