Luther Strode returns to Image Comics for another blood-soaked adventure!
We can say this much: Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore certainly know how to name their stories. Their breakthrough hit, last year's The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, was aptly-titled. The story of a high school pipsqueak gaining immense power and strength was an in-depth look at how superpowers can really lead to irrevocable life changes, and it was a surprise hit for Image. Now Jordan and Moore have returned with a sequel, The Legend of Luther Strode, and once again, it's an appropriate title. This time around, we catch up to the titular
hero protagonist five years after the events of the first story, a time when the criminal underworld speak in hushed tones of a giant enforcer who tears the bad guys apart limb from limb. He strikes quickly and seemingly from out of nowhere, and leaves a grisly path of mangled bodies in his wake.
Certainly, in the year since Luther Strode made his debut, his world hasn't skimped out at all on the amount of viscera that gets splashed across a page at any given moment. Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro once again get to luxuriate in the balletic grace of ultraviolence, and Moore's sense of kinetic action is exceptional. Body language and spatial relationships have always been a strength of his, and those are on display here. What's interesting is that he adopts a more rough-hewn, exaggerated style to illustrate that Legend has a much gritter and violent tone than the first Luther Strode story. Rather than utilizing the cleaner, more animated style of Strange Talent, Moore seems to be slashing at his artboard, creating a world of jagged lines that match the violent strokes of the wanton murder being committed at the hands of Luther in the story. Even at its most violent moments, the art in Strange Talent was clean and vibrant (though darker as the story went on); the art in Legend in unmistakably that of Moore and Sobreiro, but it's a lot scratchier, putting a premium on motion while conveying the concrete-tough setting of the story.
That setting, of course, is that of back alleys, seedy motel rooms, and greasy diners. Writer Justin Jordan captures the zeigeist of two-bit hoods and underworld ambition perfectly, before tearing it apart at the hands of his title character. He does something really smart by telling the story of this first issue through the eyes of the gangsters. They all know there is someone or something out there killing their colleagues in the most gruesome way possible, but who or what that is is the big mystery. Luther is rarely seen on any of the pages, underlining his status as a type of boogeyman to the underworld. When Luther does show up, it's as a fast-moving, unstoppable force that kills without mercy or impugnity. The beating heart of the story (before it gets ripped out of a chest cavity, anyway), is that of violence as an irreversible course of action. Luther seems inextricably set in this world of violence, and in his quiet, meditative moments, his hulking frame shows the extent of what he's going through – not through any scarring or wounds, but by his posture. Luther's shoulders slump when he's in a relaxed state in a manner that betrays his resignation to his life now. Luther Strode is a tragic victim of circumstance, stuck in a world of death and violence that he naively placed himself in five years ago. It's sad – maybe even twisted – but what can he do? Anyone who read the first Luther Strode story (it's probably not necessary, but it will help a lot) can't help but be heartbroken by what's happened to that innocent high school kid who just wanted to get the girl and to not be picked on by the school bully anymore. Now he's an uncontrolable monster who shows no mercy and is drowning in blood and gore.
Violence without context and consequence is mindless and ultimately boring. Compelling drama is created can be created by violence that's grounded in a heartfelt and truthful setting and which follows through on showing just where decisions and actions lead. All the bloody carnage appeals to the primal, "oh shit!" lizard brain in the reader. The Legend of Luther Strode lives in that place where such primitivism is used to bolster a story with a higher purpose. This first issue is laser-focused, but by taking it out of the point of view of the main protagonist and instead utilizing that of others that populate the world, it also opens up the narrative and really lets it spread out in a way that makes the whole thing so easy to read through and engage with.
When speaking to The Outhouse at the most recent New York Comic-Con, Jordan had this to say about his creation: "Oddly enough, even though Luther Strode is a hyper-violent book, it is kind of an homage to Spider-Man. I describe that book as 'What if Spider-Man didn't have an Uncle Ben? Where would he have gone wrong? But that kind of sensibility of 'now that you have power, what do you do with it? That informs this book." Certainly, the first issue of the follow-up has engaged that premise, but it also looks at the converse. It's as much about what Luther does with his power as it is about what the power does to him. Early on, Luther thinks his superstrength would make him invincible and able to take on the world. The Legend of Luther Strode #1 shows us that nothing is ever that easy, and through very tight script, lively artwork, and attention to detail, it's a comic that fulfills its promise and does what it wants to do very well.