ABBOTT #5 by Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivelä, Jason Wordie, and Taj Tenfold
Elena Abbott faces down the shadows in Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivelä's breathtaking ABBOTT #5. The BOOM! Studios comic features complex artwork fitting the equally complex narrative that is one-part fantasy and one-part social critique.
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The first arc of Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivelä’s comic comes to a explosive close in ABBOTT #5. This BOOM! Studios series delivers a hair-raising plot from start to finish, and the fifth issue does not disappoint. While ABBOTT #1 only hinted at the magic yet to come, ABBOTT #5 brings the supernatural forces into focus. Ahmed crafts heroine Elena Abbott with a strong personality and an equally powerful voice. ABBOTT #5 focuses on Elena’s dedication to uncovering the truth. Her determination is the only hope for fighting the evil that will stop at nothing to destroy her. Kivelä’s artwork, with beautiful colors by Jason Wordie, always matches Ahmed’s narrative energy. However, in ABBOTT #5, Kivelä takes his dynamic layouts to new levels. His artwork lets readers explore the world from Elena’s perspective and experience the battle between light and shadow for themselves.

When we last saw Elena, the Detroit Daily had just fired from her position as a journalist. Now, as she dives into the final fight in ABBOTT #5, Elena still can’t catch a break. Nevertheless, she bravely confronts Philip Howard Bellcamp. In previous issues, Elena traced the mysterious occult magic back to this guy. Bellcamp is particularly evil, but Ahmed makes him a complex villain. The two characters embody the battle between light and the shadowy evil known as the “Umbra” that threatens the city.

Ahmed transforms the common “good vs. evil” trope, focusing on 1970s Detroit and the city’s history of racism. Often, Elena is the only one in Detroit holding white police accountable for brutality against people of color. Plus, she is one of few women journalists on the scene. As such, Elena faces misogyny from fellow reporters and police, as well as from Bellcamp. Meanwhile, completely obsessed with himself, Bellcamp doesn’t think a woman of color could defeat a rich white man. While Elena works to uncover the truth, Bellcamp monologues about how superior western mythology is, mocking and completely underestimating Elena.

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Elena Abbott and Detroit: Someday We’ll Be Together

Ahmed’s attention to detail throughout the five issues is flawless. Each issue always features a subtitle that references a Motown classic. ABBOTT #5 features none other than Dianna Ross and the Supreme’s 1969 hit Someday We’ll Be Together. The subtitle is fitting, tying in many of the series’ key themes. Not only was the song popularized by a talented woman of color, but it highlights the concept of lost love. Throughout ABBOTT, Elena chases the ghost of her lover, Samir. ABBOTT does hint at several of Elena’s relationships, such as her old friend Amelia and police sergeant James. However, Samir is the one who links Elena to the supernatural.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Saladin’s musical references also remind us of the comic’s setting, Detroit. The city plays an important role throughout the series. ABBOTT #5 exposes the difference between Detroit’s white and black neighborhoods. Not only does the promise “someday we’ll be together” hint at Samir and Elena’s reunion. It also brings up Elena’s potential to unite a divided city. Furthermore, it establishes Elena at the boundary between opposing forces.

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ABBOTT #5: Transgressing Boundaries

ABBOTT #5 places Elena at the border between the living and spirit worlds. Both Samir and Elena’s hippie friend Sebastian move across that border. But those aren’t the only boundaries that get crossed in this comic. Bellcamp criticizes Elena and Sebastian in particular for transgressing gender roles. He calls Sebastian “girlish” and frequently puts Elena down for her masculinity. While Bellcamp feigns disgust at these gender transgressions, he repeatedly transgresses social order in a different way. Indeed, Bellcamp creates hybrid monsters, fusing humans and animals to make the Minotaur and centaurs of Greek mythology. Ironically, Bellcamp’s adoration for classical mythology blinds him to his own fatal hubris.

ABBOTT #5 brilliantly shows off Elena’s perspective, thanks to Kivelä’s design work. For example, throughout the series, Kivelä uses sharp angles and different sized panels to accentuate movement. Interestingly, however, ABBOTT #5 opens on a series of ovals. The circular frames pause the comic, leaving Elena and Samir suspended in a dream-like space. Kivelä carefully shifts the perspective between a third-person narrative and Elena’s first-person point of view. As a result, the artwork helps establish the many ways in which Elena crosses the established borders.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

As the comic progresses, Kivelä returns to the angular layouts, using inverted triangles to emphasize Bellcamp’s oppressive power. Cleverly, Kivelä ensures that Elena always stands in a beam of light, even as Bellcamp praises the powers of darkness. Additionally, Kivelä continues to highlight expressions, often focusing on parts of faces. The comic occasionally cuts through bodies, making the comic’s frames themselves look like unstable boundaries cutting through the story. The Umbra’s dark purple tendrils claw at Elena as they menacingly slither through the panels.

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Lux et Veritas: The Power of the Free Press

Despite the quick five-issue arc, Ahmed and Kivelä do not sacrifice detail. Indeed, ABBOTT #5 is just as complex as previous issues. It takes everything in Elena’s power to handle the situation. While Elena is the “Illuminator” or the “Light Bringer” in the spirit world, she is first and foremost a journalist. As a result, her goal is to uncover the truth and tell others. In terms of theme, light often goes hand-in-hand with truth. Indeed, the concept of “exposing” the truth is pretty literal in this issue. The best weapon against Bellcamp’s monsters is the bright flash of Elena’s camera, which exposes them to the light.

This whole theme successfully challenges a common trope in racist narratives that equates whiteness with truth and light. In ABBOTT, a powerful woman of color is the source of truth. ABBOTT #5 challenges the privileging of white culture as a whole. It points out white supremacy and corruption as the root of social injustice in America.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

ABBOTT may take place in the 1970s. However, the importance of the free press to expose corruption is as relevant today as it was then. Making a journalist the hero is a critical point. Moreover, Elena is a woman working to expose brutality against people of color. For this, both journalists and police forces disrespect her. But Detroit’s black community treats her as a hero. Elena demands that others listen to the truth. ABBOTT #5 shows us why this goal is so important. By working to protect the truth, Elena is a force for liberation.

What’s Next for Elena Abbott?

ABBOTT #5 is a climactic conclusion to the series arc, solidifying ABBOTT as a dynamic social critique. The only reasonable complaint about the series is that it’s not long enough. Indeed, it is easy to fall in love with Elena and her determination to bring justice to her community. Ahmed keeps a rapid pace, and Kivelä expertly meets the narrative with moving artwork. ABBOTT #5 is a satisfying ending to the arc. Yet it will leave readers craving more adventures with Elena.

ABBOTT #5 is available here

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