(cover artwork by Taj Tenfold)
Detroit, simmering in 1972, tensions between white and black at boiling point, stoked to an even higher pitch by racist police brutality (thank goodness none of this happening today, eh? Oh, wait…). “White flight” sees lots of better off white people leaving for suburbia, depressing the city even further (more closed stores, fewer tax payers so fewer services, a vicious circle) and polarising the racial divide even more than it already was.
Elena Abbott is on the frontline of that bitter, seething divide, a hard-as-nails street-beat reporter for the Daily Detroit, a woman of colour in a world of men, and white men at that – she was never going to be popular with their boy’s club of reporters from other media, or the authorities, even before she broke stories on the previously concealed history of police brutality against black prisoners.
Most of the other reporters resent her, save a handful like crime photographer Murray who recognises her for what she is, a stand-up reporter that goes after the truth, unlike most of her colleagues from other papers. Her editor backs her up, but the paper’s board isn’t too happy with her rocking the boat (ie, telling the truth), but despite the heat he tells them to go to hell and lets her run her stories. As a result Abbott may be hated by the establishment and her (white, male) peers, but she has a big following among the black community (and even a crush from some!).
The latest story she is investigating is horrendous, an attack on the police, but this time not a human officer but one of the mounted unit’s horses, slaughtered then decapitated. Already, with no evidence the police are telling other reporters it is probably the work of black activists like the Panthers. Abbott knows it isn’t the Panthers’ style, and besides, this bodily desecration reminds her of something, something from her past she’d rather not think about…
Kivela’s art works well here – that opening page criss-crossed by headlines from the era over images from the streets, the printing presses, the auto factory lines, the community food spots summons up a feel for the era so much you can almost imagine some music from ’72 playing over it. I love his depiction of Abbott herself, dressed fashionably but not showily, the sort of clothes a regular beat reporter might wear, the close-cropped hair and fine cheekbones, cigarette, her entire expression and body language clearly saying, yeah, I’m here, you don’t like it and I don’t give a flying f**k, while a lot of the page have a golden glow by Wordie, giving the impression of one of those 70s hard, hot summers in the city, the type where you can feel the heat coming up off the baking paving stones as you walk.
This first issue was shaping up to be a pretty interesting read – a woman, and a woman of colour at that, making her way in a male-dominated career in the early 70s against a city undergoing radical change as the Civil Rights movement of the 60s moves into the more aggressive activism of the 70s. And all set against the old-school, pre-digital era hardnosed reporter who has to go over and turn over stones and prod anthills with a stick to find the true story. And that would have been a pretty cool story in its own right. But those hints early on that the case reminded Abbott of something? Oh yes, that comes back. And not at all in the way I was thinking. I’m not going to blow it here, but suffice to say Ahmed suddenly pulled the rug out from under my expectations of where this story was going, and I mean that in the best possible way. Hell, yes, I will be reading the next issue, thank you very much…
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