Abbott is a 2018 award-winning mini-series by Saladin Ahmed , Sami Kivelä , Jason Wordie et al.
It’s a supernatural horror/investigation story set in 1972 Detroit, MI.
The story evokes :
- Carl Kolchak, the ur-“US-journalist-investigating-supernatural-monsters-in-the-1970” character, from Night Stalker.
- Modern noir detective stories. Such as Greg Rucka’s Stumptown, also featuring a hardboiled female investigator and a strong sense of place. Though Elena has a better Ford Mustang than Dex’s 1964 V6.
- Early 1970s horror movies. The big one would of course be The Exorcist (1973), which also led to a horror revival in comics. It also might draw from then-contemporary giallo movies . This subgenre was at its height during those years.
- The heydays of US investigative journalism, during the 1970s. Thinks All the President’s Men (1976, mythologising the 1972 Watergate investigation. On dit des ouiches).
This profile doesn’t quite detail the *plot*, to avoid spoiling it. But it discusses Elena’s past and abilities, which is another type of S P O I L E R.
This profile only covers the first LS. Abbott: 1973 has barely started publication as of this writing.
- Real Name: Elena Abbott.
- Other Aliases: “Lightbringer”, “The Light That Burns The Shadow”, “Illuminator”.
- Other Aliases: Abbott has been jokingly nicknamed “the Black Lois Lane” or “Detroit’s Brenda Starr ”.
- Known Relatives: Samir (husband, deceased), Sgt. James Gratham (ex-husband).
- Group Affiliation: Employee of the Detroit Daily.
- Base of Operations: A small one-story house on Brush St. (presumably the one in the Brush Park neighbourhood of Midtown Detroit).
- Height: 5’7″ (1.70m). Weight: 138 lbs. (62 Kg.) Age: 35.
- Eyes: Brown. Hair: Black.
Powers & Abilities
Ms. Abbott is a veteran investigative journalist. She’s thorough, professional, driven and difficult to intimidate.
She’s observant, with a strong deductive intelligence. And excels at cultivating contacts among the police, on the street, among gonifsA shady person with underworld connections, but who’s not an outright criminal, etc..
This being the 1970s, she’s also proficient with a typewriter. I can *almost* recognise the model she uses — I think I’ve used it too — raaah this is so frustrating so yeah anyway typewriter. She’s also a decent press photographer.
(It looks a bit like an Adler Contessa or an Olivetti Lettera, but the sides are different and DAMNIT.)
Elena doesn’t seem to have significant combat training, but she has good instincts. She’s also tall-ish and seems to be in good shape. Still – not really a fighter.
Ms. Abbott has a strong personality, with high willpower, solid charisma, and unusual discipline.
She appears to be an experienced driver, and knowledgeable about jazz.
The focused psychic totality of her culinary skills is just enough to make coffee. Though apparently it’s good coffee, which is what counts.
Let the sunshine in
Ms. Abbott can psychically sense Umbra creatures and magic. This manifests as a sudden, oppressing migraine with some visual hallucinations.
She also has the power of exorcism. Shining a light (say, a flashlight) on a supernatural creature will free any enslaved soul therein, and allow it to pass on. If such a soul was animating a body, the flesh and bone disintegrate as the soul leaves.
Friends in low places
Ms. Abbott isn’t the lone wolf type of hardboiled investigator. Her friends, lovers and contacts play a key role in the stories.
A short who’s who :
A handsome Senegalese man. He lived in France before moving to the US. Samir was the big love of Elena’s life.
(Sénégal has long been a key French colonial holding in Western Africa. It formally became independent in 1960.)
(As to Paris, it held prestige among African-American intellectuals and artists of the 1960s and 1970s. That was in part due to French racism being structured differently than American racism, so at least it was a change of pace. And in part due to the influential Francophone thinkers of that era.)
Samir was some sort of occultist, fighting evil shadow creatures he called the Umbra. These eventually killed him, at which point his body vanished.
The middle-aged owner and cook at Broadway’s Black Star Dinner.
