Abbott #1 Review – A Model For Social Commentary in Comics

Posted January 23, 2018 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Comic Books

Written by: Saladin Ahmed

Art by: Sami Kivela & Jason Wordie

Published by: Boom!

Abbott #1 is a breath of fresh air, quite unlike anything else I’m reading. It’s unique in a variety of ways, almost all of them exciting. Of course, some amount of Abbott’s uniqueness is conceptual–for instance, it’s a story about journalism starring a woman of color investigating police brutality and race relations in 1972 Detroit. These are all good things, conceptually. There aren’t enough stories about journalism, and there certainly aren’t enough WoC protagonists in comics. But they don’t inherently make for a good comic.

Fortunately, Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivela, and Jason Wordie have spun those components into an engaging narrative.

Ahmed’s greatest success with Abbott is creating a character–the titular Elena Abbott–with nuance. So many literary works considered with social justice and commentary fall into the trap of one-note protagonists, who are concerned solely with the cause. Instead, Abbott is driven by social justice and journalism, but is also given time to be a person, with all the requisite messiness.

Put simply, she’s easy to latch onto. In turn, the book’s critique of race and gender relations works, although I doubt I’m the most objective arbiter.

Naturally, Abbott being a likeable protagonist is far from the only reason Ahmed and co.’s social critique works. The scenes in which it is most pronounced–a clash with newspaper executives, a conversation with a father and son duo who operate a diner, Abbott showing up at the scene of a crime on a tip–no doubt benefit from Ahmed’s perspective. Again, I’m far from the ideal person to judge this, but I certainly get the sense he’s not interested in pulling punches.

The only place the writing falters (tentatively, because this is the first issue) is in the supernatural twist. Generally, this would be a hook for me. Look no further than Kill or be Killed’s demon, or Tommy’s ghost in Royal City. But here, the twist feels superfluous, at least for the time being. Based on the quality of Ahmed’s writing, I would not be surprised to see it justified going forward. But there’s enough going on in Abbott that I would almost prefer the focus to stay with the elements more rooted in reality.

Ultimately, I find this line of critique to be fairly minor, and I don’t wish to spend much more time with it. Instead, let me tell you about Sami Kivela’s art. To be honest, the fact I haven’t heard of the man before makes me feel like I haven’t been paying attention. I mean, the opening page speaks for itself:

The panel layout alone is spectacular: the merging of establishing shots and newspaper articles sets the stage incredibly well for what’s to come. Kivela mixes up the panel layout consistently, keeping the visuals dynamic and engaging. Additionally, his layouts serve the purpose of storytelling. For instance, a sequence of panels later in the books demonstrates the disparity between the paper Abbott works for and Detroit’s other news institutions.

That sequence is one of money uses of visuals to demonstrate the divide between the “two Detroits.” In this way, the visuals hammer home points made in the writing about the racial inequality plaguing the city. Colorist Jason Wordie puts in overtime here, working in tandem with Kivela to give the city a grimy, run down feel. Additionally, Wordie’s color pallet is essential to conveying the passing of time, a key component of this first issue.

We may only be a few weeks in to 2018, but Abbott is one of the year’s most exciting books. If you need something different than what’s available at other publishers, Ahmed, Kivela, and Wordie seem more than willing to supply it. I, for one, cannot wait for the next entry in the series.

About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.