Publisher: Action Lab (Danger Zone)
Writer: David Pepose
Artwork: Jorge Santiago Jr, Jasen Smith (colours)
Lettering: Colin Bell
Release Date: 12th April 2017
What if Calvin and Hobbes grew up in Sin City? As a snappy elevator pitches go, the premise behind Spencer & Locke is an absolute winner, and I’m pleased to report that the first issue of this new Action Lab Danger Zone series more than delivers on the near unlimited potential of that basic idea.
Ostensibly a crime noir mystery, this first issue sees Detective Locke investigating the gruesome murder of his grade-school sweetheart, gradually puting the pieces together as he tries to uncovering the events that led up to her untimely end. So far so familiar, right? And as a straight-up crime thriller, this more than ticks all the required boxes, with writer David Pepose creating an intriguing but suitably grounded story, all narrated by Locke’s world-weary inner monologue.
But see, this isn’t a straight-up crime thriller. Because Locke has a partner. And this partner, Spencer, is actually Locke’s imaginary panther friend from his childhood. Yeah. The issue is punctuated with flashbacks to Spencer and Locke’s formative years together as we see them getting into all of the whimsical shenanigans that one might associate with Bill Watterson‘s iconic twosome. But see, this is dark as hell, too. And from the very first page, which sees Spencer catching a vicious beating from his mother after being caught sneaking out of the house, it’s clear that there’s absolutely nothing whimsical about this story.
Jorge Santiago Jr’s visuals are on point too, with a suitably straight-laced present day contrasting with the gloriously Watterson-esque flashbacks to create a constantly shifting aesthetic that really helps to sell the million dollar premise. Colourist Jasen Smith also deserves a lot of credit for helping this shift to work as well as it does, adjusting his style from loud and vibrant to dark and shadowy as the story demands, really helping the underscore the strength of Santiago Jr’s illustrations. As always, Colin Bell’s lettering rounds things out nicely, remaining unobtrusive throughout while still managing showcase a little bit of visual flair every now and again.
Spencer is a fantastic creation, somehow managing to stay true to the hard boiled aesthetic in spite of being, y’know, a seven foot tall blue panther, and the little details about him – like the “Sin City” version having the same button for an eye as Locke’s childhood cuddly toy – really helps to sell the story. Pepose also has some fun with the fact that Locke sees Spencer differently from the rest of the world, including a humorous scene in a diner and a surprisingly touching moment with a terrified young witness.
Locke is great too, with his somewhat played-out gumshoe persona being backed up by what was clearly a fairly troubled childhood, and the fact that he sees his childhood best friend as his present day partner being played incredibly straight. In fact, it feels a lot more like deep-rooted trauma than merely an overactive imagination, adding yet another level of depth to what is already a ridiculously fascinating series.
Dark, violent and just a little bit twisted, this is easily the most polished and inventive title I’ve seen from Action Lab so far, and the entire creative team deserves all the credit in the world for bringing such a genuinely brilliant premise to life. This is one of the strongest debuts for a new title in 2017 so far, and is a series that deserves to be seen by as many eyes as possible.
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