Comic book reviews: Stray “Who Killed the Doberman?”

Stray is a project that writer Vito Delsante has had in the works for a few years now.  Following the completion of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the four issue Stray miniseries was published by Action Lab Entertainment, with the conclusion released last week.

Stray 1 cover

Delsante and artist Sean Izaakse tell an interesting variation on an old superhero formula.  The protagonist of Stray is Rodney Weller.  When he was in his early teens Rodney was the costumed crime fighter the Rottweiler, partner to the vigilante known as the Doberman.  There are certainly parallels to the classic Batman & Robin relationship here, although Rodney is the Doberman’s actual son, and the Doberman did not become a masked hero until after his wife died.

Through a series of flashbacks Delsante & Izaakse show Rodney becoming the Rottweiler and fighting at his father’s side.  We also see the eventual, biter break-up of their partnership.  Rodney becomes convinced that his father regards everything in stark terms of good and evil, and is unable to recognize that some criminals are not actually bad people, but have been driven to break the law by economic desperation.

The disillusioned Rodney leaves home and becomes a sought-after organizer of parties & raves.  Along the way he becomes something of a criminal himself, peddling the addictive drug Gsmack to club-goers.

Unfortunately for Rodney his latest girlfriend kills herself while under the influence of Gsmack.  He is hauled in by the cops for drug possession and manslaughter.  At the police station Rodney then receives more bad news courtesy of Detective Brooks: the Doberman has been murdered.

Stray 2 pg 5

Although the “Who Killed the Doberman?” story arc is ostensibly a murder mystery, it is really concerned with examining Rodney and his ambivalent feelings towards his father.  With the Doberman dead, Rodney is left with a great deal of unresolved anger towards his father as well as his former allies.  He is also uncertain if he should follow in his father’s footsteps and assume the identity of the Doberman in order to track down the killer.

I know that I often complain about decompressed writing in comic books, so perhaps it’s odd for me to suggest that this story might have worked better if it had been an issue longer.  At the end of part three Brooks informs Rodney that he’s figured out the identity of the murderer.  I was surprised because I didn’t think that Delsante had presented any real clues, much less actual suspects.  When I bought issue #4, though, I first re-read the previous three issues, and this time I did notice that Delsante had sprinkled in a few subtle clues here & there.

It was also odd that Delsante never gives the murderer any sort of motive other than good old fashioned insanity.  It felt like there should have been an explanation for why the killer specifically chose the Doberman and the other victims.  There seems to be some sort of history connecting them all that Delsante just barely hints at.  Well, at least it gives him something to explore in a subsequent miniseries.

Delsante is perhaps overly ambitious in these four issues of Stray.  He introduces a large supporting cast and alludes to various complex relationships and past events without having the room to really delve into any of them.  However, Delsante is nevertheless successful in the primary focus of his story.  He develops Rodney into an interesting, three-dimensional character (although he never explains how Rodney got into dealing drugs).  And, again, all of that background material lays the potential groundwork for a number of future stories.  I really would like to find out more about all of these characters and their histories.

Stray 3 pg 9

I was previously not familiar with Izaakse.  So naturally I did the Google thing.  It appears that Izaakse is relatively new to the biz.  Before Stray he worked on Pathfinder, a fantasy series published by Dynamite.  For someone who has only been doing comics for a few years, Izaakse work here on Stray is very good.  His action sequences are definitely dynamic and exciting.  There is also a great deal of detail to his art.

More significantly, in a story such as Delsante’s, which is very concerned with character development, there are a number of lengthy scenes of dialogue.  Izaakse adeptly handles these “talking heads” sequences.  He lays out those pages very well, turning in some strong storytelling.  The narrative definitely flows well from panel to panel.

Stray 3 cover

A number of artists contributed covers to Stray.  The prolific Mike Norton illustrated the cover for the debut issue.  ChrisCross, a really dynamic artist whose work I definitely enjoy, drew the cover for issue #3.  Hold on a sec, is that an actual pit bull behind the wheel of that car?!?  Man, that’s just too cool.  Yeah, I think that future issues of Stray should have Rodney going out on patrol with his dog Sam.  Maybe Sam really can drive a car!

There were variant covers for Stray as well.  Khary Randolph, Shawn McGuan, Paige Pumphrey and Julian Lopez each drew a really cool variant, and I wish that I’d been able to get copies of them.

In conclusion, while there are several hiccups to Delsante’s writing, on the whole he does quality work on Stray.  I really hope to see more from him in the near future.  Rodney is too good a character not to be featured again.  The letters page in in issue #4 announced that Stray will be co-starring with Molly Danger and Midnight Tiger in a special scheduled for release in November, which is good news.

Stray TPB cover by Dean Haspiel

I certainly recommend this miniseries.  It’s a good read with quality art.  If you missed these issues then you are in luck.  In what is an extremely fast turnaround, Action Lab is releasing a Stray: Who Killed the Doberman? trade paperback on June 10th.  The amazing Dean Haspiel illustrated a brand-new cover for this collected edition.  So there’s your second chance to pick this one up.

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