ABBOTT #1 written by Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivelä
Plot
Characterization
Art
Summary
Groovy artwork, captivating writing, and a hero with a cause make ABBOTT #1 a triumph. The BOOM! Studio's comic combines magic realism and astute political commentary to great effect.
100 %
A Must Read!

From the Hugo Award-winning author of BLACK BOLT, Saladin Ahmed, and artist Sami Kivelä comes an extraordinary new comic: ABBOTT #1. This thriller mixes dark magic and crime drama to produce a tantalizing adventure comic. Hero Elena Abbott is a hard-hitting journalist. She is dead-set on uncovering the rampant police brutality in 1970s Detroit one case at a time. The comic begins after the murder of a 14-year-old African-American boy by the Detroit police. Abbott’s story delivers a powerful point about rampant racism and injustice in America that remain as true today as in 1972.

ABBOTT #1
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Although set in 1972, ABBOTT #1 is for a 2018 audience. Due to Ahmed’s articulate dialogue and rapid storyline, he successfully crafts a critique of American society wrapped in an enthralling mystery. The debut issue from BOOM! Studios’ five-issue miniseries is well-researched and captivating; Kivelä’s artwork appropriately gives ABBOTT #1 a film noir flare. Moreover, Kivelä’s crisp character design reflects Abbott’s sense of order in the face of chaos. The comic features a woman of color as the lead, and she works in a male-dominated field. For those frustrated by modern-day racism, misogyny, and threats to the free press, ABBOTT #1 is both cathartic and galvanizing.

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A Detective for the People

Following the murder of the 14 year old boy, Abbott finds herself in hot water with the police and her employer, Detroit Daily Editor-in-Chief Fred Missakian. ABBOTT #1 establishes an uncomfortable relationship between Abbott and her prejudiced colleagues. As a woman of color, she rarely gets the respect she deserves outside of Detroit’s black communities. Indeed, thanks to her coverage of the boys murder, the predominantly white male police force and newspapers consider Abbott to be an “agitator.”

But nothing can stop Abbott. When a new crime puts the black community in the direct sights of the Detroit police, it’s up to Abbott to uncover the truth. In the comics’ first issue, Abbott quickly asserts herself as the voice of reason. As a journalist, her goal is to expose the truth behind rampant violence against the black communities. But the truth that’s waiting for her is an ancient and mysterious magic that once destroyed her family.

ABBOTT #1
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Abbott Stands Alone

But the comic does not sacrifice the plot to make these and other significant political points. Ahmed fills his writing with small but effective details delivered at breakneck speed. For example, as one young friend aptly puts it, Abbott is “the black Lois Lane.” Aside from being a fantastic example of Ahmed’s self-aware writing, the characterization is clever and evocative. But even in the first issue, Abbott is so much more than Lane. Ahmed gives Abbott compelling quirks that add depth to her character. For example, Abbott sticks to a strict sense of order and routine. Moreover, Abbott’s determination to uncover the truth about the evil in her community makes her an ideal hero to root for.

ABBOTT #1’s sole drawback is that it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. Hopefully, however, the comic will bring in other equally strong women in the next issues. As it is, the comic has a litany of other characters who are as nuanced as Abbott. For example, her boss, Fred, is a stubborn but ethical WWII vet. He is disgusted by the bigotry that the Detroit Daily owners direct at Abbott. Another fascinating character is a Detroit detective, James Gratham, one of the few black men on the police force, who is more than just Abbott’s friend. These characters support Abbott’s disregard for the rules and reinforce the strength of the comic’s lead.

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ABBOTT #1: Depicting Evil

Ahmed’s comic begins as a noir crime comic but later introduces an element of magic realism. The magic adds nuance to an otherwise realistic story. As Abbott arrives at the scene of a new crime, she immediately recognizes the evil surrounding it. Although the evil might metaphorically stand in for racism, bigotry, and hate, in ABBOTT #1, it takes the form of a shifting occult beast. The comic does not shy away from gruesome crime scenes, but the violence is not gratuitous. Artist Kivelä has the evil force take on a dark shadowy form, and the haziness makes the magic all the more mysterious. Kivelä’s design captures the darkness of the crime comic but lets the magic and reality fight for presence on the page.

ABBOTT #1
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

The appealing artwork in ABBOTT #1 draws strength from the changes in mood carefully conveyed by colorist Jason Wordie. The matte teals and oranges compliment the 1970s aesthetic, but dark grey shadows and blood-red light emphasize the encounters with the evil at hand. Importantly, as Abbott fights racism in Detroit, she is also left on her own to fight against the murky evil that is poised to wreak havoc on the town. Abbott typically keeps her cool, but the evil threatens to overtake her.

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Major Style Points: Fashion Meets Function

Despite the creepy magic, Kivelä’s artwork is a delight. In high-waisted teal bell-bottoms and a red leather jacket, Abbott is the epitome of 1970s coolness. Her colleagues in the press, on the other hand, are more “square,” and obviously resentful of Abbott. Their bland jackets look stiff and prim. Their attitudes are even starchier than their collars. Another excellent detail in Kivelä’s art serves as a meta-narrative. Kivelä layers on texts from Abbott’s newspaper. As a result, the story has greater depth and complexity. The question of how to do justice to the truth is an underlying theme.

ABBOTT #1
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

The comic’s layout capitalizes on Abbott’s powerful character. She is often central to the frame. Kivelä doesn’t let the reader take their eyes off Abbott. In her boots, she is frequently at eye-level or taller than her male colleagues. As a result, Kivelä’s illustrations empower Abbott, adding to the character’s position as the lead.

Crossing the Borders

Kivelä divides spaces in subtle ways in ABBOTT #1. The opening page, featuring snippets of Abbot’s article “CITY ON THE EDGE” visually captures elements of Detroit city life in an “X” format. Not only does X mark the spot, the image suggests that there are forces at work against each other. The X also implies crossing, potentially hinting at the collision of the supernatural with the real world. Kivelä uses a single image to capture Detroit as the center of the conflict.

As the comic moves on, it is clear that while Detroit is on the edge of social and economic upheaval, Abbott is at the fulcrum. Moreover, she visually transgresses the boundaries that try to keep her out. Kivelä makes sure that Abbot’s first appearance shows her crossing the boundaries of the police department’s stables. She is unafraid, coolly smoking her cigarette as her fellow journalists hurl insults. Later, she walks head-on into a business meeting. It does not escape Kivelä that 1972 Detroit is not a safe place for women of color. But his artwork demonstrates Abbott’s fearless and deliberate disregard for society’s established boundaries.

Final Thoughts: You Can’t Hide From ABBOTT

ABBOTT #1 will be a difficult start to follow. The high-speed pace of ABBOTT #1 maintains excitement and drama throughout the comic. Moreover, Abbott herself is well-developed, sympathetic, and charismatic. Not without difficulties, Abbott nevertheless pursues the truth, even at the risk of her own well-being. But, as Abbott starts to pick away at the crime, the truth is even nastier than she could have imagined.

ABBOTT #1
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

With frank writing and a critical approach to American culture, it would not be a surprise for ABBOTT to continue to carefully peel back racism and misogyny. In that respect, ABBOTT #1 is designed for readers who want to read culturally engaged comics. In 2018 America, representations of women of color who are taking on racism and misogyny are more important than ever. ABBOTT #1 captures key aspects of American culture in a chilling thriller with a fantastically bold lead.

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