The year: 1972. The place: Detroit. Elena Abbott is a hard-hitting journalist at the Detroit Daily, using her work to ask difficult questions and bring to light police abuses that some feel are best left unexplored. To make things more difficult, Abbott moves through this primarily white male world as a black woman, encountering both institutional and direct bigotry and discrimination.
The story opens with Abbott arriving at a crime scene, and it’s clear from the start she has learned well how to operate in a world that’s hostile to her in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. A police horse has been killed and mutilated. The police are ready to point fingers at the Black Panthers or other “Negro agitators,” regardless of a lack of evidence. Abbott is prepared to pick up the story and follow it until she finds the truth, and she’s ready to fight anyone who stands in her way. Her investigation soon leads to a string of killings and mutilations, mostly of black men, but there is something more at work than just a serial killer. As she continues to follow leads, Abbott finds her life threatened by something decidedly supernatural—possibly connected to the same forces that took her husband away many years prior.
The book Abbott contains issues #1-5 of the comic, and serves as a self-contained story that wraps up by the end. As of this writing, no further issues have been published or announced. On the whole, I am a fan of Abbott and think it has echoes of both Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics and the DC Comics character John Constantine. Abbott is compelling and well-developed, and she avoids the trope of tough female characters who aren’t allowed to show vulnerability or emotion. It’s also nice to see women whose strength comes not from being physically muscular or violent, but from their personalities and determination. The story is interesting, serving up lots of paranormal and noir flavor, and is supported with a memorable cast of characters.
My one main complaint with the story of the comic would be the pacing and length. The starting pace is well-set, but events wrap up fairly quickly toward the end. I think there are a lot of intriguing plot elements to be explored, and I honestly could have read another five issues at least in the same storyline. The end leaves a number of unanswered questions, so the possibility for more Abbott is certainly open.
The art of the comic left me with mixed feelings, though I recognize there is a lot of subjectivity here. It seems to hearken back to an older comics style, or even a newspaper comics style, which I’m guessing is intentional, considering Abbott’s profession and the year the story is set. Colors are somewhat muted, and characters don’t always stand out from the background details as much as they do in other art styles. While this is not my favorite style personally, it does make a lot of sense content-wise and fits the story. There is also some creative panel work and a few images or panels stuck with me and were well-executed.
It’s refreshing to see a black woman cast in the hard-boiled noir detective role, a rarity to be sure. Most of the other main characters are people of color as well, including the bisexual Abbott’s ex-girlfriend. The story tackles the racial politics of 70s Detroit, both through the challenges Abbott faces and snippets presented from her newspaper articles. It’s a more vibrant and complex picture of Detroit than the stereotypical ruins many people picture today, centering on people whose stories are less frequently told.
Abbott is a great addition to a library collection, appropriate for adults and some older teens. The horror and supernatural elements mean there are some disturbing and gory images. Abbott also spends most of the book smoking cigarettes, while another character smokes marijuana, and some characters drink alcohol. Despite the racism and bigotry depicted, the language used is not over-the-top, and there is no sexual content depicted aside from kissing. Readers who enjoy detective stories, murder mysteries, and the supernatural can find something to enjoy in this title.
By Saladin Ahmed
Art by Sami Kivela
BOOM! Studios, 2018
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Character Traits: East Asian, Black, , Bisexual,
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator