Variant cover to 'Spencer & Locke' #2. Art by Mann House/Action Lab

Variant cover to ‘Spencer & Locke’ #2. Art by Mann House/Action Lab

By Courtney Ryan. Detective Locke enters the seedy nightclub Red Rose in search of his childhood friend’s killers. He takes a seat at the bar and orders a scotch, neat. He also orders an apple juice. This dimly lit panel, centered on a disheveled cop and the detached, tatted-up bartender serving him, perfectly encapsulates the characters and events of Spencer & Locke #2.

Locke is smashed into the middle of the frame between grim images of the cagey inhabitants of Red Rose and Spencer, the man-sized stuffed leopard he imagines is always by his side and for whom he has ordered the apple juice. That the bartender can’t see his imaginary companion isn’t so important. Locke has still made it clear to her (and us) that he desires two things: to swallow the harsh flavor of his singed reality and to remain eternally infantile, clinging grimly to his sippy cup.

Throughout the second installment of writer David Pepose’s twisted ode to Calvin and Hobbes, we see more evidence of Locke’s stunted emotional maturity thanks to a bleak and sexually violent encounter with a babysitter who turns up again in his adult world. While Locke still leans on his imaginary friend to overcome the monsters from his dark youth, he exhibits some agency in combating the shadows that continue to haunt his adulthood.

Cover to 'Spencer & Locke' #2. Art by Jorge Santiago Jr/Action Lab

Cover to ‘Spencer & Locke’ #2. Art by Jorge Santiago Jr/Action Lab

To manage the hurdles that come with dabbling in such emotionally cerebral storytelling, Pepose grounds his tale in a procedural melodrama threaded with high-speed chases and clearly defined heroes and villains. Artist Jorge Santiago paints the present in a completely noir pastiche and saves the Bill Wattersonesque compositions for flashbacks to Locke’s youth. The resulting series of panels induce nostalgia, distress, and contrast — much like apple juice and scotch.

Spencer & Locke #2 continues to build on the riveting, Sin City-inspired hard-boiled crime saga introduced in issue #1. Still, what really lingers after reading this story is how Locke struggles to confront his personal demons, courtesy of a troubled childhood. Wherever his murder investigation takes him, it’s because he brings Spencer and every other escaped skeleton along for the ride that truly makes Spencer & Locke engaging.

Action Lab/$3.99

Written by David Pepose.

Art by Jorge Santiago.

Colors by Jasen Smith.

Letters by Colin Bell.

7.5 out of 10