Stray Volume 1
Written by Vito Delsante
Line Art by Sean Izaakse
Color Art by Ross A. Campbell (flashback) and Simon Gough (modern)
Published by Action Lab
It's never easy to be the sidekick, and when you start to question the validity of the justice system, it's even harder. When the son of the Doberman, aka Rottweiler, learns that his father was murdered, he pulls himself out of the gutter and back into the fight in a trade that's an interesting take-off from the Batman mythos.
Normally, I'm not overly fond of premises that fall back on existing heroes, but this time, it works well. Instead of Dick Grayson just trying to become his own hero, this time the sidekick openly rejects the law-and-order stance of his mentor/father. He's not merely trying to live up to a legacy here, but instead doesn't want any part of it. The other heroes treatment of him when he comes back to find out who killed Dad is note-perfect, and I like how this version of the fallen hero's redemption doesn't involve just stepping back into old roles. Rodney will forge his own path, assuming there are further comics featuring the character.
It's not perfect, of course. Some of the dialogue is a bit tin-eared, and I had an issue with the villain of the piece, who seems to be inserted just to give Rodney a big, bad villain to fight. The solo hero vs other heroes cliche also shows up, and of course, there's the little problem of Rodney being a drug pusher that falls off the storyline over time. Still, it works through the mystery quite well, even with the definite echo of the death of the Comedian in Watchman. Sometimes, Delsante isn't able to escape cape comic cliches and they do stand out, at least to this long-time comic reader.
One of the things that makes this notable for me is the art from Sean Izaakse. He's clearly influenced by classic, 1970s/1980s Marvel/DC books, with things like multiple images of the hero on a splash page, characters dancing across the page, and ensuring that everything felt very fluid. There's very little posing, and whether the panel is small or large, Izaakse structures it so that the reader's eye is drawn to the most important image. We get a lot of varied angles, too, which helps with the movement. His action sequences are definitely a step above most of what we see in an Action Lab book, and show a real eye for design. Facial features aren't a strong suit, but the flow of the bodies and little touches like a finger pointing or a shrugged shoulder make up for the lack of strong emotions.
Stray is a series that does a nice job of mixing the familiar with a fresh take, doing things that a longstanding continuity cannot, while implying a continuity of its own. I've grown a bit bored with "fallen hero" stories, but this one caught my eye and is definitely worth checking out. (Review by Rob McMonigal)