'Spencer & Locke' #1 is out this week from Action Lab.

Cover to ‘Spencer & Locke’ #1. Art by Jorge Santiago, Jr./Action Lab

By Courtney Ryan. It’s easy enough to spot the influences of Spencer & Locke, even right from the start. A mischievous little boy and his sarcastic, anthropomorphic stuffed cat sneak out of the house for a midnight wagon ride only to be caught by mom… who promptly cold-cocks her son.

Yes, this Calvin and Hobbes homage quickly becomes a darker nod towards Frank Miller. And it turns out to be an incredibly clever, if grim, way to tell a story.

Writer David Pepose lifts the childlike veneer borrowed from Bill Watterson to instead explore a grisly murder mystery that uncovers the psychological effects of violence and poverty. It’s funny too, in the way that the darkest aspects of life can also be funny. Locke is a stoic detective who Philip Marlowe might even call a tough guy. Spencer is a muscular cat who everyone else thinks is a stuffed animal. Together, they solve crime.

As a gimmick it’s bizarre and silly, but it’s also revealing, since this particular murder sends Locke back to his old stomping grounds where he must also confront any torment still ringing from his childhood. By bringing his stuffed confidant along on the case, we really see how this adult continues to suffer from his wounds.

Jorge Santiago does a phenomenal job blending the styles of Watterson and Rafael Albuquerque, among others, into cohesive illustrations that are at once familiar and fresh. Aided by Jasen Smith’s vibrant colors, his visuals provide a buoyancy to some of the more twisted themes covered in the narrative. This contrasting imagery fits nicely with Pepose’s disparate premise and sets the tone for what promises to be a complex whodunit.

Spencer & Locke #1 tackles some of life’s bleakest realities with the delightful elasticity and absurdity of a newspaper comic strip—no easy feat, and something Mr. Watterson himself would no doubt appreciate. Whether you’re a fan of Calvin and Hobbes or Sin City, or simply in search of an engaging procedural, Spencer & Locke will certainly grab your attention.

Action Lab/$3.99

Written by David Pepose.

Illustrated by Jorge Santiago.

Colors by Jasen Smith.

Letters by Colin Bell.

8 out of 10

You can read our interview with David Pepose here.