Welcome to the latest instalment of my comics review column here at Skiffy & Fanty! Every month, I use this space to shine a spotlight on SF&F comics (print comics, graphic novels, and webcomics) that I believe deserve more attention from SF&F readers.
This month, I’m revisiting a limited series that debuted earlier this year, and is now available as a collected volume, and a promising new limited series that’s just getting underway — Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivelä’s ABBOTT, and Tee Franklin and Alitha E. Martinez’s JOOK JOINT #1 and 2 (This review contains spoilers!)
(A quick note: The Sudden Attack of Life that led to my review not appearing last month similarly means that my column this month will be a bit more concise than usual!)
Created and Written by Saladin Ahmed
Art by Sami Kivelä
Colours by Jason Wordie
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Cover Art by Taj Tenfold
Published by Boom! Studios
I reviewed the first two issues of Abbott in March 2018, and much of what I wrote then applies equally well to this volume collecting the complete five-issue series. Abbott is an excellent historical urban fantasy, starring the eponymous crusading reporter trying to find the truth behind a series of gruesome occult murders amid the tensions on the streets of 1972 Detroit.
The story as a whole builds on the promise of those first two issues; we see more of Elena Abbott’s complicated and painful past, her tenacity and strength, and her role in the conflict between the mystical forces of light and the malevolent power of the Umbra.
We also, as I hoped, see a lot more of the supporting cast, many of whom play a pivotal role as the story — after its compressed, sense-of-time-and-place-establishing set-up — races towards the climax. Abbott herself remains central and decisive, but she also remains a thoughtful, cerebral, and not particularly violent hero; having some friends and loved ones to provide muscle in a pinch turns out to be extremely handy.
Kivelä’s art remains strong and evocatively atmospheric throughout, and benefits from having some more room to breathe as the action unfolds and the narrative becomes a bit less compressed.
2018 saw an abundance of excellent, popular and successful comics projects from Saladin Ahmed. I suspect he’ll end up competing with himself for another Best Graphic Story Hugo nomination. Meaning no slight to his other work, I do hope Abbott ends up on the ballot. It’s highly recommended.
Jook Joint #1 and 2
Script by Tee Franklin
Art by Alitha E. Martinez
Colour Art by Shari Chankhamma
Lettered by Taylor Esposito
Cover Art by Alitha E. Martinez with Nelson and Shari Chankhamma, Logo by Melissa Esposito of Ghost Glyph Studios, Design by Justin Stewart, Edited by Brendan Wright
Published by Image Comics
Horror is something of a departure for me; it’s not my natural genre home. I can read about death, but find it hard to read about pain, and I like happy endings. But I was intrigued enough by the premise and the creative team of this new Black-created and -focused horror series from Image to overcome my usual scaredy-cat-ness. And while the series so far isn’t without flaw, I’m glad I did.
Mahalia runs the titular jazz club, somewhere in the American South, in a time that isn’t clearly stated but is probably around the Jazz Age. The music and the dancing keep people coming; the men who break her simple rules to treat women and other guests with respect aren’t allowed to leave.
Because Mahalia is a possibly immortal witch, whose power has allowed her to restore the lives of women murdered by men, to act as her Furies and avenge the harm done to themselves and others. Swiftly, brutally, and without remorse.
This is an intense comic. The first page of each issue of Jook Joint includes trigger and content warnings, and provides toll-free numbers to helplines for victims of domestic violence or people considering suicide. Not only is this a genuinely caring choice, it also fairly emphasizes that the story to come will be challenging and for some, painful to read. The first issue wastes no time establishing that this is an unapologetically bloody series, with its pointed reversal of the gendered violence frequently prevalent in horror, and sadly prevalent in the world all around us as well.
Writer Tee Franklin has been enjoying a remarkable run over the past couple of years. She’s heretofore probably been best known for the sweet f/f romance graphic novel Bingo Love. In Jook Joint, she demonstrates a different side of her noteworthy talents.
Because if it’s not always easy to sympathize with Mahalia and her coven and their gleeful, bloody vengeance, it’s also impossible to sympathize with the men they take action against, and it’s very easy to sympathize with the people around her whom Mahalia helps and, in her sometimes dispassionate, sometimes scarily passionate way, cares for. Franklin’s writing strikes a very careful balance with grace and skill.
Alina E. Martinez’s art is strong and lush, and perhaps best when she takes time to let it breathe, as she does in the covers and in key character scenes. Her depiction of action can be a bit more sketchy, unclear and rushed, but I’m not entirely convinced that wasn’t a deliberate stylistic choice in how she addresses violence. Violence, when you’re a victim of it and not feeling empowered by performing it or seeing it performed, is confusing, is scary and hard to understand until it’s over, until it’s too late.
However, after a powerful, stylish, and evocative first issue, Jook Joint stumbles in #2. There feels like considerably less than an issue’s worth of story; the plot and conflict are essentially reiterated, but in a more expository format. It’s a choice that doesn’t serve the narrative or its previously strong momentum well.
Another area of concern is Taylor Esposito’s lettering, which I’m sorry to say is weak. I’m not sure if it’s the choice of font, or the point size, or a mismatch between text and word balloon size and placement, but the lettering throughout is too light, too thin- and frail-seeming. It’s an odd choice for a series that includes so many powerful characters, expressing themselves so powerfully. Strong lettering can be a joy, and merely adequate lettering is at least invisible, but weak lettering draws attention to itself in an unwelcome and unproductive way.
As I mentioned, two issues of Jook Joint have been published to date; the third is due to arrive in stores on December 12, 2018. I want to see where this promising new series goes, and I’ll be picking it up. Jook Joint isn’t perfect, and it’s not for everyone — it may, in the end, not be for me! — but its merits are very strong. This is a bold comic, powerful and energetic, and it deserves to find its audience.
Acknowledgements and Disclosures: I would like to acknowledge that Toronto, and the land it now occupies, where I live and work, has been a site of human activity for 15,000 years. This land is the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. The territory was the subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and Confederacy of the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. This territory is also covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Today, the meeting place of Toronto is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island. I am grateful to have the opportunity to live and work in the community of Toronto, on this territory.
I have no personal or professional relationships with the creators or publishers. I purchased my own copies of the graphic novel and comics for review.