DC needs to let Saladin Ahmed take a crack at Batman
On the latest episode of the Comics Now Podcast, we talk about the excellent Abbott, by Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kavelä, Jason Wordie, and Jim Campbell. Set in 70’s Detroit, the book follows Elena Abbott—the only black reporter working for The Detroit Daily. Dedicated to exposing injustices in her city, Elena is not only a likeable character, but also a pretty good detective. And, as it turns out, Ahmed is also pretty darn good at the mechanics of a detective story.
Let me say up front that Abbott is an outstanding book on its own. Ahmed doesn’t need to move on to so-called bigger things to validate his accomplishments here. The world already has a number of excellent Batman stories, and if we never get one from Ahmed, then so be it. I’ll follow his career regardless, and Batman stories will persist.
All of that said, I love Batman. I write about him and his world on a regular basis. And while there has been plenty to enjoy in Batman comics these past few years, something’s wrong. The World’s Greatest Detective has been displaced by The World’s Greatest Immortal Action Hero. Gotham City is a prominent visual feature, and sometimes we’re told by characters how important it is; but it is seldom explored and examined and probed for its less-flamboyant secrets. The personal catastrophe of cold-blooded murder takes a back seat to city-wide catastrophe, and Batman time and again saves the abstract notion of his city, with the details left out. And somehow, the larger the threats get—and the more dire Batman’s predicament becomes—the lower the stakes actually feel.
By contrast, Elena Abbott is close to the ground, very much concerned with the details, and vulnerable. The stakes feel incredibly high for her, the victims of the crimes she’s investigating, and for Detroit. She regularly interacts with real people, even after the surreal begins invading her life. And Ahmed deftly situates the reader beside her, so that her deductions are neither too far behind or too far ahead of our own. This is what I—and many others—want to see in the pages of a Batman book: the World’s Greatest Detective in his city, in actual danger, working actual cases.
Batman is big enough to support more than two titles, so why not put the Bat-family drama in a new book, and repurpose Detective Comics so that it better honors its name and heritage? And why not give it to the writer of one of the best detective comics on the stands right now?