By Daniel Vlasaty
When I was younger I loved Calvin and Hobbes. I remember buying the collected books out of a mail-order catalogue through my school’s book fair when I was maybe in second or third or fourth grade. I am pretty sure Calvin and Hobbes was the first book I picked out and bought for myself. I’m not sure what it was that I liked about it back then, because I definitely didn’t “get” it. I don’t know. I still have the books and I still love them today. So, when Spencer & Locke was announced I was instantly super excited. I mean, it’s a freaking gritty, hard-boiled noir grown up Calvin and Hobbes story!!! Perfect, right? Read on and find out.
Spencer & Locke is about Locke, a homicide detective, and his partner, Spencer. But Spencer isn’t Locke’s actual partner, he’s his imaginary friend, and he’s also talking panther. It’s a story heavily influenced by Calvin and Hobbes. And it wears this influence on its sleeve. All the flashbacks to Locke’s days as a trouble-making child are drawn to look like Bill Watterson’s art. There are a few panels that are almost exact copies. The one of Locke and Spencer soaring over the sidewalk in a red wagon and the panel of snowmen fighting and attacking each other are two that stand out strongly in my memory.
But after the pairing of the two main characters and the flashbacks, Spencer & Locke takes a decidedly darker turn than anything we ever got with the classic Calvin and Hobbes. This is a book you would expect if Calvin came from a broken home, with an abusive mother, and he grew up to be disillusioned and cynical toward the world around him. If he saw some things and lost some things. It’s a dark story, covered in grit, and left in the back alley to rot away with the garbage.
Locke (and Spencer) catch a case. Locke’s childhood crush, now a much-loved schoolteacher, is found murdered in an alley. Locke (along with Spencer) runs down a few leads that bring Locke deeper and deeper into his own troubled past.
There’s a lot to work with here, but I wonder how long this book will be able to maintain itself. How long until the overall idea of Spencer & Locke gets old and played out? How many times can a grown man/homicide detective show up to crime scenes with his bright blue stuffed panther in tow before the whole thing crashes down on itself?
Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed Spencer & Locke. It’s a solid opening issue, but I’m having a hard time seeing this thing work more than another issue or two. I don’t know. Hopefully David Pepose and Jorge Santiago Jr. will prove me wrong.
David Pepose is not a name I am familiar with. He does a good job setting up this dark, noir story in a way that still seems light and playful without losing its edge. It’s easy to fall into clichés when writing this type of story. The brooding detective with a checkered past. The return to his hometown to see that it is even worse off then he remembers it. The ties to murder victim and suspect alike. And I think adding a talking stuffed panther to the mix does break up the clichés a little bit. But is it enough to carry this story onward? Again, I don’t know.
Some of the writing is a bit clunky. It’s not too bad, but there was just one part that really felt uncomfortable to me. I can normally move past a small amount of clunky/awkward writing, but this one really zapped me right out of the story. It’s when Spencer and Locke have just gotten a lead on the murdered woman’s boyfriend, a guy Locke knows from his past, Stanley. They’ve tracked him to a barbershop and Locke is talking about how bad Stanley was when they were kids, and how bad he still is. The clunky part is this: “The whole barbershop gig is just a cover. A cover for some seriously bad stuff. Drugs. Aggravated assault. A rape case we couldn’t get to stick.” I mean, okay yeah, I get it. I know what he’s trying to get across here, that Stanley is a bad dude. That he’s done a lot of bad shit. And I get how opening a barbershop could be a cover for drug dealing or running drugs or whatever. But how is it a cover for an aggravated assault or a rape case that the police couldn’t get to stick?
And, yes, I know that I am probably just looking a little too closely at a few awkward sentences, but that part really stood out to me. It was kind of the climax of the issue, and there had already been a lot of narration, and it just really messed with the flow of the scene.
Jorge Santiago Jr.’s art is a good mix of playful and realistic. It is simple and stylized just right for a hard-boiled noir story. And combined with Jasen Smith’s colors, Spencer & Locke is a moody, broody book. It looks good, and the real highlight for me was the Bill Watterson-esque flashbacks. They are a darker and bleaker version of one of my favorite things growing up. The only downside I had with the art is all the empty space. A good amount of the panels are simply plain/color-only backgrounds. Which is a disappointment to me because the seedy world this book is set in could lead to some great background images. And we do get some of that, but it could have been so much more.
I kind of feel like I’ve been a little hard on Spencer & Locke in this review. (But, I guess, isn’t that what reviews are supposed to be?) What I mean to say is that I actually did like this it. I think it has a lot of things working for it, and if you’ve read my other reviews you’ll know that my reading tastes usually lean toward the darker and grittier side. I just have serious concerns about this book being able to maintain itself. I feel like it’s kind of kitschy, kind of like a joke that’s taking itself a little too seriously. Like it’s toeing the line between too many things. Does it stay on the dark and gritty side of the line, or does it stumble across the line into comedy territory? Does it matter? I don’t know. I think issue #2 is going to really set the tone for Spencer and Locke as a series.
Spencer & Locke #1