Review – Spencer & Locke #2 (Action Lab)

Publisher: Action Lab (Danger Zone)
Writer: David Pepose
Artwork: Jorge Santiago Jr, Jasen Smith (colours)
Lettering: Colin Bell
Release Date: 31st May 2017

After a stunning debut issue last month, David Pepose and Jorge Santiago Jr.’s Spencer and Locke doesn’t miss a beat here, continuing to build on the strength of its “Calvin and Hobbes meets Sin City” premise and dragging us deeper into the seedy underbelly of the city — as well as the darkest recesses of Detective Locke’s mind.

As our detective duo continue their investigation into the grisly murder of Locke’s childhood sweetheart Sophie, their journey leads them to the Red Rose, a seedy nightclub which plays host to a truly dangerous individual who holds  considerable power over them both.  We also get to dig a little further into the troubling events of Locke’s childhood that brought him to this point, taking a detour from the emotional and physical abuse of issue one into the realm of sexual abuse, the effects of which are still acutely impacting him today.

While the temptation could initially have been there to play this one as a light-hearted ‘cartoon panther helps a young detective solve mysteries’ type story, Pepose deserves all the credit in the world for opting to set his story in a violent, unforgiving and crime-riddled city.  His protagonist is tough, unrelenting and clearly more than a little damaged, and his ‘buddy movie’ relationship with his childhood imaginary friend definitely feels a lot more like repressed psychological trauma than all-ages hijinks.

Visually striking and alternating between Francesco Francavilla noir and Bill Watterson cuteness, Jorge Santiago Jr. once again brings his ‘A’ game to the visual side of the book.  There’s a stylised approach to his linework that gives the modern day portions of the story a slightly larger-than-life appearance, but he still manages to retain the necessary gritty realism to make the story resonate.

The flashback sequences are also deliciously twisted, contrasting the Calvin & Hobbes cartoony aesthetic with moments of genuine childhood abuse, hammering home the impact of these moments by forcing them into such a sweet, innocent artistic style.  Colourist Jasen Smith also merits a tip of the cap for his work in establishing the style of the book, utilising a limited palette of blues, reds and purples, punctuated by the occasional flash of orange in the latter stages of the issues as the pace quickens and the bullets starts to fly.

The story is every bit the gripping crime noir mystery, but it’s the juxtaposition with this Frank Miller-esque brutality and the whole giant talking panther thing that really makes this series sing. It’s difficult not to feel for Locke and all the things he’s been through in his life, and while the final pages of this issue suggest things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, I’m hoping Pepose is gradually inching towards something approaching a happy ending for this kid, otherwise I’m not sure I’ll be able to bear it.

Dark, powerful and far more poignant than any story about a giant talking panther detective has any right to be, Spencer and Locke is set to become one of the sleeper hits of 2017, and I absolutely cannot wait to see where this story goes next.

Rating: 5/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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