Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Spencer So Dire

Posted by Don MacPherson on May 29th, 2017

Spencer & Locke #2
“Every Rose Has Its Thorns”
Writer: David Pepose
Artist/Cover artist: Jorge Santiago Jr.
Colors: Jasen Smith
Letters: Colin Bell
Editor: Nicole D’Andria
Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment/Danger Zone imprint
Price: $3.99 US

Hey, do you love Calvin and Hobbes, the beloved newspaper comic strip that celebrated childhood innocence and precociousness while also offering biting social commentary? Oh, me too. And speaking as someone who loved Bill Watterson’s landmark and impeccably crafted oeuvre, allow me to tell you, my fellow enthusiasts, the following: do not read Spencer & Locke. This comic casts the familiar, innocent figures from Calvin and Hobbes in a hard-boiled cop drama, and it totally doesn’t work. It taints everything special about Watterson’s work and demonstrates creator/writer David Pepose’s complete failure to appreciate what made the strip that serves as his inspiration special. The truly unfortunate thing about it is that his writing and plotting aren’t bad at all, and the visuals are exciting, gritty and involving. But the initial decision to link this weird buddy-cop story to Calvin and Hobbes mars it all and blocks any chance the reader has at finding a sense of entertainment or escape. I suppose if one weren’t familiar at all with Watterson’s work, one might find this to be a novel, even diverting effort, but any awareness of the larger context of the book will preclude that possibility.

A detective named Locke is forced to revisit his old stomping grounds to investigate the murder of his childhood rival/sweetheart, Sophie. After grilling the guy who once used to bully him as a kid, Locke, joined by his partner Spencer — an imaginary black panther than no one but the cop can see — heads to a dive strip club looking for answers. Instead, he comes face to face with a woman who ruined his already troubling childhood and with the realization that there’s a lot more at stake than the mystery of who killed Sophie. The fate of the victim’s daughter also hangs in the balance.

Jorge Santiago does an adept job with the artwork, offering the occasionally effective pastiche of classic Calvin and Hobbes strips with a more noir, grittier but loose style that nevertheless maintains a subtle consistency with the childhood representations of the characters. His take on Spencer seems heavily influenced by the main character from the Blacksad graphic novels. Honestly, Santiago’s style for most of this issue put me in mind of Annie Wu’s and Veronica Fish’s artwork on the new Archie series penned by Mark Waid. Santiago’s work boasts a similarly sketchy approach tempered with a decent presentation of human anatomy and movement, just as what we’ve seen in Archie as of late. Jasen Smith’s colors reinforce the harsh, gloomy atmosphere of the drama, and it reminded me of the sort of tones one might find on a Francesco Francavilla-illustrated story. Nevertheless, I often found the visuals here overall to be distasteful, given the ugliness inherent in the plot and how it was marring doppelgangers from a beloved representation of innocence.

Setting aside my disdain for the satirical premise at the heart of this book, I have to give writer David Pepose some credit. The script is an effective one. Locke’s bitterness, fear, anger and more come shining through, both in the dialogue and narration. He hits the hard-boiled notes effectively, achieving a tone that would be quite at home in the world of Frank Miller’s Sin City. Honestly, if the story had been tweaked a bit to remove itself from the Calvin and Hobbes inspiration, I like would have enjoyed the swim in such noir waters. Pepose can definitely write a proper comic book. It’s just that he’s cooked up a shepherd’s pie with marshmallows as the bottom layer. It doesn’t matter how good the beef and potatoes on top taste; it just won’t work in the same dish.

There’s absolutely nothing cute or clever about this adaptation of Watterson’s iconic strip for a different genre. Despite the other comics storytelling skills that went into its creation and the successes the creators have with those skills, it’s just not enough to overcome the sheer lack of judgment at the root of the premise. Pepose didn’t hitch a wagon to Watterson’s star; he hitched a dumpster. On fire. The three words I can think of to describe Spencer & Locke are simply these: wrong, wrong, wrong. 3/10

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