Pullbox Reviews: Spencer & Locke #1- Your childhood turned upside down…

Spencer & Locke #1
Action Lab: Danger Zone
Written by David Pepose
Art by Jorge Santiago Jr
Colors by Jasen Smith
Letters by Colin Bell
Available now!

What if Calvin & Hobbes grew up in Sin City? Find out in SPENCER & LOCKE, a dark four-issue crime thriller from Action Lab Entertainment’s Danger Zone imprint. Written by David Pepose and illustrated by Jorge Santiago, Jr., SPENCER & LOCKE follows Detective Locke, who returns to the scene of his horrific upbringing when his grade-school sweetheart, Sophie Jenkins, is found dead in a lonesome back alley. But when Locke’s investigation dredges up menacing figures from his traumatic past, there’s only one person he can trust to help him close the case — his childhood imaginary panther, Spencer. The twisted nostalgia of SPENCER & LOCKE comes to comic shops and digital devices April 12!
Locke is a tough cop, working a tough beat, in a city that makes Detroit look like a trip through the Magic Kingdom. He’s come up hard, his life preparing him for the hazards and trauma to come in the crucible of an abusive upbringing. Despite all of that, he’s still able to see past the grit and grime he comes face to face with every day. With an eye toward protecting the innocent, Locke shoulders the responsibility of his job with the help of his partner, Spencer. With the sure knowledge that no one can stand alone in the face of the kinds of evil they face, Spencer & Locke are an inseparable team, fighting for justice in an unjust world.

Locke is a cop, and Spencer is his childhood imaginary friend… originally a cute little stuffed panther with a button eye.

I will always defend the independent publishers out there. When I hear complaints about comic books all being pretty much retreads of the same old themes, barely distinguishable from each other through a thin veneer of astonishingly similar character designs, I scoff. Literally, I scoff… occasionally I harrumph, but I try to keep that limited to those truly deserving of scorn and ridicule. Let the bigger publishers- and we all know who they are without me including their names here… I’d probably have to pay out a royalty if I did- have their special guest stars and major crossover events. They’re playing it safe, sticking to a formula that’s been proven over time to grab attention and spike sales. The indie comics of the world are willing to take a risk by playing the long game, where you will find truly original content and ideas.

It’s with that spirit of creative dice rolling that Action Labs has brought us the continued adventures of everyone’s favorite mischievous scamp and his imaginary friend/stuffed tiger. Wait, did I say “tiger”? That’s not right. We’ve already established that Spencer is a panther, so it’s totally different from that beloved and much missed comic strip. Still, Spencer & Locke does an outstanding job of bringing something familiar to the table, through flashbacks that feature spot on throwback artwork and characters that are almost familiar, while kicking the cool up a notch with its tough-as-nails detective noir tone when we’re with grown up Detective Locke in the present.

David Pepose has balanced Locke’s Mickey Spillane-esque inner monologues, with liberally applied inside-jokes for fans of Bill Waterson’s brilliant Calvin and Hobbes, and laugh-out-loud moments that come without warning. One scene in particular has Spencer and Locke sitting in a diner talking over their current case. Spencer is reading a newspaper and sipping from a juice box while Locke sticks to coffee… no doubt black and bitter, in keeping with his hard-bitten detective motif. A waitress walks up and asks “Who are you talking to?” at which point we’re treated to the setting from her perspective: Locke on one side of the table, and Spencer the stuffed panther on the other, newspaper spread out in front of him. Locke gives no justification or explanation, just a gruff and matter of fact brush off. Looking back at the panel, I’m still laughing. It’s ridiculous and completely out of anything remotely resembling context, and it’s genius.

Similarly, Jorge Santiago has done a fantastic job of blending styles. His flashbacks are very much reminiscent of Bill Waterson’s signature style… at first. As the flashbacks move from innocent whimsy toward something darker, we’re given glimpses into Locke’s childhood, where he suffers through abuse from a less than ideal mother, and adopts an “all in” approach to dealing with the neighborhood bully. Later on in a darkly humorous series of panels, the art shifts back and forth between Locke fighting for his life against an uncooperative perpetrator, and his formative years learning to battle through surprise attacks from stuffed panther Spencer.

About Spencer… His character design in the present is that of a large, muscular, anthropomorphized man/cat (still with the button eye, though), wading into the muck of a criminal investigation with his sleeves rolled up and his eye open. He’s the insightful member of the duo, spotting hidden pieces of evidence and using deductive reasoning to fit the pieces of the broken puzzle together. He also comes in handy when it comes to comforting a scared little girl… y’know, cuz he’s a stuffed animal and therefore adorable and cuddly.

Spencer & Locke should be noted as an outstanding example of creative license. Seamlessly mixing its darker elements with humor that comes straight outta left field, this is a title for anyone who wants their comic book reading to be anything but predictable and formulaic.

Leave the crisis crossover rebirths to the Big Boys, indie publisher Action Labs has something for everyone (although, they do superheroes too… and they do it well).

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