He sees Elena as a niece of sorts. He also hears his patrons discuss a lot of what’s going on in Black Detroit.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Detroit Daily, and thus Abbott’s boss.
Her work causes no end of trouble for him, but he considers her his MVPMost Valuable Player. Sports slang for a person who’s clearly the best around. reporter. Fred shields Elena from most suppression attempts.
He’s an animated and grumpy Armenian-American in his early 60s.
Mr. Missakian is an Eisenhower Liberal type, but one who detests racism. Racism makes him go on lengthy angry tirades about how he fought Nazis during the war, how he stormed the Overlord beaches, blah blah blah.
A manly plainclothes officer, complete with moustache and small sideburns. James Gratham is also Elena’s ex-husband. He’s an important ally and information provider.
Sgt. Gratham holds no illusions about police racism. He’ll thus work with Elena to prevent the force from insta-closing cases with Black victims. So these too have a shot at justice.
If the story were about him, James Gratham would likely be a vintage blaxploitationCheap, oft-seedy thriller movies made by and for African-Americans. The genre had its heydays during the 1970s with Shaft and similar flicks. hero à la John Shaft.
A seemingly British hippie, complete with fringed jacket and a MJ habit. Like Samir, he’s an experienced occultist and knows many hidden truths about the Umbra.
Crowe operates the Aquarian Emporium shop on Plum Street, which is known for its hippie shops.
Sebastian eventually explained that he was 800 years old, and had known Samir for centuries.
Like Samir, Sebastian is unusually handsome.
An assistant director at the City of Detroit’s Hall of Records. Records are a critical resource for an investigative journalist.
As she’ll happily tell anyone, the aged Henrietta was the first Black woman to ever hold an executive position within the Hall. Her original ambition was to become a journalist, which means she’s highly supportive of Abbott.
(A few Black women of Miss Henrietta’s generation — early 1900s — did become reporters, such as Alice Allison . And of course there was Ida B. Wells even before that. But their careers were uncharacteristic to say the least.)
The owner of the other restaurant that Elena visits almost daily. He too hears about many things – not necessarily legal ones.
Though he’s risk-averse, Lincoln served in Korea. And he’s an excellent shot even with his old M1911.
Lincoln and his sister Amelia are ¼ Chinese-American and ¾ African-American (hence the family name). Their granny told them many Chinese legends about demons and stuff.
The sultry, foxy Amelia is both Lincoln’s sister and a hardened criminal. She’s on the Detroit “persons you don’t want to cross” list.
She once worked for the Randazzo brothers, a corrupt construction contractor which was exposed by Elena’s reporting. The fall of the Randazzos may have forced Ms. Chee to leave Detroit for a while.
Amelia is in love with Elena, and may occasionally and unilaterally decide to help her. Given Amelia’s determination and extensive underworld contacts, that’s no small advantage.
She looks a bit more Asian than her brother, and likes wearing Chinese-inspired clothing.
The mini-series has its own musical hook, so that’s convenient for this section.
It is the 1965 free jazz album A Love Supreme. Which is one of musical genius John Coltrane’s landmark recordings.
This world-famous album has four parts. So let’s go with “Part 1 – Acknowledgement”. It’s the most easily recognizable one, with the signature four notes on double bass and the titular chanting.
It’s not Coltrane’s most accessible work, though I wouldn’t call it difficult either. But for those who grokIntuitive yet robust understanding of how something works it, it’s fantastic.
History (part 1)
Elena Abbott was born in 1937, give or take a year.
This was still the Jim Crow era. Ms. Rosa Parks got on that bus when Elena was just 18.
Living in Detroit, Ms. Abbott wasn’t in a Jim Crow area per se. But the city was notorious for segregation, redlining and other racist practices. There were major race riots in 1943 and in 1967.
The latter accelerated White Flight . This loss of municipal revenue would be considerably worsened by the disastrous 1970s economy.
By this 1972 story, the oil shock has started badly hurting the automobile-building Detroit.
To love and die in Detroit
During her late 20s, Elena was in a relationship with one Samir. He was the love of her life.
