Pullbox Reviews: Spencer & Locke #2- Croquet Mallets and Car Chases…

Spencer & Locke #2
Action Lab
Written by David Pepose
Art by Jorge Santiago Jr.
Colors by Jasen Smith
Letters by Colin Bell
Available now!

Spencer and Locke’s investigation leads them to the seedy nightclub known as the Red Rose, and its dangerous owner who holds power over Locke. Meet Ramona Sinclair. If this femme fatale doesn’t do these gumshoes in, a death-defying car chase just might
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If you missed it, the review for issue #1 is right here

Still on the trail of a killer, Detective Locke is digging into his bag of tricks to get a lead. That bag is deep, holding among other things a cricket bat and a croquet mallet. The target of this step in his investigation, a schoolyard bully from Locke’s past named Stanley, is about to have a very bad day. But he won’t be alone as the information he coughs up (along with maybe a tooth or two) leads Locke and his partner Spencer to local den of sin, The Red Rose Gentleman’s Club. It’s there that Locke realizes the case isn’t just about the death of old girlfriend Sophie Jenkins. There’s a hostage involved, a little girl, Sophie’s daughter and possibly the only true innocent left in a city that chews through childhoods like a dog trying to gnaw through a hambone to get to the marrow.

Spencer & Locke is one of those very rare comic series that takes a pretty unassuming concept, asking questions like “what if Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbies) grew up to be a cop?” From there, the concept turns completely, painfully, messily inside out. Say Calvin’s childhood wasn’t all gleeful wagon rides and mischievous snowball fights. Just suppose that Calvin grew up with all kinds of abuse heaped on top of him, from an abusive mother, schoolyard bullies, and one truly messed up babysitter. It could be that the only solace to be had was found in the presence of his trusted friend Hobbes. For one thing, Calvin might grow up tough, and fast. He’d have to in order to survive that kind of chaotic upbringing in one piece, without breaking. And just maybe, he’d grow up with an increased sense of right and wrong, with the near obsessive need to root out abuses and injustices like the ones he’d suffered, and to crush them wherever he could. And, he’d do it all with the help of his best friend, the one constant in his life, going back as far as he can remember…

Welcome to the world of Spencer & Locke. Locke is the Mickey Spillaine of the pair, right down to his hard-nosed detective noir inner monologue, and Spencer is the one-eyed stuffed panther that helps him in his fight against the corruption of a town that makes Detroit look fluffy by comparison. Series creator/writer David Pepose made a connection between two very different properties- Calvin & Hobbes and Sin City- and ran with it. I’m not sure what that says about him personally, but the story he’s come up with is equal parts hilarious and dark. No, I mean dark. DARK. Given the details of his childhood that are being gradually revealed, Locke could’ve easily wound up in a comic book homage to law abiding serial killer Dexter, butchering his way through the grimy underworld instead of just kicking the crap out if. Then again, this is only issue two…

Jorge Santiago deserves a hefty share of kudos for his ability to blend the artistic styles of the original Calvin & Hobbes comic strip (Bill Watterson, we miss you…) in flashbacks to Locke’s past, with the violent and gritty action of his crime fighting present. The contrast really accentuates the horrifying childhood that Locke lived through in a way that’s almost uncomfortable. You’re looking at something very familiar and calming, as a young Locke goes through life with his stuffed buddy Spencer at his side… and then with a proverbial kick in the nethers it turns. Over the course of just a few panels, Santiago grinds an edge into the comic strip style. The reader gets dragged kicking and screaming into a world that had started out so innocently, and the transition is almost nauseating.

Put together, the writing and artwork of Spencer & Locke brings two very different kinds of stories together, and the result is brilliant and unique. This is one of the best examples of why comic book readers need to take a step back from the big publishers and partake of some indie books. The titles from publishers like Action Lab, Devil’s Due, and Alterna are pushing boundaries and producing books that are unequivocally original. And at the heart of it, they both deserve and need your attention.

I had the chance to meet and chat with David Pepose at C2E2 this year, and he put a lot of emphasis on getting pre-orders in to the local comic shops. As of right now, the four issue run of Spencer & Locke is done, but it’s going to depend on pre-orders to get the run fully into production. I for one will be very sad if this title doesn’t have the chance to move forward, not only with this story arc but with the future arcs Pepose teased during our conversation (could Space Man Spiff be on the horizon?).

Don’t wait for a trade paperback. Order the whole series, and do it now. At the very least, if you have to have a hard copy and don’t want single issues floating around your house, check out something like ComiXology. But don’t sit back and wait for the trade, because if the series doesn’t sell in single issues you’ll never see it collected into a trade edition. The Big Two might be able to sit back and let it ride, but the smaller independent companies can’t.

If that happens, Spence might get mad. Ever see a one-eyed six foot tall trench coat wearing panther pissed off? Not pretty.

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