Spencer & Locke Vol. 2 #1 Review: War Is Hell
It’s a brand new volume of the fan favorite crime-fighting duo! Spencer and Locke are back in action. Sort of.
Locke’s …. having a bit of a hard time.
Story: David Pepose
Art: Jorge Santiago, Jr.
Colors: Jasen Smith
Letters: Colin Bell
Publisher: Action Lab Comics
We recently talked to David Pepose and got our burning questions answered about where Spencer & Locke is headed, but it was an extra treat to get a look at the first issue. Pepose situates Locke in a prime spot for new readers and fans alike – he’s on leave pending the hearing from the aftermath of volume 1 and he’s got a psychologist who’s not super effective, a girlfriend who he can’t confide in, a daughter he can’t see and a sidekick whose more primal instincts are starting to take over now that they’re sidelined. His stress levels, if anything, are higher than they’ve ever been, and that’s where Roach Riley comes in.
Pepose continues to impress by going for the emotional jugular in the midst of all of this styling, and Locke and Spencer feel as real as they did before. And there’s a ton of style to consider. In a comic that lasers in on trauma, it only makes sense that the way to build drama for the next arc is to layer another pulp flavor on top of Spencer & Locke’s crime roots. The benign, bumbling and altogether milquetoast Beetle Bailey is a fine addition to the comic strip conceits of Locke’s world, but the para-military take on Roach Riley also opens the door for some good ol’ war comic storytelling, complete with its own brand of melodrama and delightful aesthetic. PTSD comes in many forms, as we’ve seen, and we’re about to get a riff on the kind that’s the most visible and the most romanticized by civilians.
Santiago’s art is as delightful as it was in the previous volume. Subtle details make Locke seem weary, small and hemmed in by responsibility, even as Spencer takes on a more sinister air with bared fangs, narrowed eyes and a subtle shift in framing that reminds us just how much bigger he is than Locke. There’s one heart-rending moment when Spencer is in real danger that lands very nicely thanks to Santiago’s light touch. In addition, Santiago proves just how versatile he can be with more comic strip homages and in Riley’s modern design, and the layouts are just as dynamic and interesting as they were in volume 1. Santiago’s streamlined a bit now that the tone and style of the book are set, and it’s a pleasure to watch him work.
Smith works with a very broad palette that’s always surprising and visually interesting. There’s nice grit when Riley is around and lovely, bold hues when we’re thrown back to a comic strip moment. Smith does moody noir interiors and bright action scenes equally well, and the colors both enhance Santiago’s art style and set the book’s frenetic tone. With so many different vignettes and styles to manage in one book, Smith’s working overtime to bring cohesion without dulling the narrative edges with some very nice results.
Bell’s lettering is solid. Managing an internal monologue with dialogue on the same page is a tall order, and Bell achieves that nicely. The font in the narrative boxes is a touch too cramped at times, but that also helps carry off Locke’s psychological state. It’s not impossible to read, and the diary-style boxes with the torn edge are a nice touch. The main font is blocky and fun, with all the sharp edges we want in a genre comic, and there are nice sound effects throughout.
Roach Riley’s not taking any prisoners, and he clearly sees something in Locke that Locke’s afraid to admit to himself. My personal tastes run toward stories that measure a person’s internal truths, and I’m pleased to see we’re headed that way with Spencer & Locke in this second volume. I’m also thrilled to see it’s not all fun and games between Spencer and Locke, and to see more of what happens when Locke realizes his coping mechanism might be, just occasionally, holding him back.