Old Dog is a new spy-fi comic book series from writer / artist Declan Shalvey that offers some really fun twists on some classic genre tropes. Here's the setup:
Jack Lynch was a once-promising C.I.A. operative. On the eve of retirement, looking back at a failed career he is tasked with one final mission…that goes horribly wrong. He wakes years later to a changed world with deeper changes within him. When a shadow group offers Lynch a second chance at a life of adventure, he's paired with the last person he could ever imagine.
In this collection of six high octane adventures, an old dog learns some new tricks…
Right off the bat, we have a lot of classic Hollywood-style action movie setups (all the way down to the so-simple-its-begrudgingly-clever tagline about old dogs and new tricks). But I've been following Shalvey work for quite a while now — his artistic collaborations with Warren Ellis on Moon Knight and Injection showed a unique knack for exciting visual storytelling, while Shalvey also showed off his writing skills with blue-collar Irish crime stories like Bog Bodies and Savage Town, and the rollicking time travel organized crime adventure of Time Before Time. So I was naturally intrigued when the solicitations for Old Dog first dropped. Even though spy-fi stories tend to be hit-or-miss for me, I had faith in Shalvey's work.
And damn this dog did not disappoint. Shalvey does a great job first of all with telling done-in-one stories — a rarity in the world of serialized comics. Each issue of Old Dog follows one single job that the titular character and his handler are sent on. You can pick up any chapter, and enjoy it is a fun, tech-y spy adventure. But even if you take that approach, you'll notice … something else going on in the story. Not just the way that Shalvey gracefully builds in the backstories, relationships, and longer-term elements without detracting from the adventure-of-the-month. There's a definite Bourne Identity vibe in the espionage intrigue, too, with the suggestion of some deeper history that you're missing. Shalvey does a great job with juggling multiple timelines and narratives in most of these stories, which of course add to the mystery and befuddlement of the spy adventure.
But there's something weird going on in this book, too. It's present from the first issue, even if you're not quite sure it's there. It's that feeling of an almost Lovecraftian horror, some incomprehensible darkness teetering at the edges of your view into the story. You find yourself wondering: was that a flashback? Was that a mistake in the artwork? Is there some other spy-like double identity plot going on?
The revelation in the most recent issue, #5, was so much interesting than I could have expected. I'd been enjoying the story well-enough of this grizzled old action hero, eager to retire, forced back into the field alongside his estranged daughter. But now I'm absolutely in it for the long haul. In fact, it's the kind of twist that makes me want to check Shalvey's other most recent work, too, including his recent start on Marvel's Aliens comic book.
If you're picking up what I'm putting down with those two references, then you should probably check out Old Dog. The next issue is out in July, with the trade paperback of the first story arc to follow in September.