Spencer & Locke TPB
Writer: David Pepose
Artist: Jorge Santiago Jr.
Colorist: Jasen Smith
Lettering: Colin Bell
What You Need To Know:
A unique noir comic, Spencer & Locke is the story of a police detective who never quite grew up. Poor Detective Locke suffered a traumatic childhood, and as a result his mind find a way to deal with it; he escaped to fantasy. In Locke’s mind, he’s still allied with a giant talking panther, one he quietly knows isn’t real, but still interacts with and believes in. Now, though, a dangerous case will make him face the demons of the past he could never deal with before…
It all begins when the girl Locke is called in to investigate a murder; the death of Sophie, his first love. That brutal murder forces him to investigate his own past, and in so doing to confront so many of his old fantasies. The investigation takes him to his old schoolteacher, to the school bully he fought back again, and finally to a very personal enemy. Along the way, we see what lines Locke is willing to cross in order to avenge Sophie’s murder, and sometimes they’re pretty shocking!
Writer David Pepose describes Spencer & Locke as a “love letter.” He sees it as, in part, his homage to some of the greats; creative pioneers like Bill Watterson and Frank Miller, who dared to pen complex, beautiful narratives that shine a light on human nature. This is his attempt to do the same.
It’s also something different, though, something quite unique. In the midst of all the hard-boiled noir drama, Spencer & Locke is a redemption story. It’s the story of a troubled man facing his past, and somehow coming out the other end. It’s the story of a man who has retreated into fantasy, his mind unable to cope with his personal tragedies, who finds what it means to connect with human beings once again. It’s the story of a man who seems to have lost everything, and yet who – at the end – gains more than he’s ever had before.
Pepose’s narrative is smart and savvy, carefully staggering the revelations as he takes us on this character journey. There’s a strange sense in which the narrative feels like a counselling session, a conversation with Locke in which he gradually opens up. There are tangents, like any conversation, illuminating moments that are filled with a depth Locke himself denies. There are red herrings, moments of self-discovery, and even things he himself can’t cope with that are simply alluded to rather than made explicit. The plot is remarkably intelligent, and breathtakingly creative. We close the book with Locke feeling like a real man, so very three-dimensional, even if at times we’re not sure just how real his world really is. Which, I suspect, is precisely the point.
Pepose sets Locke against a dark backdrop, a run-down neighborhood where escape is only possible through fantasy. Locke isn’t alone in his flight from reality; the book doesn’t take long to introduce us to Sophie’s young daughter, and the fact she’s been named ‘Hero’ is pretty telling. For Sophie, this child was her redemption, the idealized ‘hero’ who will get her to leave this dark world behind. Tragically, of course, Sophie’s story was cut short before she could ever get to that point, and we feel the sting of Locke’s pain as we realize that. I love how Hero returns towards the end of the story, in an unexpected way that shines further light on Locke’s own character. For the purpose of this review, I’ll avoid spoiling how that twist takes place; it has to be read to be appreciated.
Of course, this isn’t just the story of Locke; Spencer, the imaginary panther, is a well-rounded character in his own right. At first the imaginary being is slightly creepy, but little by little we come to see what Locke finds in him; comfort, companionship, someone who believes in him. It’s only at the book’s climax that we finally understand what could lead a man to create their own companion like this, in a beautiful scene that reflects Locke’s own experience and continues the fantasies. Spencer’s very existence shines a light of sad tragedy on Locke’s life, and adds a very real element of danger to many scenes. Take, for example, the moment Locke happily gives Spencer the wheel of the car he’s in, focusing in on a gun battle against thugs who are chasing them. Unlike Locke, we know that Spencer isn’t really, and that the car is just careering around the road. There’s dark humor, tension, and high drama, all blended together into one tremendous scene.
Spencer & Locke pushes the artistic team in fascinating, challenging ways. Santiago and Smith don’t just have to create one world; they have to create so many different ones. They have to jump from the dark alleys and brutal reality to the childish fantasies, and they pull it off well, giving the book a unique artistic style. Again, the car-chase is a particular highlight, with Locke remembering his driving skill as he imagines his childhood, directing go-karts around trees. All the way through, the art signposts the difference between reality and fantasy, helping us to keep our bearings in the crazy world of Spencer & Locke.