Anyone who's ever read an old comic book should be familiar with the Charles Atlas ads. A wide variety of Atlas ads ran in comics, but the most famous feature a skinny nerd who gets bullied at the beach. The nerd gets sand kicked in his face and disappoints the female accompanying him. This embarrassed inspires him to order Charles Atlas' book, which gives him massive muscles that he uses to take down the bully and win the heart of the girl. The ads are obviously silly and frequently parodied, but the six issue miniseries The Strange Talent of Luther Strode looks at them in a different way. What if something like the Charles Atlas method did exist? What sort of powers would it give people? How might people exploit it?
Luther Strode starts with a nonlinear bang and has continued to be inventive and wildly entertaining throughout its first two issues. Writer Justin Jordan is a relative newcomer to comics, but he's a obviously a strong talent, and someone that any comic fan should keep an eye on. He takes an often played with premise and makes it feel fresh and interesting. The book's titular character has a sweetness to him that instantly makes readers feel attached to him. Luther Strode is both charming and brutal, one part silly and one part sickening. This comic will inevitably be compared to Kick-Ass, but I think it has more in common with Chew. Both titles manage to utilize horrifically dark concepts while keeping their sense of fun intact. A universe in which a robbery can be foiled with a pair of Slim Jims is never going to feel too grim.
This is a comic clearly created with fans of gory movies in mind- Luther attends Voorhees High School, and his surname should be familiar to any fan of the Halloween films- and if over the top violence isn't your thing, there's a lot in Luther Strode that might turn you off. In the opening pages of the first issue, we see a man choked to death by a severed arm and another being split in two by a well placed kick to the chest. While a less realistic artstyle can often lessen the impact of gruesome scenes, the intensity of the kills here are such to bother plenty of readers. If you're like me, and your glee for creative horror movie death sequences has been known to creep out your loved ones, then reading Luther Strode should be an absolute blast.
However, that doesn't mean Luther Strode is all gore and no substance. While the bullies tormenting Luther and his friends were a bit generic, the rest of the characters have had strong personalities and felt really believable. The cast helps to ground the bizarre world of Luther Strode, and makes you think of the consequences of Luther's actions in ways that extend beyond their inherent coolness. I found the interaction between Luther and his mom in the first issue to be particularly touching, and I expect the past that it hints at will play a big role in issues to come. As much as Luther is enjoying his newfound powers, there's already a part of him afraid of what it might lead him to become. He knows the ugliest aspects of violence, and I expect his journey from 97 pound weakling to a person capable of Mortal Kombat style violence won't always be easy to read about.
I had never heard of Tradd Moore before picking up this comic, but now I can't wait to see more of his work. Every panel is full of detail, and the visual storytelling he displays in the first issue's grotesque two page spread is absolutely wonderful. I find something I'm impressed with on every page of the comic, from his composition skills to his enchanting facial expressions. Luther Strode is never overly wordy because Moore's art shows readers everything they need to know. Once the series concludes, I expect he'll be getting some high profile offers. The bright work of colorist Felipe Sobriero compliments Moore's unusual style beautifully, and adds plenty of atmosphere to every scene.
I'd recommend Luther Strode to anyone not put off by its goriness. This has been a great year for Image, and I'd rank this as one of their strongest titles. On the surface, it may look like your standard wish fulfillment fable, but this comic has some real depth, and its excellent plot and characterization are only elevated by the terrific art. If you think Luther Strode looks cool, check it out, and if you like it, tell your friends. Justin Jordan has hinted that this won't be the last we see of Luther if sales are high, and I'd be happy to read any stories that this creative team is willing to tell. You can find a short preview of the first issue here.