By Ben Snyder
Abbott #1 begins as an homage to 70’s Blaxploitation films. Starring a touch as nails black female reporter who stumbles upon a mystery that only she can solve. But Abbott #1 evolves into something much greater and more occult. Writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Sami Kivelä both work beautifully together to create what has the potential to be one of the best new ongoing series this year.
Ahmed does a tremendous job of easing the reader into the occult aspects of the story. You don’t see any instance of it until the middle of the book in a beautifully laid out smoky dreamlike flashback sequence. So the occult aspects of the book really do surprise the reader. But the success of the occult surprise can only work if the rest of the story and its characters are airtight, which thankfully they are.
Elena Abbott is a great and well-rounded character. I never got the impression that she was going to be bland or simplistic. Instead, she is quite the role model. She speaks for the marginalized black community in 1970’s Detroit often encountering resistance from the local police. We are told in the beginning that a segregationist recently won Michigan in an election, and the racial overtones are highly explicit. The very first scene has the mostly white press accusing the Blank Panthers of mutilating a horse, despite the detective protesting otherwise.
Ahmed also does a good job of balancing the scale for Elena. As many people question her about her race or gender, more show up to defend her. Whether, it’s a crime photographer, a local diner owner, or even her Editor defending her from higher-ups there is always someone ready to help Abbot.
Perhaps the only negative aspect to the story is that sometimes there is a lot of speech bubbles on the page. Due to Ahmed’s history as a novelist, I wasn’t surprised that there was a lot of dialogue and all of it’s pretty well written- it’s just a lot of it.
Sami Kivelä’s art is unsurprisingly one of the strongest assets of the book. His lines and figure’s are defined and bold, allowing for maximum expressiveness. But it’s more so how he balances the realistic style with the sudden and dramatic changes to the occult style. Often times it is unannounced and the shift takes the reader by surprise. Whether it’s a horsehead with tendrils coming out of it, or Abbot walking down the street smoking a cigarette, Kivelä seamlessly blends the two together forming a complete and unified world.
Kivelä really goes wild with how he lays out his pages in this issue. Using some unorthodox techniques, Kivelä is able to give normally boring scenes a pulp-y and exciting feeling about them. But perhaps his greatest achievement is a one-page scene in which Abbot remembers her ex and his mysterious rituals. It’s a hazy dreamlike scenario that perfectly transitions the reader into a more spiritual and horror storyline. Hopefully Kivelä is given the opportunity to further stretch his ability, because I am fascinated to see what else he can do.
Abbott #1 feels special. The world that both Ahmed and Kivelä created is full of interesting characters, racial undertones, and many aspects that still hold relevance in our current world. But most importantly it’s fun and looks pretty. I really try to avoid giving perfect scores in first issues, subsequently giving them a 4 for superfluous reasons. However I simply can’t do that to Abbott.