Writer: David Pepose Art: Jorge Santiago, Jr. Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment
WHAT IS IT?
A PTSD-tinged noir mystery with strong dystopian Sunday funny roots.
Imagine Chinatown meets Calvin & Hobbes if the main character had a lot of unresolved issues and imagined his childhood friend/stuffed animal was his partner.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
It's a short time after the end of the previous volume and, because of the events that transpired (mostly the body count), Locke's awaiting a hearing to find out how his department plans to deal with his actions.
But it looks like someone's killing off city officials, and Locke (and his invisible best friend, Spencer) have been hired to stop them before more lives are lost.
Unfortunately, Locke might have more to worry about. Spencer is seeming more and more aggressive and less stable, his animal instincts rising to the surface. Plus, he has others close to him to worry about, a woman and a daughter. He must consider his own actions and their repercussions more than ever before.
Can Locke be a hero without ruining his life? Who is Roach Riley, and what are his motivations?
If you're new to the title, the big schtick is it's like Calvin and Hobbes, if Calvin's life were disastrous, and he grew up to solve crimes. The previous volume opened with a Calvin & Hobbes riff to put you in the mind of them, then quickly went off the rails. This one starts similarly, but with a Beetle Bailey parody. It introduces the antagonist, Roach Riley, with brilliant symmetry to the comic it spoofs, to the beginning of the first volume, and to Locke, himself.
As before, the creative team perfectly weaves the noir tone and aesthetic with the Sunday Funnies worlds in a way that may surprise you.
In fact, Jorge Santiago, Jr., finds a strange and beautiful balance in his art style between comic cartoonishness and the gravitas of the noir genre.
Sometimes, when it feels like a panel can't quite contain the action, Santiago, Jr., gives the borders an almost scribbled look, using an almost childish cue to convey violence.
This issue also shows that he is a king of the 9-panel grid. The first example of this, shown below, uses a series of flashbacks juxtaposed with Rorschach inkblots to remind us of Locke's trauma and the events of the first volume. It also shows us that he is being monitored and his sanity is being evaluated after those events, and that he's purposely lying to cover up his instability. The "Spencer" shadow he casts in the center panel is an especially deft touch, reminding us early on that Spencer is all in Locke's head.
I especially like how the “PREVIOUSLY IN SPENCER & LOCKE” page helps remind you of all the important events of the previous volume, even though the comic itself catches you up enough and is written in a way that you can enjoy it even without reading the first volume.
You can definitely tell the entire creative team are fans of the genre, because the writing, shading, moody colors and lettering effects fit right in with the noir tone.
With Locke's new relationship, David Pepose captures this feeling of being lonely together, of a relationship that maybe isn't devoid of intimacy, but definitely has walls built between characters. He doesn't dwell on it – it's just very elegantly alluded to.
Pepose also has a knack for doing so much character building and plot development at the same time as writing witty banter, and it makes for such a tight book that never has a dull moment.
His use of cockroaches as an extended metaphor makes Roach Riley feel like he's constantly present, at least in. the characters' minds, while simultaneously giving that "dirty city" vibe so common in noir.
Spencer loses his childish idiosyncrasies that he showed in the first volume, further highlighting how that characteristic levity has been removed in place of something more feral.
Jasen Smith’s color palette bridges and juxtaposes vivid cartoon colors with moody noir in a way that's unique and ownable to the title. His rare use of red is a powerful way to highlight pain or danger within a scene.
Colin Bell's lettering is varied, showing an impressive range giving characters treatments tailored to their personalities. For example, Locke's narration is on ruled paper, tying back to that childishness played on by the line art and writing. Roach's captions are reversed-out, giving an evil tone, and the font is reminiscent of a military typewriter.
Bell's sound effect work is also varied and thought-out, switching between set fonts and handwritten ones depending on action, texture and other needs. It really elevates the action sequences in a way that's just a lot of fun to read.
It's good to see PTSD and a history of trauma represented in a way that's interesting without being Hollywood-ized.
The “Mature Readers” and “T+” on the front cover makes it obvious who the audience should be.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
Murder, cursing, adult themes make this a far cry from the Sunday Funnies it's based on (though you were warned on the front cover!)
I seriously have no other issues with this first...erm...issue. The entire team is operating at such a high capacity, making for a comic that's an absolutely joy to read.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Spencer & Locke is an immensely enjoyable and well made detective story with a fresh, new spin. Highly polished and disruptive to the genre, fans of crime noir or innovative storytelling must pick this up.
It's clear from this issue that the series loses no speed or magic moving into this next volume. Just as enjoyable as the previous arc, Spencer & Locke 2 ups the stakes with a villain all too similar to Locke. It feels like a natural next step in a story you'll want to read immediately.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Spencer & Locke, Vol. 1 by David Pepose & Jorge Santiago, Jr.
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Sin City by Frank Miller
If you like the art:
Curse of the Eel by Jorge Santiago, Jr.
Criminal by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Deadbeat by Jed McPherson & Chris Shehan
ABOUT THE CREATORS
David Pepose – Writer
Multitalented: Currently developing properties for film, TV & comics out in LA
Has also worked for CBS, Netflix, Universal Studios and DC Comics
Originally from St. Louis, where your favorite Comic Book Yeti lives
Jorge Santiago, Jr. – Artist
Has a career in graphic design
Has been "training in the comics arts" since he was 17
Jasen Smith – Colorist
Multitalented: Has also been a newspaper writer, cartoonist, voice jockey and a freelance graphic designer
Has been working as a full-time colorist since 2013
Colin Bell – Letterer
Multitalented: Has also written a couple comics, one of which (Dungeon Fun) won a SICBA award
Outlander: Lives in Scotland
Nicole D'Andria – Editor
Multitalented: Has adapted one of my daughter's favorite shows, Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, to comics
Also is marketing director and submissions editor for Action Lab Entertainment, and writes articles for Comic Frontline
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