REVIEW: The Strange Talent of Luther Strode

I picked up The Strange Talent of Luther Strode in single issue format, and had a rather drawn-out experience with it.  I actually didn’t pick up the first issue right away.  I took a skim through it on the shelves when it was first released, and it looked interesting, but I told myself that I just couldn’t afford to pick up any new titles, and put it back on the shelf.  But a couple of weeks later, after hearing good things about that debut issue from people whose opinions I trust, I decided to give it a try.  Almost grudgingly, I liked that first issue.  Damn this title for actually being GOOD!  How dare it, when I’m on a budget!?  I was still on the fence about committing to the whole series, but after much hemming and hawing, I decided to at least try the next chapter.  By issue #2, I was hooked, and onboard until the end.  But perhaps there are readers out there who were like me, who were on the fence about sampling that first issue, but who made the choice to not pick up the title.  And now, like Abed’s “darkest timeline” in Community, that small divergence in path has made your life poorer and emptier.  But wait – there’s hope!  You can amend your grievous error, as a couple of weeks ago, the graphic novel of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, collecting all 6 issues of the miniseries, went on sale.  If you didn’t give this gem of a comic a go then, you most definitely need to try it now.

The first thing that’s going to jump out at you is the dynamic artwork of Tradd Moore.  In an opening sequence with violence so extreme that it transcends upsetting and enters the realm of the absurd (note the guy whose kicked in the nuts so hard he explodes), Moore immediately captures our attention, delivering us a comic with visuals so assured and professional that it’s incredible to think of Moore as a relative newcomer to the field.  And this slick artwork is very much a trend throughout the book.  I’d say it’s reminiscent of John Romita Jr, in its stark, cartoonish style, but to compare the work to someone else does it a disservice, as Tradd Moore crafts a distinct style that’s very much his own, giving this world a clear aesthetic and tone.  One that writer Justin Jordan cleverly subverts, but we’ll get to that later.

Ably assisted by the bold pallette of colorist Felipe Sobreiro, Moore’s art pops from the page, giving the whole book a dynamic, exciting feel.  His versatility in shifting from slice of life, to gentle comedy, to deranged uber-violence shows some degree of skill.  I’m already excited to see more work from this emerging superstar artist.

But though the incredible artwork may be the most immediately visible asset that The Strange Talent of Luther Strode boasts, the most lasting impression could be left by the story crafted by writer Justin Jordan, another newcomer.  What Jordan does so well is that he doesn’t just sell the central concept and character incredibly well, he builds a whole world around it.  Incidental supporting players become vividly realised characters in their own right.  For example, we come to genuinely care about Luther’s friend Pete, who could easily have become the generic comedy sidekick in a lesser script, but who here shows added shades and dimensions to his character.  Really, the whole cast is likeable, or at least relatable, so when bad things start happening to them or they are put in peril, we are emotionally invested in the outcome rather than passively viewing it as obligatory plot development.

And this brings us to the unexpected dark turn The Strange Talent of Luther Strode takes in its final chapters.  Even with the crazy gore at the start, the tone of this is pitched as a caper.  It’s manic, it’s high-octane, and it’s very, very funny.  So when things turn very serious as the book races towards a conclusion, it comes as something of an emotional sucker-punch.  I don’t want to give it all away, and I’ve probably already said too much, but we reach a point where this stops becoming a blood-splattered twist on a superhero origin and changes into something more tragic and unsettling.  I’ve talked to some people who think of this as Jordan failing to stick the landing, stumbling at the third act and souring them as readers on the whole story as a result.  And yes, I can see this being a divisive ending.  But in my humble opinion, it’s this controversial, thought-provoking finale that elevates The Strange Talent of Luther Strode beyond just being another fun caper into something genuinely special, that will stick in your mind long after the thrill of the gruesome fight scenes has subsided.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s what makes the whole comic, in my opinion.  My advice for Jordan would be to not pay heed to the doubters, and be assured he made the right choice in not pulling any punches.

There have been quite a lot of comparisons made to Kick-Ass, and I can see why: the teenage hero, the play on superhero convention, the liberal dashings of violence and bad language.  But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that The Strange Talent of Luther Strode is better than Kick-Ass: more ambition, more style, and crucially, more heart.  Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore are both significant talents to watch.  I’m onboard for whatever collaborations they embark on in future.  And it seems like the first collaboration will be The Secret of Luther Strode, sequel to this first chapter.  I’ll tell you this: I won’t make the same mistake twice, I’ll be snatching up the first issue of that on the day it’s released.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode is available now in all good comic stores.

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