Samir was an occult practitioner waging a shadow war. Elena didn’t really get this, thinking that it was some sort of African symbolism thing.
But they were attacked by maleficent shadow creatures, which broke through Samir’s wards. He stayed behind so Elena could run, and was slain. This left Elena shocked.
The Chee siblings took her in when most everyone else thought Elena insane with grief. A relationship developed between Elena and Amelia, especially during a trip to Paris. But Elena froze up and bailed out.
Ms. Abbott later married a policeman, Mr. Gratham. But she now had high standards for her relationships, and the officer had alcohol and philanderyA man who readily or frequently enters into casual sexual relationships issues.
The divorce came quickly, but they remained friends.
The mechanics of Motor City
Elena Abbott worked for the Detroit Daily – a small paper with so-so circulation. But her airtight investigations helped keep it afloat.
Abbott’s inquiries often exposed racism and corruption scandals. This created significant tension with the reactionary board owning the paper.
But the EIC, Mr. Missakian, pointed out that this brought in Black readers. These were increasingly necessary to keep the paper, errr, in the black. Thanks to Abbott’s exposes, the Daily had the largest circulation in Black Detroit for a White-owned newspaper.
In 1971 or 1972, she exposed the police murder of Black teenager DuClark Harris. It was a major scandal in Detroit, and made Abbott many new enemies.
In 1972, Abbott investigated a series of grisly murders. Human and animal corpses were found mutilated. On the crime scenes, Elena could sense supernatural presences.
As she doggedly continued to investigate, attacks started. A masked priest cut her, and she was chased by a sort of morbid centaur. The journalist learned to use light to destroy these.
She recognised these forces as the ones who had killed Samir. Left with little choice, she contacted Sebastian Crowe to learn more.
Elena dresses in practical early 1970s women’s fashion. High-waisted and wide-hemmed polyester/cotton jeans, warm-coloured unbuttoned blazer with big side pockets, scoop-necked plain white sleeveless T-shirt, low-heeled vintage leather boots. Plus large 1970s boho copper half-moon earrings.
Her boho, silk orange ascot is also typical of the era. It seems tied in a more French-style foulard en cravate manner, and was originally Samir’s.
She looks slightly younger than she actually is, sports short natural hair (about a 4A texture in what I’m told is a “cute tight coils” style), and has gigantic legs.
Ms. Abbott smokes like a chimney, as was the style of the day. Back then there were few non-smoker spaces, and none of us cared about those anyway. And so we died of cancers enabled by propaganda and regulatory capture, so that was fun.
Back during the 1960s, Elena sported a medium-sized afro.
Abbott probably doesn’t have LUX ET VERITAS“Light and truth” in Latin. This motto is used by Yale U among others tattooed inside her underwear. But that’s the general idea.
She’s there to shine a bright light into dark places, relentlessly exposing the truth. And she ain’t gonna stop, even when things get real scary.
She seems to spend the vast majority of her time working and on the go. This is in part because her C-list, cash-strapped newspaper needs its reporters to churn out a lot of copy, PDQ.
Strength through policies
Elena has to absorb a huge amount of toxic stress. A lot of it comes from her job, and another lot of it comes from racism, classism, misogyny and misogynoir . Plus PTSD from Samir’s death.
While she’s tough, that’s not manageable without extraordinary measures. These include :
- Rigid daily routines. Elena shows up at Broadway’s every day at the same time to eat the same thing, at Chee’s every evening for her first brandy, and always drinks her second brandy at home whilst listening to Coltrane.
- Living alone. She needs all her energy to handle that crap, so she cannot deal with another person’s crap as well.
- Lots of nicotine, a fair bit of alcohol.
- Having a solid network of mostly reliable friends, who know how to deal with danger.
- Being caring and attentive toward her non-dickish friends and colleagues, but with firm boundaries. Elena is kind and will always remember birthdays and the like. But she’s the one who decides on terms and she expects this level of care to be returned in some appropriate manner.
- These boundaries can at times make her seem hard and cold. Since 1970s societal expectations are still for women to self-sacrifice and shoulder others’ burdens.
