September 7, 2022

By: Jonah Hoffmann

The witch is a pop culture staple appearing in various media types with real-life roots that are every bit as unsettling as the stories depicted in literature and film. The narrative of the powerful woman using magic for primarily nefarious means has haunted humanity for thousands of years. Accusations of witchcraft have plagued women, and men to a lesser extent, for various reasons but all connect to a larger history of patriarchy, violence, and power. In this series we explore the witch in comic books and highlight those characters that subscribe to some of the more traditional tropes assigned to this enduring figure.

Rowan Black

The marriage of neo-noir and occult horror brings the world of Rowan Black to life amidst a backdrop of gritty grayscale. Through her narrative the reader is guided across an array of themes from human nature and morality to questions concerning the supernatural. A world of predominantly black and white is only disrupted by the occasional hint of color; a direct call to the magic that proves things are never only two-dimensional.

Black Magick is a comic book series published by Image Comics and created by the team of writer Greg Rucka and artist Nicola Scott. Set in the town of Portsmouth located somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, the story of police detective Rowan Black begins as a crime thriller before blossoming into a world of supernatural horrors. The delicate balance between reality and the unknown begin to blur as Detective Black finds her two worlds becoming dangerously close to intersecting fully.

Though existing within a modern setting, the traditional aspects of witchcraft and perception of the typical witch remain intact. Throughout the series the reader is taken to rituals and coven meetings deep in the woods that would make the early modern individual quake with fear. As she sets wards and casts spells for protection of those she loves, Rowan is followed by her familiar; a talking black cat named Hawthorne. Magic is never treated as a superpower to be envied but rather a familial inheritance that speaks to larger themes of how the direction of our lives may sometimes be predetermined by forces beyond our control.

Memories of those before her falling victim to persecution, being burned at the stake, and the inherited challenges that come with retaining these experiences all make for a compelling, yet heartbreaking, narrative. Equal parts entrancing and horrifying, this series expertly deals with the themes of intergenerational trauma and the trials that come with possession of power and responsibility.

*This is a series aimed at older readers with mature themes and images.


Black Magic Key Issues

  • Black Magic #1 (2015) – Premiere issue that introduces the reader to main and supporting characters as well as reveals the magical realm existing within the physical world.
  • Black Magic #6 (2017) – Explores the reality of witches in the world and elaborates on the history of Rowan Black and her lineage.
  • Black Magic #11 (2018) – The true enemy is revealed.
  • Black Magic #14 (2020) The battle between demons and witches comes to a head as the story comes to a close.


Emmy Crawford

Harrow County is a comic book series published by Dark Horse Comics that ran from 2015 to 2018. Writer Cullen Bunn and artist Tyler Crook created the series based in no small part around Bunn’s upbringing in rural North Carolina and the area’s rich folklore. The influence of southern gothic literature is at the core of the storytelling with elements ranging from the fear of outsiders, to racism, to an ongoing tension between the real and supernatural worlds. In this setting of surface-level pastoral bliss is where Emmy Crawford first comes to life.

The series is set in a rural southern community in the early 1900’s. In the opening issue, main character Emmy, a farmer’s daughter, is approaching her eighteenth birthday when she discovers a connection to the haints: creatures and ghosts that populate the woods. When she begins to manifest magical powers, the residents of Harrow County fear that she may threaten the relative peace they enjoy. Her own father attempts to kill her on the belief that these abilities mark an evil inside her and reveals that he, along with the county’s other residents, murdered another witch decades prior. Armed with the knowledge of a supernatural connection, curiosity of her true origins, and her loyal friend Bernice, Emmy sets out to uncover the secrets of Harrow County and the surrounding woods.

The evolution of a sheltered girl into an empowered woman saddled with the ostracization often associated with women holding power makes for a compelling coming-of-age story. Much like the historical witch, the elements of female independence, outspokenness, and nonconformity are treated as aspects of contempt by men and those in power. Emmy’s own father is ingrained deep enough in these beliefs that he is willing to end her life and eliminate the potential threat she poses to the balance in their community.

As a character with seemingly endless amounts of kindness offsetting her deep, personal struggles, Emmy remains relatable throughout the series as she overcomes hardships and achieves success. Like the condemned women before her, she faces a barrage of obstacles put in place to keep her subdued and from tipping the power balance. Only by overcoming her internalized fears and learning to embrace her connection to the supernatural is she able to fully realize her true potential.

Harrow County Key Issues

  • Harrow County #1 (2015) – Premiere issue. Emmy Crawford discovers her connection to the supernatural.
  • Harrow County #3 (2015) – Emmy Crawford flees to the woods after her father attempts to kill her and sever the connection she holds to the supernatural.
  • Harrow County #15 (2016) – A strange group of outsiders come to Harrow County and claim to hold the key to Emmy Crawford’s past.
  • Harrow County #24 (2017) – Bernice begins to study hedge magic and must face the consequences of building power in the community.
  • Harrow County #32 (2018) – Final issue. Emmy Crawford must face the evil in her town with the allies she has assembled.


