It’s a common complaint that bringing in writers from other fields (TV, novels) to write comics doesn’t work well (case in point, Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis). They may be good but comics is a different medium and they can’t always pull it off.
In ABBOTT, fantasy novelist Saladin Ahmed (with art by Sami Kivela) shows it can be done, though this works better as a period historical thriller than a fantasy. Spoilers follow.
Elena Abbott is a chain-smoking (I often complain about how stories set in the past underestimate the amount of smoking there was. Not this one) reporter in 1972 Detroit. Abbott is black in a racially tense city. She’s also an independent, self-supporting woman (divorced her cheating husband a while back) and bisexual (her former lover plays a supporting role). Abbott has also made a lot of enemies because on top of the city’s regular racial decisions she recently covered the unjustified police killing of a black man, which goes over as badly then as it does today. Her boss sticks up for her but the paper’s board wants her gone.
In the opening chapter the police are investigating the killing and butchering of a stolen horse. They’re blaming the Black Panthers which Abbott points out is ridiculous. At a murder with a mutilated black corpse, Abbott sees visions of shadowy creatures, which reminds her of the equally unnatural murder of her first husband, Samir. It turns out there’s a supernatural force behind it, the Umbra shadow power. It’s agent is Professor Bellcamp, a member of Detroit’s white elite who believes this shallow, materialistic age needs a kick to the head which his dark power will provide.
What struck me about this is that there’s not a lot of period detail compared to what I like to put in or to Max Allan Collins’ First Quarry. The story could easily be shifted to the present and hardly change anything (well, the smoking). But it still worked for me as a historical piece, perhaps because it has echoes of blacksploitation 1970s films — Abbott could easily be a Pam Grier character. Ahmed deals with the ugly racist and sexist sides of the past much better than I could — I’m just not comfortable writing so many racist or sexist characters as we see here.
Surprisingly given Ahmed’s a fantasy writer, that side of the book is less interesting than the mundane stuff. Abbott is a Chosen One, the Lightbringer who must stand against the Umbra. Bellcamp is a pompous villain whose philosophical statements about society and why he yearns to destroy it just sound idiotic — not that there’s anything wrong with an idiot villain, but I kept wishing he’d shut his yap. And the villains go down awfully easily, without Abbott even stepping into her Lightbringer status.
Despite the flaws, still well worth reading.
#SFWApro. Cover by Kivela, all rights remain with current holder.
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