Advance Review: ‘Old Dog’ #1 Is A Spy-Fi Espionage Thriller Trying So Hard To Work
by Richard Bruton
Declan Shalvey’s first complete book with him as writer and artist spins a fascinating sci-spy tale that looks every bit as good as you’d expect but one that just doesn’t quite click – maybe not yet. But it’s still an intriguing first issue that throws a hell of a lot of ideas and even more questions at you, ideas and questions I’m hoping all fit together in subsequent issues to give us a great book.
Declan Shalvey’s old school espionage thriller, Old Dog, comes out from Image Comics at the end of this month, and I had the chance to sit down and give it a read – it’s good, but it’s frustratingly flawed.
So, first things first, yes, it’s a fine book, one that’s working hard to set things up in the 6-part Redact storyline, giving you the character and the mystery of what Shalvey has up his sleeve. There’s a hell of a lot of potential here to be not just a fine book but a damn good one.
Artistically, it’s ever so strong, of course it is, as anyone who’s read Declan Shalvey’s work on the likes of Moon Knight and Injection (with Warren Ellis) or his plentiful work for Marvel will know. His control of the art, the colours – Shalvey’s doing everything but lettering this one – is superb, just the sort of “bold, moody, action-packed” stuff Shalvey talked about when announcing the book.
But whilst his last series at Image, Time After Time, was co-written with Rory McConville, this time he’s flying solo, giving us writing, art, colours and telling his espionage tale of an old C.I.A. agent, Jake Lynch, on the eve of retirement who gets in way too deep with one last mission – a last mission that bounces him into an eight-year coma, one that involves something strange…
Waking up, Lynch finds things have changed, both in the world and in himself. No longer with the C.I.A., Lynch’s second shot at life finds him still in pretty much the same line of work, albeit for a shadowy organisation who ‘Stop problems before they become problems,’ with a remit about some secret weapon in genetic proliferation.
Along the way, in a storyline told across two separate timelines, before and after the coma, we get what’s not exactly an original storyline – old man C.I.A. officer gets a shot at redemption, a new life, with allusions to something bad happening to his family, “They’re all dead. The whole family. All I have left is the Agency,” the mysterious “Suzdal” dangled in front of us, something in his past that’s landed him all the shitty jobs and a desk for 15 years – “In a small way, I can try to make up for what went wrong,” that sort of thing.
And then there’s the issue of Lynch himself and how he’s suddenly seeing himself, no longer old, reborn, revitalised…
Now, all of this is pure setup for the remainder of the story, including what we see in here about Lynch’s new partner, the mystery of what transformed Lynch, just how it’s affected him and all the other dangling threads Shalvey leaves in play by the end of the issue.
And no doubt that will get explored in the remaining five issues of this initial 6-issue Redact storyline.
But all I have to go on is this first issue, which is a first issue packed full of promise but also one that seems just like a new writer with a book that’s been in his head for a long time and one that he had to get out, but along the way he’s been influenced by the writers he’s worked with in his career as an artist.
And those influences have rubbed off on him, so he’s trying just that little too hard to jump through the hoops of writers he’s worked with already. It’s as though Shalvey’s reaching for an idea that was just out of his grasp in the telling of this one, trying to nail the authentic voice that he was going for and not quite getting there most of the time. So the dialogue can come off, at times, as hackneyed and forced, the transitions from past to present try too hard to work, the twists and the information he’s trying to get over just feel like packing too much into the issue, all of which left me, after the first read of this feeling like it was a book that’s just the wrong side of really working.
Having said all of that, subsequent readings of the first issue gave me more of what I was hoping I’d get from it. So I’m being forgiving of the issues here, I’m calling it as a genuinely fascinating idea spinning out of familiar plots you’ve read before and an artist working hard to make it all pull together.
In the end, it might not be the perfect start to Old Dog that I was rather hoping for but it’s a fine, a good, opener that leaves me wanting to see what happens next and whether Shalvey can pull things together tighter and better as the series progresses.
Old Dog #1 is out Wednesday 23rd September from Image Comics
Variant covers by Marcos Martin, Kevin Nowlan (1:10 copy incentive) and Chris Samnee (1:25 copy incentive).
Now, to give you some idea of what to expect and a little of what I found problematic, a replay of those first few pages we did in our preview of this one…