Review – STRAY #1

stray1

Written by Vito Delsante with Art by Sean Izaakse, Ross Campbell, and Simon Gough
Published by Action Lab Entertainment

*** Note: We here at PoP! would like to stress that writer Vito Delsante’s previous affiliation with the PoP!-Cast Network had no influence on this review. ***

While it isn’t quite as widespread today as it was at the dawn of superhero comics, the teen sidekick remains one of the oldest and most enduring characteristics of that particular storytelling genre even to those who haven’t read a superhero comic in decades. Based on the popularity of Robin the Boy Wonder and James “Bucky” Barnes, countless Golden and Silver Age heroes had their own younger crimefighting companion tagging along with them. This particular superhero archetype has long been the source of parody and ridicule, but the past few years have given us a handful of comics that actually have something interesting to say about this unique phenomenon. The first issue of Stray, the new ongoing series from Action Lab Entertainment, seems to use this archetype to tell the introductory chapter of what could turn out to be quite an interesting and entertaining murder mystery with superhero overtones.

The first issue of Stray begins with a Batman-esque costumed adventurer named The Doberman revealing his secret lair to his son and starting him on an intensive training regiment before introducing him to his superhero colleagues as his similarly-costumed sidekick, The Rottweiler. The story then flashes forward eleven years to show the now-solo Doberman falling to his death at the hands of an as-yet-unknown enemy and a local police detective taking on the case of finding the murderer. Meanwhile, the son is revealed to have given up the life of a costumed crimefighter and has instead become active within the more dubious world of club promoting and drug distribution. After a young girl falls to her death after taking a new drug called GSmack that makes the user feel like he or she has superpowers, the son is brought into police custody, where he is informed of the death of his apparently estranged father.

The main premise of Stray is admittedly not completely original, as other recent comics such as Matt Fraction’s Satellite Sam have also dealt with sidekicks of a sort dealing with the death of their mentor, and the event of the Doberman’s death is somewhat reminiscent of the opening scene of Watchmen, which is probably more a case of homage than outright plagiarism. What makes this story interesting is the fact that the main character’s costumed mentor is his actual father and the fact that something happened within the past eleven years to cause him to abandon his father’s mission to fight crime in a costume. Writer Vito Delsante has gone on record stating that the original Robin, Dick Grayson, is his favorite comic book hero, and the first issue of Stray communicates his love of the character while also beginning to explore and deconstruct the hero-sidekick dynamic that has existed fairly frequently in comics for the past 75 years. The highly-kinetic art by Sean Izaakse is a fine fit with the story, as are the colors by Ross Campbell and Simon Gough, providing a subtle but effective aesthetic difference between the scenes that occur during the protagonist’s youth and the darker present-day scenes that take up the majority of the issue. By choosing not to put the main protagonist in the costume shown on the cover in this first issue, Delsante and company are definitely going for a longer, more compressed overall tale based on solving the mystery of who killed the Rottweiler’s father and perhaps slowly revealing what happened within the years he served as his father’s costumed sidekick that caused their eventual falling out and his decline into the seedier activities of the city that he once swore to protect. While the central mystery is intriguing enough, it’s the latter aspect of the plot that has captured my imagination the most, and both are presented in this first issue in a way that has me very interested in reading on to find out more about this morally compromised protagonist. Stray #1 is a solid read and earns 4 out of 5 Drained Corpses.

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Ben Gilbert is an avid comic and movie fan, father of two amazing kids, and husband to one awesome chick. He resides in the hills of East Tennessee and still doesn't quite know what he wants to be when he grows up.

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