Abbott review: Sorry, no Costello

Abbott is a five-issue mini-series that originally ran from January to May 2018. The comic was written by Saladin Ahmed, who has previously authored a variety of fantasy and science-fiction works. Ahmed’s writing credits include short story and poetry pieces published in numerous anthologies, and he has also written for a variety of Marvel comics, including Black Bolt, Exiles, and Miles Morales: Spider-Man. Ahmed is also currently working on a series of fantasy novels, the first of which, Throne of the Crescent Moon, was published in 2012. Art for Abbott was done by Sami Kivelä, a Finnish comic artist who has illustrated other comic works such as Beautiful Canvas, Realm War, and Deer Editor. Jason Wordie acted as a colorist for the comic.

The year is 1972, and the times are tumultuous. The year the Watergate scandal kicked off, Don Mclean’s American Pie rose up the music charts, and, in Detroit, racial and political tensions abound. Despite the difficulties of this era, one woman perseveres all for the sake of making sure oppressed voices are heard. Enter Elena Abbott, the hardboiled, chain-smoking, black tabloid reporter for the Detroit Daily newspaper. Elena’s push to highlight police brutality and other racially charged crimes towards black youth earns the paper significant attention from white readers (and the support of Elena’s editor) but her higher-up’s are less than thrilled with her efforts.

While investigating the gruesome deaths of a horse and a black college student, Elena is uncharacteristically unsettled – not because of the state of the bodies, but due to an overwhelming sense of supernatural déjà vu. The deaths reek of dark powers from beyond – powers responsible for killing Elena’s husband Samir. After Elena is attacked by a mysterious masked man emanating the same otherworldly energy as the corpses, she realizes that everything is connected to her husband’s death– and if she doesn’t act fast, more innocent lives may be on the line.

Abbott is Saladin Ahmed’s take on a detective noir story, subbing the stereotypical 1920’s setting and angsty-white-protagonist-with-dead-wife with 70’s Detroit and a bisexual black woman protagonist, respectively. The end result is actually pretty entertaining, as Ahmed manages a strong balance between the oppressive time period and the supernatural elements heavily present in the plot. Often, these two aspects in the comic are mirrors to each other, particularly in the sense that Elena tries to get the public eye to not only acknowledge the poor treatment of black youths, but also the bizarre otherworldly events unfolding right in front of them. Ahmed does not attempt to downplay the harshness of the setting either; while Elena is very sharp and competent, she’s still under the thumb of the rampant racism and sexism during the period, and while she’s accomplished a lot by the end of the book, she’s not any better off than she started. The historical social commentary within Abbott’s setting gives the comic a fresh feeling.

The weakest aspect of Abbott’s writing, however, is its predictable plot beats. This problem is only exacerbated by the overall short length of the comic, and it’s easy to see where the story is going after the first couple of issues: hero is introduced, hero realizes there’s a problem, hero reaches their lowest point, hero confronts villain, story’s over. Heck, the comic even outright reveals who the villain is by the middle of the story, which kills a lot of the tension leading up to the final confrontation. It’s a shame the story is a bit on the cliché side, since Elena is such an interesting protagonist, and her interactions with her allies even more so. For example, Elena has a particular relationship with Chinese brother-and-sister duo Lincoln and Amelia. Lincoln runs the bar Elena frequents after-hours, while Amelia presents herself as a potential ally to Elena, albeit with mafia connections. While Amelia feels a bit too close to a dragon lady archetype, she has a tense will-they-or-won’t-they relationship with Elena, echoing similar dynamics from noir stories with a bisexual twist. The story does end on an open-ended note, so if Ahmed ever chooses to continue this intrepid reporter’s adventures, here’s hoping he puts her on a story path less-traveled.

Kivelä’s character designs in Abbott are solid but not particularly distinctive. He excels more at illustrating the chimera-esque horrors Elena confronts over the course of the comic, as well as his strong usage of dynamic panel layouts and angles to emphasize action and emotional sequences. The two-page spread where Elena runs into the first monster, the horse-man hybrid, is especially notable in how intense and gripping the scene is presented. Wordie’s color work in the comic is especially appealing; warmed tones are often used while Elena works at the newspaper’s office, but there’s a noticeable shift to colder hues to depict the shadowy creatures from the supernatural. Overall, the combination between Kivelä’s art and Wordie’s color make for an enjoyable comic reading experience.

Pros: Entertaining and unique take on a detective noir story that balances its setting with a supernatural plot. Elena is an interesting protagonist and character to slot into the aforementioned story. The combination of Kivelä’s dynamic art and designs for monsters with Wordie’s stellar color work makes for great visual design.

Cons: Story beats are predictable due to the overall short length. The Amelia character feels uncomfortably close to a ‘dragon lady’ stereotype despite the social commentary focus of the story.

Abbott is available in its entirety from Boom! Comics. Abbott is a solid and fun comic, even though its story treads familiar territory. I sincerely hope this isn’t the end of reporter Elena Abbott’s (mis)adventures, but even so I still enjoyed this title.

Categories: Comics

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