Review: Abbott #1

Elena Abbott is a reporter investigating the mutilation of a police horse in Detroit Michigan in 1972. While the authorities and the press alike are quick to suspect the members of the local Black Panther party, it soon becomes evident that there is something unnatural going on and that its connected to a mysterious man from Elena’s past.

The first thing I noticed on page one of Abbott #1 was how well all the pieces of the comic book creators’ art blend together seamlessly in service to the story. Everything about it from the layout of the panels to the colors to the lettering served to draw me into the time and place of a rust belt city riven by interracial tensions and economic uncertainty.

Writer Saladin Ahmed is probably best known for his prose debut Throne of the Crescent Moon, an epic fantasy that substitutes the typical medieval European milieu for the Middle East. Detroit in the early seventies is about as far away as you can get from that setting while remaining on the same planet but Ahmed accomplishes the shift with aplomb, doling out revelations about Abbott and her world precisely, subverting expectations at just the right moments and ending on a cliffhanger that has me thirsty for a second issue. This is a far better piece of work than the earlier effort and a lot of that is due to the fact that the medium of comics suits his strengths as a writer far more than the novel ever did. It’s a shame that the realities of the market make it difficult for a writer to earn a living from comics alone because its a form that Ahmed certainly has a flair for.

Artist Sami Kivelä adds personality to the characters with his masterful grasp of facial expressions and body language. Kivelä tells you everything you need to know about Elena Abbott in a single image on page two: that she’s a tough, self confident woman of color with a finely honed nose bullshit detector. Given the scenario it would be all too easy for the art to fall into the trap of relying on well worn grind-house cliches but it never does, instead producing a vision of Detroit that seems grounded in the bedrock of realism of the period. It’s a shame Kivelä hasn’t gotten more mainstream notice before now but, if there is any justice in the world of comics, this book will change that quick. I know that I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of his work and you should too. 

Last but not least word needs to be given to colorist Jason Wordie and letterer Jim Campbell. The rich yet muted palette really elevate the pencils to a whole other level, adding immeasurably to the sense of mood and recalling the grainy 35mm stock used in seminal classics of the period like The Godfather and The Exorcist. Scenes come alive with a rich array of earth tones and shades of gray that instantly transport us to a rust belt autumn in the age of Nixon. The letters are elegantly designed and skillfully applied. They guide the eye from panel to panel so that it never misses a beat without ever crowding the artwork. It’s not easy to create lettering that pops out at the reader when it needs to but becomes invisible when it doesn’t yet Campbell does so on page after page. A veteran of the British comics scene, he’s another seasoned pro who has yet to get the attention he deserves from an American audience. 

A lot has been said lately about diversity in comics. While the creation of new legacy characters like Kamala Khan and a rising profile for preexisting characters of color like Black Lightning are valuable, a book like Abbott is probably more important in the long run. The story speaks to Ahmed’s experience growing up as a child of color in the industrial Midwest during a time of immense social and political change as much as his love of things fantastic. The parallels to the modern world, where stories of violence perpetrated both by and against the police are all too common,  should be apparent to any reader who is conscious enough to look for them. It’s a great example of how broadening the pool of both creators and the type of content they produce enriches the entire medium and helps to lift it out of the ghetto of people in colorful tights punching each other. If the next four issues are as good as the first, then this is going to be a book to remember.   

Story: Saladin Ahmed Art: Sami Kivelä
Color: Jason Wordie Letters: Jim Campbell
Cover Art: Taj Tenfold & Micaela Dawn
Story: 8 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review