There are many examples of art mediums mixing history with the supernatural. Depending on the team behind these projects, they can either be poor retellings or entertaining reimaginings. Luckily for comic book fans, Abbott is the latter. Saladin Ahmed (creator/writer), Sam Kivela (illustrator), Jason Wordie (colorist), and Jim Campbell (letterer) bring readers an exciting tale which mixes the historical racial struggles of the 70s with the looming presence of the supernatural.
The Plot Of Abbott
Taking place in 1972 in Detroit, Abbott follows Elena Abbott, who works at a white newspaper, as their only black reporter. Her writing acts as a voice for the underreported stories and crimes revolving around African-Americans. However, because of her harsh coverage of the police’s treatment of the black community, fellow reporters and officers alike hate Abbott. Nevertheless, she continues to investigate the mysterious disappearances of black citizens ignored by the police.
While Abbott witnesses police belittling black-related crimes on a daily basis, a recent string of murders has her searching for the truth. When she gets called to cover a story about the mutilation of a police horse, she notices strange black energy emitting from the remains. This terrifies her as it is similar to the energy belonging to the umbra: evil beings from the shadow world. Abbott had come into contact with the umbra in her past when she witnessed them kill her husband, Samir.
As she visits another scene, this one with the mutilated body of a black man, she notices the same energy emitting there as well. With no one else able to see this dark energy, and the police not trying to solve the murders, it is up to Abbott to stop these supernatural killings from continuing. However, with both supernatural and natural forces trying to stop her, will she succeed?
The Art Of Abbott
Abbott is a beautifully illustrated series thanks to Sam Kivela. The character designs are realistic since he chooses to draw in an anatomically-correct fashion instead of the usual cartoon aesthetic. Every motion and facial expression feels natural. The artwork flows similarly to a film since he takes the time to draw each step in a character’s movement.
The series also provides impressive designs for the supernatural creatures Abbott faces throughout the issue. The umbra appears as purplish, smoky haze, but a closer look reveals faces and hands reaching out to grasp victims. Along with the umbra’s ominous design, Kivela shows disturbing hybrid monsters created by morphing into man and beast. He emphasizes how unnatural these creatures are by displaying clear signs of where the separate bodies were sewn together and how the umbra’s dark energy emits from them.
Background designs portray the hustle-and-bustle lifestyle of Detroit. There are never any blank panels or ones that have nothing happening in them. Whether a scene takes place within a park or a city, readers always find signs of life. In fact, it is only during the ominous moments (when the supernatural occurrences happen) that the city looks empty. These moments add to the helplessness Abbott feels when she tries to solve these mysterious disappearances.
The coloring in Abbott by Jason Wordie helps mix the supernatural and historical aspects of the series extraordinarily well. When the series focuses on 1972 Detroit, the colors are bright: yellow, orange, and red. However, when the series introduces the supernatural, the colors become darker: purple, black, blue, or gray. These contrasting color schemes help enhance the fact that nefarious elements from the shadow world disturb the normalcy of Detroit life.
The Character Of Elena Abbott
There is no way of describing Elena Abbott as anything other than – cool. She is a fascinating character as her go-getter attitude and dedication to writing the truth is what motivates her to face the umbra. Unlike most comic-book characters who face enemies without any signs of fear, Abbott shows how scared she is of these creatures. She had a previous run-in with them where they killed her husband. Despite knowing what they are capable of, she continues to pursue them in order to stop the mysterious murders from occurring in Detroit.
Along with supernatural obstacles, she faces social obstacles as well. Abbott portrays how being a black woman in 1972 Detroit was not easy. Abbott uses her position in the newspaper as a way to bring issues within the black community to the forefront. She faces backlash for portraying a different perspective from the newspaper’s primary readers (white people). She even has to deal with interference from her higher-ups who try everything to get her fired. But regardless of what stands in her way, Abbott continues to seek justice for her community. It is this dedication that makes her such an amazing character.
Mixing History With The Supernatural
Abbott begins by showcasing the struggles faced by the black community in 1972 Detroit. Not many places (that were not black-owned businesses) hired black people, and even if a black person got a job at a white establishment, they often faced workplace discrimination. What the heart of Abbott has done so well is to establish how unique Elena is. She is a black woman in a white male-dominated industry.
Whenever she enters a crime scene, the other reporters and police look down on her. They make little to no effort to hide their racial prejudices. Abbott does not make light of how openly racist people were. Elena Abbott has to overcome obstacles throughout the volume and the inclusion of supernatural forces makes her struggle harder.
At first, the addition of the supernatural elements in this series fell out of place. It started out as a realistic retelling about how black people faced discrimination in society. Then, almost out of nowhere, the series introduces the umbra, which initially weakens what was beginning to look like a great tale of overcoming trials and tribulations. However, as the series continued, it became clear how the umbra served not as a distraction from the conversation but as a reinforcement.
Having Abbott face the umbra melded well with her battle against social prejudice. Regardless of whether the umbra existed or not, she already faced the real, harmful ramifications of institutionalized racism. This supernatural enemy was not going to give her less credibility since people already belittled her. Having these supernatural foes reinforces the harsh reality that race alone can be an obstacle, but Abbott teaches perseverance can overcome these hurdles.