Abbott: Elder gods and tough reporters in 1970s Detroit

Abbott by Saladin Ahmed, art by Sami KivelaAbbott by Saladin Ahmed, art by Sami KivelaAbbott by Saladin Ahmed & Sami Kivela

BOOM! Studios has released the trade edition of the first series of the period dark fantasy Abbott (2018), words by Saladin Ahmed and art by Sami Kivela. Set in 1972, the story follows Elena Abbott, a reporter for the Detroit Daily. Abbott may not be the paper’s only woman reporter, but she is probably its only Black reporter and definitely the only Black woman reporter. Currently, she is in trouble with the paper’s owners for her accurate expose of the police murder of a Black teenager. She is sent to cover the mutilation of a police horse. To further punish her for her stand against police lawlessness, the paper has taken away her photographer and given Abbott a camera. This is a status hit that her white male competitors immediately comment on.

To Elena’s surprise, as well as that of the male reporters, she had a strong emotional reaction to the dead horse, which has been cut in half. The men hoot with laughter when Elena flinches, but the reader sees that this is not squeamishness; Abbott has encountered horror like this before. As the story progresses, we learn that earlier in her life, she confronted an evil called the shadow, which took her first husband’s life.

The evil escalates when a young Black man is murdered. While Elena struggles to come to grips with the return of supernatural evil, she spars with Fred, her scrappy white editor, and battles the board members who want her fired for calling out the police on their unlawful acts. Around her, Ahmed and Kivela give us a Detroit that is in the midst of thriving Black renaissance: Black newspapers, and little businesses like Broadway’s Black Star Café, where Elena spends a good deal of her time. Elena, it turns out, has a destiny to face down the evil called the shadow. Her allies include a hippy mystic, Sebastian Crowe; her second, now ex-husband, police sergeant James Gratham, and the beautiful and probably criminal Amelia Chee (the best-dressed character in Abbott).

The story is fast-paced as increasingly disturbing shadow creatures attack Elena, and the secondary story of her battle to keep her job takes up exactly the right amount of space. It’s a good story but I most loved the feel of the 1970s, beautifully evoked here. Elena is a chain-smoker; she drives a car we’d now call vintage; the wardrobes of all the characters are pitch perfect. There are magic shops like Sebastian’s, thriving Black businesses, and a vicious overlay of white male privilege. Abbott is a tough but believably vulnerable character who faces racism and misogyny every day, as well as a supernatural evil.

Kivela’s art is a match for the story, and I was particularly drawn to the frames that highlight Elena’s various expressions. His images dance between the mundane (like the archives or the emergency rooms) and the eerie. An arresting image appears on pages 20-21 in the second chapter; one entire page is a centaur (take a few minutes to look at the details). the right-hand page shows an empty factory, with three images inset, and each image advances the story. Little things, like the reflection of light in the dead horse’s eye on page 4 of Chapter One, heighten the drama. Jason Wordie’s color palette perfectly complements the drawings.

As a bonus, if you like this sort of thing (and I do), each of Abbott’s chapter titles is a Motown song. The songs are chosen for their lyrics and several of them were social-activism songs — each song fits the chapter it heads (Ahmed does not include the lyrics).

The mystery is solved at the end, but things have changed for Elena. While this individual run is completed and is a complete story, I can at least hope for further adventures of Elena Abbott in turbulent Detroit. My one quibble about the trade edition of this book is that BOOM! did not include page numbers that I can find. All in all, Abbott was an immersive read and a look at an important time period in the USA, and one we are being encouraged to forget. Check out Abbott.

Published in October 2018. While investigating police brutality and corruption in 1970s Detroit, journalist Elena Abbott uncovers supernatural forces being controlled by a secret society of the city’s elite. In the uncertain social and political climate of 1972 Detroit, hard-nosed, chain-smoking tabloid reporter Elena Abbott investigates a series of grisly crimes that the police have ignored. Crimes she knows to be the work of dark occult forces. Forces that took her husband from her. Forces she has sworn to destroy. Hugo Award-nominated novelist Saladin Ahmed (Star Wars: Canto Bight, Black Bolt) and artist Sami Kivelä (Beautiful Canvas) present one woman’s search for the truth that destroyed her family amidst an exploration of the systemic societal constructs that haunt our country to this day.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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3 comments

  1. I am not a comics reader, but this looks interesting….

    • Kat, it’s a place and time period that not many genre writers visit, so I really liked it for that (and the tentacled Elder God thing, too).

  2. I know someone who would love this. Great review, Marion!

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