In the first volume of Abbott, tabloid reporter Elena Abbott set out to investigate a series of grisly murders and awakened to her power as the Lightbringer, ending the killing spree and freeing the souls of the killer’s victims from a fate worse than death. But evil never sleeps for long, and the sinister force known as the Umbra still infects Detroit. As she struggles to settle in at a new paper where things are not going to be as easy as she hoped, can she overcome her trauma and stop a sinister cabal from using the Umbra to do even more damage?
Abbott: 1973 reunites writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Sami Kivelä to tell more gritty supernatural stories from ’70s Detroit. A sequel comic is always a tricky proposition, especially when it has been some time since the original miniseries. But Ahmed does an excellent job of bringing new readers up to speed without slowing the pace of the book down with walls of exposition. Instead, he very naturally maneuvers the characters so that Elena meets and catches up with old friends from the first volume, like her girlfriend Amelia and her ally in the Hall of Records, Henrietta.
Ahmed puts his focus on the struggle for progress, setting the story in the tumultuous period leading up to the election of Coleman Young, Detroit’s first Black mayor. It would be easy in this type of story to align the evils in Elena’s life into one monolithic adversary. But he is true to his history, and the unpleasant complexities it represents.
Even when things are looking up, Elena is beset on all sides, both from the forces of the Umbra, but also from more mundane forces like the new owner of her paper, who has strong opinions on what he considers to be ‘ladylike.’ Elena is also processing her trauma from the events of the first story and her responsibilities as a Lightbringer. She’s also coming to terms with her bisexuality, and her behavior puts a strain on her relationship with her girlfriend.
I love how much depth and consideration Ahmed gives these scenes, and that he spends time considering the complexities of these various struggles. A lesser story would have walled these aspects off from one another, perhaps having Abbott disappear into a phone booth when supernatural terrors raise their heads. But Ahmed allows for a much messier, and as a result more interesting and grounded-feeling story.
The characters are a real highlight of the issue, as everyone that Elena meets feels so rich and three-dimensional. The book’s recreation of ‘70s Detroit isn’t exactly vibrant, being the heart of the rust belt, but the city has a rhythm and a heartbeat that extends far beyond the central character and her struggles. Every character on the page feels like a person with their own thoughts and plans, even if they’re only hinted at.
Kivelä and new colorist Mattia Iacono are also bringing their talents to bear in this issue. As with the original miniseries, Kivelä’s layouts draw the eye and give each page a sense of dynamic energy that boosts Ahmed’s atmospheric writing. The team has brought back the stylistic touches of the first volume, with inset panels featuring excerpts of Abbott’s articles as she writes them. His keen sense of ‘70s fashions brings the setting to life and grounds it in a way that few other comics can match. Iacono’s coloring is also top-notch. They work well with the story and are a good match for the style of the first volume.
The only downside for me in this issue is the look we get at the cabal of wizards working to bring Abbott down. The issue opens with a two-page sequence of the surviving bad guys plotting in a museum at midnight, gathering in the shadows with scenery-chewing dialog about their plans to bring down the Lightbringer. Compared to the carefully realized rest of the book, this scene came off as a bit of a cliche.
Abbott: 1973 #1 marks the return of an engaging mix of political thriller and urban fantasy, and is an easy jumping on point for new readers. Don’t miss it!
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