Story and Art: Declan Shalvey
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover: Declan Shalvey
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: September 28th, 2022
No family. A derailed CIA career. Lynch doesn’t have much going for him anymore except for the occasional low-level bone the agency throws at him. But when a stakeout goes wrong, all of that changes.
OLD DOG #1 presents as any old grizzled private investigator/detective/government agent story. We’re immediately introduced to the main character Lynch, a jaded CIA agent who has fallen out of favor with his superiors over a controversial assignment years earlier. But with his family dead, Lynch really has nothing left but the agency.
The story in OLD DOG #1 uses the tried and true method of cutting between present and past to introduce us to Lynch. At first blush, there isn’t anything particularly noteworthy about Shalvey’s new series or its main character. Lynch himself feels like a cliché as he sits in a van, thanklessly helping two younger agents observing a suspect. We’ve seen this character in countless comics, books, tv shows, and movies before.
The intercut scenes in OLD DOG #1 appear to show a younger, more vital Lynch on a mission. Perhaps these are flashbacks to the event that derailed Lynch’s career. Like the scenes with Lynch in the surveillance van, they feel familiar and unremarkable.
It’s not until roughly two-thirds of the way through OLD DOG #1 that Shalvey pulls the rug out from under us and defies our expectations. Shalvey’s reliance on these familiar tropes and storytelling structure puts the reader totally at ease and defuses any real expectations. After all, we’ve seen all of this before and Shalvey doesn’t appear to be doing anything new with it. But it turns out that nothing about this is what we thought it was.
The twist in OLD DOG #1 rests on a science fiction element, but the issue never creates a real overlap of genres. Lynch is essentially the same character at the end of the issue as he is in the beginning. In this way, the story isn’t off-putting to readers who aren’t heavily invested in science fiction.
OLD DOG #1’s story is compelling, and the reversal of expectations is fun. But as strong as these elements are, the art is stronger. Shalvey draws the older Lynch in such detail that you can see his long, hard career in every line on his face. No matter how hard he suggests his career has been, to look at him is to recognize that it was even harder. It’s an excellent contrast to the younger agents in the surveillance van. They seem practically children by comparison (which makes it especially amusing when one of them gets petulant.
Shalvey also slips in an interesting visual clue to the eventual twist. It’s a subtle one, but attentive readers will find themselves curious about whether there is more going on than the seemingly simple story OLD DOG #1 presents.
But most interesting visually is Shalvey’s use of color. The intercutting scenes make use of different palettes, with one time period depicted in bright colors and the other faded and more monochromatic. I don’t know if Shalvey intended it, but the way the issue leans into the usual color choices of this particular storytelling convention provides a nice clue to what is really going on.
OLD DOG #1 begins with the very familiar but does an excellent job subverting expectations by the end of the issue. Shalvey uses subtle misdirection to great effect, and there’s no evidence as the issue goes on that anything unexpected awaits us. We don’t learn much about Lynch in this issue that elevates him beyond a stock character, unfortunately. But that’s really the only drawback to the story. The art, meanwhile, is flawless and integral to what Shalvey is doing here. Anyone who thinks they know what they’re getting with OLD DOG #1 and passing it up, as a result, should absolutely give it a second look.