Sabrina Spellman

Sabrina Spellman, perhaps best known by the moniker “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” is one of pop culture’s most famous spellcasters. Created in 1962 by the team of writer George Gladir and artist Don DeCarlo, the character first appeared in Archie’s Madhouse #22 as the product of a miscalculated potion created by her aunts Hilda and Zelda. This first appearance has Sabrina introduce herself to readers and explain that her platinum blonde bob, fashionable clothes, and well decorated home are all part of the so-called “modern witch lifestyle.” The traditional and contemporary blend as, despite the aesthetics, the teenage spellcaster is more than happy to indulge in all of the aspects of the historical witch she still retains.

Although she does not live in a castle or toil over a bubbling cauldron, Sabrina casts spells and wields magical abilities to her benefit. More often than not the teenage witch finds herself in trouble after cutting corners related to her training and having to embark on ridiculous quests in order to disguise herself to the larger world. She further leans into the stereotypical witch by comedically lamenting over not being able to cry or sink to the bottom of bodies of water like her persecuted predecessors. Her familiar, Salem the cat, is almost always by her side through these adventures and is more than happy to carry out mischievous tasks or run errands for his companion.

In 1971 the first solo comic series titled Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch premiered after what was originally meant to be a short, one-off story skyrocketed in popularity. In these comics, her exploits showcase the delicate balance between living as an average teenage girl and learning to control her supernatural powers. While the earliest stories leaned heavily into the stereotypical witch as part of the gag, readers found true commonality with this later long-form storytelling about the flawed young woman trying to navigate her world.

The character’s most recent reinvention came in 2014 with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina as part of the Archie Horror imprint. This title, aimed at older readers, fleshed out recurring themes such as coming-of-age but leaned heavily into darker aspects of witchcraft with tales of resurrection and appearances from the Devil himself. The horror-centric version of the teenage witch proved to be an instant hit with the first two issues selling out immediately and interest in the character reaching new heights.

Sabrina’s ability to adapt to current trends and reinvent herself to remain relevant to readers has assured her longstanding success as a comic book character and symbol of the witch in popular culture. While details and particularities may change with new stories, at the core remains a noble character facing challenges, sometimes breaking the rules, and finding her way.

Sabrina Spellman Key Issues

  • Archie’s Madhouse #22 (1962) – First appearance of Sabrina Spellman.
  • Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch #1 (1971) – First solo comic series.
  • Sabrina’s Halloween Spook-Tacular #1 (1993) – Reprint of Sabrina Spellman’s introduction in her debut appearance and Halloween themed stories.
  • Afterlife With Archie #1 (2013) – First issue of ongoing horror stories in the Archie universe and featuring Sabrina Spellman.
  • Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 (2014) – First issue of new solo series with darker themes.

Scarlet Witch

A being with the power to change the course of space and time, wipe entire populations out of existence, and control the will of those around her, Wanda Maximoff is one of the most powerful characters in all of comics.

Created in 1964 by the team of writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby for Marvel Comics, the world was first introduced to Wanda Maximoff a.k.a Scarlet Witch in Uncanny X-Men #4. A reluctant Wanda and her twin brother Pietro a.k.a. Quicksilver are depicted as atypical henchmen of the villain Magneto. The two are not full believers in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the superiority of mutant-kind over humans but feel they owe a debt to their unlikely savior after he rescues them from an angry mob.

The two Romani teenagers are chased away from their village after a man attempts to sexually assault young Wanda and, in self defense, she manifests her powers and accidentally sets fire to the entire village. Magneto is conveniently traveling through Europe at the time and swoops in to save the twins and explain their true, superior nature. However, the rescue is nothing more than a tool to keep the two in line with the villain telling Wanda she too easily forgets that “the superstitious villagers called you a witch because of your mutant power.” The lynch mob and accusations of witchcraft are only a small portion of the character’s complicated backstory but exist as a direct reference to her real-world ties to the historical witch.

Originally, the character’s powers were limited to altering probability, referred to as hexing, and made her able to change events to work in her favor. While the term may sound akin to common conceptions of witchcraft, hexing in this sense is used more as a determination and alteration of outcome. Steve Englehart first brought the Scarlet Witch closer to her namesake during his work on the Avengers in the 1970s by having her study under the powerful mage Agatha Harkness. The tutelage of Harkness allowed Wanda to tap into the true magical potential within her and made the Scarlet Witch no longer just a witch in name. Over the years her power has continued to expand and her connection to witchcraft has strengthened. She has been captured by none other than Puritan minister Cotton Mather, famous for his part in the 1692 Salem witch trials, and embarked on a world-wide quest to protect witchcraft from legends from history intending on destroying magic forever.

Over time the once pliant, apprehensive young woman with limited power transformed into a more dynamic character with abilities far exceeding many of those under the Marvel Comics banner. Wanda Maximoff has played both the hero and villain, fallen prey to manipulation from those around her, and even de-powered 99% of the mutant population in her fifty-plus years of existence. Now possibly the most famous witch in all of comics, the legacy of the Scarlet Witch continues on through her relevancy in this medium and ability to transcend further into the realm of true pop culture icon.

Scarlet Witch Key Issues

  • Uncanny X-Men #4 (1964) – First appearance of Scarlet Witch.
  • Avengers #16 (1965) – Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch join the Avengers.
  • Avengers #76 (1970) – First meeting between Vision and Scarlet Witch.
  • Avengers #185 (1979) – Origin of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver is told.
  • Scarlet Witch #1 (1994) – First solo series for Scarlet Witch.
  • House of M #7 (2005) – Scarlet Witch de-powers nearly all mutants in the universe.



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