THIS REVIEW OF ‘SPENCER & LOCKE 2’ IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Jarrod Jones. Good noir harnesses the ennui of the moment and splatters it against a brick wall. Spencer & Locke, a cartoon strip with the meanest streak, is good noir. Our contemporary woes, the listlessness that comes with feeling like the deck is stacked against us, the burns and scars (internal and otherwise) that come from love and duty, it’s all in there.
The streets of Spencer & Locke are littered with hardened people, out of work, out of luck, or both. The city that contains this sordid melodrama has been left to rot from misappropriated city funds and greedy, self-interested public servants. To the cynic, this world is recognizable. It’s grim, but there’s hope. (And Hope.) It’s a story that thrives in shadow, where wise-assed cops and their hulking blue panther partners can root in the muck for the last vestiges of dignity and retribution. The key players in this series, Detective Locke and his partner Spencer, found some of both in the last installment—but like any good noir, their success came at a tremendous price.
Spencer & Locke 2, like all good sequels, ratchets up the stakes and expands the story’s scope. 2017’s Spencer & Locke introduced us to Locke, a cop emotionally stunted by a violent upbringing, who carries his childhood stuffed panther around everywhere he goes because said panther—Spencer—is the only thing he trusts completely. Early in this issue writer David Pepose lays out Locke’s personal philosophy in that clipped, terse way of speaking for which most gumshoes are renowned: Asked why he didn’t call for backup in the finale of the last installment, Locke simply replies, “Didn’t need it.” Because, y’know, giant blue panther.
The joke is that Locke can see and hear Spencer, this purring juggernaut with a stitched-on button eye, but no one else can. I use the word “joke” because in this moment it’s funny, but it’s not “ha-ha” funny. Locke’s dependency on his stuffed panther feels real to us because this is a comic book and we’re transported by this man’s fantasies. But ground yourself in the context, and it’s not very funny at all. Detective Locke is suffering, bending to the point of breaking. He’s kept from his daughter, Hope, because he’s considered unstable. And he is. There’s no shying away from it.
In Spencer & Locke 2, Locke’s out of a job after he exceeded his duty as an officer of the law, violently, in Spencer & Locke #4. (Without spoiling anything about the prior story, I’ll simply say that if you haven’t read Spencer & Locke yet, rectify that.) He has a relationship with intrepid news reporter Melinda Mercury, but it’s tenuous at best. He has court-appointed therapy sessions that are going nowhere—and the issue’s opening ink-blot test, where Locke’s banal responses are juxtaposed with a disturbing truth (with expert precision by series artist Jorge Santiago, Jr.), sets a forbidding tone.
And then there’s Roach Riley. The hook of Spencer & Locke is “Sin City meets Calvin & Hobbes” and its sequel throws Beetle Bailey and The Joker into that volatile mix. The issue begins with a rendition of Mort Walker’s classic strip (Santiago and colorist Jasen Smith strike four-colored perfection here) that takes an immediate turn towards the horrific—the secret origin of Detective Locke’s ultimate nemesis. The city’s elected officials, those deemed responsible by Roach for the decay of the American Dream, are his targets. Inevitably, Locke and Spencer wander into his cross-hairs, and Roach doesn’t miss.
There’s more than that, clearly, but saying what would give up the game. Suffice to say Pepose and Santiago are mining ore from some of the richest depths of pop culture and forging something that feels new, exciting, and dangerous. There’s a lot of story in this debut, but the focus is honed in on the elements that matter most: punishment, fate, family, hope.
It’s that last part that gives Spencer & Locke 2 its might. There’s a little girl who wants to be with her father more than anything, and her father wants to give her the life he never got. Wishes and dreams give Spencer & Locke 2 life. In the meantime, Locke’s dark night of the soul isn’t over. Getting what he wants might mean losing what little of himself he has left. Never forget that proper noir always packs a one-two punch of poetic irony. In stories like these, the shadows have a tendency to swallow heroes whole.
Action Lab Danger Zone / Action Lab Entertainment / $3.99
Written by David Pepose.
Art by Jorge Santiago, Jr.
Colors by Jasen Smith.
Letters by Colin Bell.
8.5 out of 10
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘Spencer & Locke 2’ #1, courtesy of Action Lab Entertainment!