This month we’re stepping away from Big Two superhero comics to spend some time with two of BOOM! Studios’ best new series, Destroyer and Abbott. Although the two titles couldn’t be more unrelated in setting story, but both have killer hooks (literally), fantastic creative teams, and a similar underlying theme. If these aren’t already on your shelves, you have some catching up to do.
Victor LaValle’s hard-hitting miniseries is set in Mary Shelley’s universe where Victor Frankenstein created his Monster. After her young son, Akai, was killed by a trigger-happy cop, Dr. Josephine Baker took up Frankenstein’s work and brought him back to life. Now her former employers, ex-husband, and the original Monster himself are after Jo and Akai, and they’ll have to fight like hell to survive. Josephine’s overwhelming love for her son keeps her going, but her genius may be her undoing.
When LaValle focuses Destroyer on its strongest elements—race relations and misogynoir—it soars, but too often the story takes on too much. Climate change, our over-reliance on technology and how it’s warping the world for the worse, sexism and gender-based discrimination, gray morality, etc. are all touched on but barely explored, thanks to the limitations of a six-issue run. I also would’ve liked to have spent more time with Jo and Akai rather than going down tangents featuring characters who wouldn’t live to see the end of a single issue. Even though the script isn’t as tight as it could be, the added weight of social commentary pulls it all together in a powerful package. At its heart, Destroyer is about the unique stressors of being a Black mother with a Black son in America. While Akai is ostensibly the hero, his mother is the true star. Dr. Baker is sharp and bitter, an antagonist who blurs the line between justice and retribution.
Through his highly detailed artwork, Dietrich Smith deepens and expands LaValle’s script. Smith often opts for unusual panel structures and page layouts, making the art of Destroyer as creative as the story. Joana Lafuente really gets the tone across through her use of muted, earthy colors broken up with bright splotches of blood and glowing nanobots. That Jim Campbell’s lettering is stellar should be no surprise. With subtle differences in speech bubbles and font, you can almost hear the changes in speech patterns between the characters.
Through Josephine, LaValle’s story becomes more than Mary Shelley meets Black Lives Matter. It’s “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” and the ethics of using violence to overthrow an oppressive system. It’s the systemic oppression and the old Black Panther Party conceit of policing the police. Destroyer is reigniting all my Erik Killmonger feels, and I am so here for it.
Writer: Victor LaValle; art: Dietrich Smith; colors: Joana Lafuente; letters: Jim Campbell. BOOM! Studios published a volume of the complete series (issues #1-6) on March 6, 2018.
Detroit in 1972 is a city on the edge. The symptoms of collapse are there, but the disease is only just beginning to spread. After decades of racial tensions and riots and economic and employment losses, white Detroiters are packing their bags and fleeing to the suburbs, taking their taxes and community support with them. Covering it all is Elena Abbott, a Black journalist who is the only one shining a light on the brutality and negligence by the city’s majority white police force against its African American citizens. But when she starts digging into the horrific murder of a young Black boy, something dark and sinister comes after her. Supernatural horror and urban fantasy mystery meet Blaxploitation in this gripping new series.
Abbott isn’t in a hurry. Saladin Ahmed takes his time exploring this Detroit with Elena, to compelling effect. Each reveal offers more secrets, and every confrontation a glimpse of a difficult past. This is a series where the experience and context is as important as the actual plot. Throughout it all are the undercurrents of racism, microaggressions, and misogynoir in a city broiling with racial tension. That being said, my only major concern is the lack of Black creators, especially Black women. As much as I trust Ahmed, not having a single women and/or Black creative involved in telling a story about a Black woman doesn’t sit well with me. If anything, it’s a missed opportunity to hire a Black woman in a white male dominated field.
The story is pretty great thus far, but the it’s art of Sami Kivelä and colors of Jason Wordie that pull the whole thing together. Wordie’s muted color palette and Kivelä’s overlapping panels and torn headlines make every page feel like a flipping through an old scrapbook. It’s as if an Abbott descendant discovered Elena’s newspaper clippings and faded photographs in a box in the attic. The standout scenes are, of course, the ones exploding with magic. With his use of lurid purples, reds, and blues for the umbra, Wordie punches up the horror of Kivelä’s nuanced artwork to Lovecraftian nightmare. As far as Jim Campbell goes, take every bit of praise I gave him for his work on Destroyer and copy-paste it here. Campbell can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned.
With only two issues, judging the quality of a series is a challenge. There are so many ways a series like this could go spectacularly awry or fumble its premise over time. However, with a creative team with a track record this strong, I have few worries. Abbott has a big voice and a lot of things to say, and I plan to stick around for all of it.
Writer: Saladin Ahmed; art: Sami Kivelä; colors: Jason Wordie; letters: Jim Campbell. BOOM! Studios will release the third issue on March 28, 2018.
Alex Brown is a YA librarian by day, local historian by night, pop culture critic/reviewer by passion, and QWoC all the time. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, check out her endless barrage of cute rat pics on Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on Tumblr.