ABBOTT #1 / Writer: Saladin Ahmed / Artist: Sami Kivelä / Letterer: Jim Campbell / January, 24th 2018
A horror comic? Set in the seventies? With a female protagonist? Addressing themes of social injustice? Sign me up sailor! I am slightly ashamed to admit this is the first time I’ve read anything by Saladin Ahmed, whose Marvel work is critically acclaimed (I will pick up Blackbolt and Exiles when it arrives in April!) and whose twitter is both sharp and hilarious.
Well, I’m glad I have started here honestly- even if Abbott #1 didn’t already tick a lot of my boxes, this showcases a knack of evoking the setting so well that, unless told otherwise, I’d think this was an actual vintage horror comic! It’s not just the era-specific language either (if the past ten years has taught us anything, its that none of this is new- just less obvious unless you’re already living it!). Sami Kivelä’s art has a bold, etched quality that would be right at home in the era of The Falcon and Luke Cage, paired nicely with Taj Tenfold’s colours. The palette is muted and sepia, which, again, is so seventies it might as well come with a wah-wah pedal and a thick base line that shakes the floor. You can practically smell the cigarette smoke and hear the creak of leather.
This also means that, as far as a white woman born in the eighties can tell, it adds to the palpable racial tension that our heroine has to wade through every day just to do her job. It oozes from every white man in orange plaid and aeroplane wing lapels who glares at her for even existing in his space, let alone challenging him as a reporter.
Elena Abbott is a dogged reporter for a Detroit based newspaper- having been effectively punished reported on police brutality, she is tasked to report on what appears to be a brutal animal mutilation. The locals want to pin the blame on the Black Panthers (go figure) and only Abbott can sense something supernatural and sinister leaving its mark on the crime scene. She immediately suspects that it’s the same dark presence that killed her husband- the trauma and hurt of it is still fresh in her mind as she tries to get to the truth of the matter.
Standing against her is her sympathetic, yet ultimately still privileged, editor and the police- who even as the attack escalated to murder, are still determined to blame the Panthers. Abbott has the support of her community and the memory of her husband to keep her going, but it’s clear she’s had to be strong for a long time. She’s tired, angry, but determined- she knows she’s right and she will get to the bottom of it. It says a lot that the potential demonic spirits nearby are merely the end of a line of horrors that include racism and police killings.
So far, this issue is very much all set up- again, evoking the era, introducing us to the main players, so criticising the expository dialogue feels… churlish? If anything, it also plants the story very firmly in a pulp-horror setting. It personally feels like I’m watching the first act of a Lucio Fulci movie, where the characters (in all their flared and mustachioed glory) are set in place and the gore is spotted. I have a feeling it’ll ramp up in the subsequent issues. It’s a little City of the Living Dead or maybe The Beyond (though that one is technically the eighties but it looks like the seventies so it counts), which is very okay by me. This is a story that feels like someone should have done it a while ago- like Marvel produced it in the 1970s to cash in on the wider appreciation of the Black Power movement (including its then new African-American heroes) and Blaxploitation cinema. A horror-mystery, in the vein of a grindhouse Italian horror, that also calls out the struggle of black women? Why wasn’t this a movie with Pam Grier?
Sadly, given that the CCA would never have let such a comic see the light of day back then, we’ve had to wait just shy of four decades for it. Still, better late than never I guess?
Ultimately, whilst this is very much an opening salvo, it’s very clear that this story is going somewhere exciting and I can’t wait to see the, shall we say, less human horrors in action!
Verdict: 4 out of 5
I’m a thirty something British nerd-mum and wannabe author, fueled by tea, poor decision making and a need to be distracted. Cursed to watch favourite characters die and ships sink.