These policies work, but not against life-altering events. It thus took days for Elena to adjust to the existence of the supernatural, since she didn’t have defensive measures for that.
But once she accepted it, that was it.
Cherchez la femme
Elena never recovered from Samir’s death. She’s still in love with him. This likely explains some of her choices above.
Ms. Abbott is bisexual. But she has trouble coming to grips with this. It seems that she never truly realised this before Amelia in Paris. And couldn’t handle discovering this about herself while already in her 30s.
At this point, her method to “cope” is to ignore that part of her. And keep Amelia at arm’s length.
“The brownstone with the body the other night was university-owned. And the alley where you found the last one is behind the university theatre.”
“You’ve lost. We’re not going back to another era. We’re going forward. And if you don’t like it, you can burn in Hell.”
“Alright, then. Elena, old girl. Your allotted two days of debilitating self-pity have expired. You’ve been fired. No one believes the evil wizard who tried to kill you tried to kill you. Time to find out what the hell is going on in this city.”
DC Universe Adaptation
(This section proposes ways of using this character in DC Universe stories).
She’s not unlike a Night Force character, really.
At first glance, the “chosen one” thing seems to make it hard for her to exist in a superheroic universe. Possible solutions include making the Umbra imperceptible to even other wizards, or moving Abbott to an area with few if any superhumans. Say, 1972 Toronto.
A third solution is to assume that Elena is a long-lived superhuman occultist with even more potential than Samir or Sebastian. She could thus over time become a full-fledged member of the Mystic Community.
DC Heroes RPG
Tell me more about the game stats
|Dex: 02||Str: 02||Bod: 02|
|Int: 06||Wil: 05||Min: 04|
|Inf: 04||Aur: 05||Spi: 04|
|Init: 012||HP: 025|
Magic blast: 08
Bonuses and Limitations:
- Magic blast can only be done against Umbral creatures.
- Magic blast requires shining a light on the target.
Artist (Photographer): 03, Artist (Writer): 04, Detective (Legwork): 05, Scientist (Research): 04, Vehicles (Land): 03, Weaponry (Firearms)*: 02
Charisma (Persuasion): 02
Bonuses and Limitations:
- Charisma is a Powered Skill, and can only be used against Umbra-reanimated chimeras.
- Charisma can be used against the ante mortem Mystical Attributes of the chimera’s components. All Character Interaction modifiers apply (including Attitude toward Abbott). This isn’t normally possible, as such chimeras are undeads wot are immune to Character Interaction.
Area Knowledge (Detroit), Familiarity (Jazz lore).
Street (Low), Press (Low), Police (Low), Underworld (Low).
MIA toward Tobacco, Misc.: the racism and misogyny issues you’d expect from the time and place.
- 1968 V8 FORD MUSTANG.
- Snubnosed revolver [BODY 02, Projectile weapons: 03, Ammo: 06, Miniaturisation: 01, R#03]. It seems to be a 1972 Colt Cobra (which is when they switched to a shrouded ejector).
Amelia pretty much forced Elena to carry this. I’m not sure whether she can legally carry an undocumented handgun in 1970s Michigan.
- Camera w/flash [BODY 01, Data storage (visual only): 01, Flash: 02, R#02].
- Cigs and a Zippo.
BREAKING: Design Notes
Her stats use a “low Physical APs, robust Hero Points for the small-g genre” approach. She doesn’t have any special physical training or gifts, but she’s got willpower and survival instincts.
An HP boost can thus take her to 4 APs, which is pretty solid in a setting where almost everybody has 02 and 03s. Typically it’ll be an OV boost to dodge a blow, or an AV boost to hit something despite not being a trained shooter.
The big-G Genre seems fairly generous – between Action and Mock-Real. Spending Hero Points works pretty well. It’s just that most characters have few if any of those.
A lot of her work is Character Interaction. Her style suggests high INF/AUR rather than Charisma. She’ll need Charisma if you have Unskilled Character Interaction house rules, though.
Source of Character: Abbott 2018 GN.
Writeup completed on the 29th of November, 2020.