Written by David Pepose
Art by Jorge Santiago and Collin Bell
Published by Action Lab Entertainment
Release Date: April 12, 2017

What if you grew up and you took your imaginary fun-loving friend with you to investigate brutal homicides? That’s the premise of Spencer and Locke the new series from Action Lab. It takes the style and premise of classic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes and grows the main characters up into gritty detectives working in a bad part of town. It’s an awesome idea that is executed brutally in a colorful noir style.

The story follows Detective Locke as he investigates the murder of a childhood friend with the help of his imaginary friend, a panther name Spencer. It is interwoven with flashbacks to his childhood make believe adventures with Spencer and brutal real life events. The idea of seeing what happens with Calvin after he is grown up has been done before in sentimental one shots but this book is a unique version of it.

From the first page the reader will quickly realize that this isn’t a cutesy little boy from a loving family. The story is written unsettlingly visceral and the reader will quickly realize that Spencer wasn’t created out of being lonely but as an escapist self-defense mechanism. That the panther still exists in Locke’s adulthood just goes to show how messed up he really is. Is Locke even able to function without the manifestation of Spencer?

The artwork is superb. The flashbacks scenes pay homage to Bill Watterson’s classic newspaper strip while still conveying a darkness in Locke’s life. The present-day scenes take the basics of that style and evolves them into something darker. The cutesy round edges are forcibly straightened into dangerous sharp corners. The cell shading of the childhood scenes are transformed into the grown-up ugly textures of real life.

The reader will even get the feel of Locke’s less than perfect childhood in the flashback sequences as well. Cute drawings are contradicted with the sometimes terrible actions the characters are experiencing. We also find in the flashbacks that key horrific panels are uniquely framed and colored white and red. Smith’s use of muted colors of the present day are offset nicely by brightness of the past.

The present day is full of gloomy purples setting the atmosphere of the city while the use of red and orange-red throughout the book further communicates the aggression in this world. Certain key scenes are portrayed in only red and white capturing the severe violence of the moment.

If the noir Calvin and Hobbes premise was the only thing that it had going for it interest in this book wouldn’t last long. Even as a detective story it might not hold the readers interest but the combination of the two paired with the brutality of Locke’s life are unique. We also discover by the end of the book that something else is going on and immediately leave us wanting our questions answered. Spencer and Locke is a must to add to your collection and enjoy reading. It looks to have a unique and exciting future.

The Verdict: 9.0/10

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