There’s a lot of material in comics that’s meant to be shocking, and many (like superheroes dying) have become so ubiquitous and have been reversed so often that they carry more entertainment value as the meta jokes they’ve become rather than any big moment intended by the powers that be. That’s why it’s so incredible when you come across a book that really grabs you and makes you sit up and take notice. Spencer & Locke is a singular kind of reading experience that can define a generation, a perfect confluence of talent, imagination, and intellect that renders a tale that can devastate and enthrall the reader. The stomach-dropping sucker punches that writer David Pepose and company swing at you are visceral and cerebral.
The story focuses on Locke and his imaginary friend Spencer who are the twisted version of Calvin and Hobbes. (I’ve noted in the individual issue reviews of how much I love that Pepose chose the name “Locke” to balance “Hobbes,” as those were two competing philosophers whose studies influenced psychology for years to come.) Instead of a kid acting out with his incredible imagination, he’s a troubled boy who has been the victim of a seriously traumatizing childhood, and Spencer is his way of dealing with it. The dedication of the story to this idea is genius, especially when someone is able to make him disappear; the subtext throughout it is heartbreaking. Spencer becomes the embodiment of the best that Locke could possibly be - his better self that protects him from the bad outside and in - and the tragic nature of what he endures is the emotional core that elevates this book from the relentless noir/action fest into something with a damaged, yet still beating, heart.
The whole art team does a phenomenal job of building this world, from mimicking Bill Watterson’s style to maturing it and the characters to their present-day selves. Jorge Santiago Jr. does well to take the world that was given to him as a baseline and turn it into something else, a speculative fiction set in an already fictional world. The perfect Easter Eggs sprinkled throughout just show the love he has for the source material. Jasen Smith does the same age progression on the palette that Santiago does on the style, and it is gorgeous to behold. These guys have made a tapestry of pain that sits on Locke’s shoulders, and when they get to cut loose…I mean…these guys are pretty twisted.
There’s pain buried deep in this book, and every page pulls more of the scar tissue away until you’re left with the raw, untreated wound that is the soul. There are heartrending moments of the truth of that pain, of making the difficult decisions regardless of the cost to his own psyche and the fallout from that choice. Becoming a parent has shifted my perspective on people considerably, because I know that no matter how terrible I may think someone is, no matter how much I want to slap sense into someone, they were at one time as vulnerable and in need of love as my son was, and I shudder to think of the millions that don’t get it, or instead got some version that was twisted and wrong. That is the awful truth that’s buried in these pages, and it shows the journey that we all take can be much more difficult than anyone outside can imagine. Read this book, be open to it, and it will affect you. This will be one that people will be talking about for a long, long time.
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