Elena Abbott is an investigative reporter; the only black reporter at the Detroit Daily News. She’s damn good at her job, too; almost as good at it as she is at chainsmoking cigarettes and using her position in the media to confront racism and “agitate” the delicate sensibilities of white people in 1972 Detroit. Oh, and there’s also some occult stuff happening.
It’s no coincidence Abbott is set when it is, where it is. As we’re shown in this issue, Elena Abbott has written an article titled “City on the Edge”, and there could be no more apt descriptor for Detroit, Michigan, in 1972. It’s a year nestled uncomfortably between two United States Supreme Court cases dealing with desegregation busing: Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, in 1971; and Milliken v. Bradley, in 1974. In short, the Swann decision held that busing was an appropriate way to desegregate schools, even if their segregation was the result of an area’s community demographics and not due to any segregating policies enacted by the schools. Miliken, three years after Swann and two years after Abbott‘s setting, held that schools did not have to remedy their segregation, unless it could be proven they had policies deliberately segregating themselves.
You see, Detroit had seen its black population grow significantly in the decades leading up to 1970. This had already caused its white population to decrease, as racist white people moved away and into suburbs black people simply were not permitted to live in. I’ll let you read about redlining elsewhere, if you’re so inclined. Just know the Miliken decision in 1974 accelerated the “white flight” from Detroit; that, coupled with the 1973 oil crisis hitting Detroit’s automotive industry hard, effectively crippled the city to a point from which it has yet to recover.
If you already knew all that, great. If you’re going to read Abbott, it’s imperative you know at least some history of Detroit and how the United States’ systemic racism has affected it. It’s necessary because, as we see in this issue, its writer Saladin Ahmed (Black Bolt) is going to draw on this information to tell the story of Elena Abbott and her city. We’re going to see Elena Abbott write stories about police brutality. We’re going to see the board members at the paper she works for openly say racist shit and complain about desegregation busing. She is going to be a black woman living in 1972 Detroit.
At the same time, and this is something I absolutely loved about this issue, its artist Sami Kivelä (Beautiful Canvas) is illustrating from a perspective that has almost put the reader into the shoes of Detroit. From panel-to-panel, you’re watching the scenes play out from inside trees, through windows, and surrounded by a crowd of people on the street. The reader is put into an almost voyeuristic role, often observing things unfold from afar.
This is a comic series with occult elements, I promise. I’m not going to spend much time on that aspect of Abbott because, frankly, this issue didn’t. As a first issue, this was understandably more concerned with establishing its titular character and her surroundings. To that end, I feel like I know enough about Elena Abbott now to make me want to know more, and the atmosphere of this issue is terrific. It reads as a period piece; it feels like the ’70s. Reading this issue, I was pleasantly reminded of the criminally underrated and gone-too-soon Cinemax series Quarry, a story also set in 1972 and a story which also dealt heavily with racism, particularly touching on busing. This issue also features, directly, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Yes, it is kind of a comic with a soundtrack; which, if you’ve seen Quarry, you know how important music was to that show. It’s unrealistic, I’d guess, to hope we get a new song referenced in each issue, but I’d love it if we did.
I was excited to read Abbott for an abundance of reasons: I like Saladin Ahmed, I value the subject matter, and I felt like it could be an excellent companion piece to Black Magick. I’m happy to say I was not disappointed by anything this first issue had to offer me. I loved this. Supremely.