Review: Stray #1

Stray is a lot of things, but I’m not sure if it ever lands on the one thing it wants to be, outside the shadow of the homages and pastiches it carries with it. Stray is the story of the Doberman, and his son, who he trains to become his sidekick, the Rottweiler. Jump cut to the future, where the Doberman loses his last fight to a mysterious villain and is kicked out of a high-rise window. Meanwhile, an older Rottweiler is apparently a drug dealer to the party scene, whose superpower is that no poison can kill him, and therefore, no drug can get him fucked up. Basically, the Rottweiler’s superpower is that he can’t turn up, the way he uses it. A detective sees the murder of the Doberman and in the course of the investigation, when the Rottweiler is brought in for an unrelated crime, he has to break the news to him, leaving the Rottweiler at a crossroads in his personal and extracurricular lives.

Most of the titles I’ve seen from Action Lab are a little rough around the edges, but each title seems to have its own individual charms. Fight Like a Girl and Shinobi Princess have both been fun, and filled a niche of their own. Stray reads as a series of references, to Batman and Robin, to The Dark Knight Returns or Dark Victory, in particular; to Watchmen; to the Justice League; to the MGH stuff from Marvel circa mid-to-late 2000s. It’s a story that’s well-structured, but it never quite rises above the feeling that it’s a serial-numbers-filed-off Batman and Robin fic in an AU where Batman is killed and an irresponsible, twentysomething Nightwing has to solve his murder, with the aid of the original Sandman.

Stray_01_KRhandolphDelsante’s dialogue is solid throughout, but there are logical inconsistencies with the characters that pull me out of the story pretty regularly. One major example: there’s a scene at the beginning where the Doberman lists his rules, including “Be mindful of your actions and their consequences;” later in the issue (like, three pages later), grown up Rottweiler is in a bar and when some thugs pull heat on him, he jumps around the bar while people crack jokes and the thugs shoot at him. It’s a full-page, which Izaakse illustrates with aplomb, and I get that Rottweiler is on a certain not-great path, but still. He’s in a room full of people and he delights in jumping around with bullets going everywhere. I’m harping at this point, but it’s the kind of jarring experience that takes people out of an otherwise well-done comic.

Sean Izaakse’s art on this issue is a real high point. Everything has a sense of motion and weight that helps move the story along through any hiccups in the storytelling. The only issue that jumped out at me anywhere is a misplaced word balloon, or at least a balloon that seemed to be in the wrong place. It’s possible it was just not contextualized where it was, but otherwise, it was too well put-together for that. And if I’m harping on little production issues like that, I’m really not complaining much at all.

Stray does some things well. When showing its Justice League analogue, there’s a female Asian superhero and a black superhero, which, it’s always nice to see some diversity. The story itself is good, and is an interesting one to follow, if the book can move past its influences and become its own thing. I’ll pick up the next one to see what’s what, but I can’t say I’d recommend the first one to anyone looking for a new title.

Score: 2/5

Writer: Vito Delsante Artist: Sean Izaakse Colorist: Ross Campbell and Simon Gough Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment Price: $3.99 Release Date: 2/18/15 Format: Print/Digital