Spencer & Locke 2 #1 Comic Review
Reading and reviewing Spencer & Locke’s first arc was one of those rare joys where a comic shows immediate promise, delivers on that expectation, and still manages to pack a number of stylistic and narrative surprises to make the whole experience memorable in a way
Reading and reviewing Spencer & Locke’s first arc was one of those rare joys where a comic shows immediate promise, delivers on that expectation, and still manages to pack a number of stylistic and narrative surprises to make the whole experience memorable in a way that most books just aren’t. The team of writer David Pepose, artist Jorge Sanitago Jr., colorist Jasen Smith, and letterer Colin Bell return with Spencer & Locke 2, and what is immediately noticeable is that this new arc sees the creative team surpassing their previous benchmark and really zeroing in on what makes this series unique.
As a quick refresher, Locke is a detective in what looks like Los Angeles, laying low in the aftermath of killing his crime syndicate-leader father who was using his childhood sweetheart / mother of his child as a drug courier in the school where she worked as a teacher. This world is pretty grim. But it’s okay, Locke’s childhood plush panther Spencer is there to help him through it. His troubled childhood is typically rendered in a Calvin and Hobbes pastiche. That childhood led to Locke being a person informed by his trauma, but his visualization of Spencer as a 7-foot tall anthropomorphic panther helps him navigate his duties as a detective, and also appears to his similarly traumatized daughter, Hero. Hero has been taken from Locke following the violent conclusion of the previous arc.
Spencer & Locke 2 #1 wastes little time in establishing Locke’s antagonist this time around in Roach Riley. There is immediate paralleling in the narrative between Locke and Riley. Riley’s past is also presented via highly referential comic strips, with Beetle Bailey being the comic referenced. Just like how Locke’s stylistic flashbacks highlight some of the unspoken sadness Bill Waterson imbued with Calvin, these Roach Riley flashbacks call into question how gross the central conceit of Beetle Bailey as a light military boot camp comedy really is. Within moments of meeting Riley, he murders a city councilman, with an implication a few pages later that this is his second murder of a public official.
Locke is called to privately investigate this matter, with the implication that if he does he will be reunited with his daughter. He refuses, because skirting the law like this is exactly why he is having a hard time getting custody of his daughter in the first place. Spencer protests, and before Locke realizes it they are already at the crime scene.
Spencer, during the first arc, seemed to be a primarily comforting entity to Locke. In fact, his appearance to Hero more or less confirms that. Spencer & Locke 2 #1 twists that idea in an interesting way. Series writer David Pepose manages to show that dynamic as something darker and more intrinsic to Locke’s problems, but does so in a way that is gracefully in-line with how he wrote the two previously.
Spencer during the first arc seemed more like a comforting entity to Locke, but Spencer & Locke 2 #1 shows a darker side to this dynamic. Spencer might keep Locke safe, but to an extent he encourages some of Locke’s more violent tendencies. He wants the two of them to investigate the councilman’s death, and the implication is that it isn’t necessarily to get Hero back. He wants to hunt. It’s during Spencer and Locke’s argument that the two wind up at the crime scene despite the latter having no recollection of it. His dissociation is a nice touch and reinforces just how much of a manifestation of Locke’s inner life the panther is.
Pepose also seems keen to the fact that the immediate assumption is that Roach Riley is just an alter ego for Locke, given the similarities between the two, the fact that they both see Spencer, and Santiago Jr.’s depiction of the villain. This is immediately dispelled as Roach Riley gets arrested and is clearly shown as a separate individual. It’s a nice narrative touch that shows readers immediately that they don’t need to worry about a cheap Fight Club situation.
Just as Pepose’s writing has gotten more sprawling and ambitious in the sequel, artist Jorge Sanitago Jr. delivers an equally strong performance. Spencer & Locke’s first series had a distinct and visually pleasing style, but Santiago Jr. really doubles down on the noir and the environment of the story. The angles are more noticeable, the shadows more pronounced, and the facial expressions of everybody more varied. Delightfully, the blues and purples that littered the pages of the previous arc are in full display here. One interesting consequence of this color choice is just how unique Roach Riley looks by comparison. Spencer is a 7-foot talking panther, but his color scheme makes him look like a part of this world in a way that Roach Riley’s ugly military green does not.
As far as highly anticipated returns go, they don’t land much better than Spencer & Locke 2. You’re going to want to add this to your pull lists. It does a good enough job of on-boarding new readers that you don’t need to worry too much about the context of the previous 4 issues, though they do help in appreciating the subtle developments that this new series makes. When a creative team is at their best and a book is this good cover to cover, comics can be really great.