Old Dog #1 Review: An Understated, Unsteady Espionage Tale

I knew that Old Dog was confident in its convictions when, in the third act of its first issue, it deployed the classic trope of a title drop. More specifically, a sequence shows a government agent acknowledging the series' protagonist, grizzled CIA operative Jack Lynch, and remarking "There's life in the old dog yet, huh?" While that seems to be the case with regards to Jack himself, it's not necessarily a conclusion I can reach for Old Dog based upon its first issue. Old Dog #1 is a well-crafted, but almost frustratingly-understated take on genre staples, which is ultimately pushed forward by the possibilities of its concept.

Old Dog #1 depicts the story of Jack Lynch, a veteran CIA agent who has been sidelined to menial desk work after many years on the job. From there, the issue recounts both a seemingly-uneventful mission that turns into something more, as well as an action-packed sequence following a younger-looking version of Jack – two stories that are more connected than they first seem.

It's an admirable decision to structure Old Dog #1 in these dual points in time, and it ultimately leads to a narrative payoff that could really only function in the format of comics. That being said, the structure takes a little bit of back-and-forth to really start clicking, as the parameters of the series' world aren't immediately defined. The closest we get is an introductory page with some cleverly-redacted bits of information, but we're still left filling in the gaps of what's going on for at least the first third of the issue. The effect is disorienting, but still entertaining, especially once the general conceit of the issue starts to make itself clear.

Unfortunately, the general conceit of Old Dog #1 seems to take precedence over fleshing out the series' characters, as everyone is left underbaked when the issue wraps up. While we learn morsels of Jack's troubled past, not nearly enough is done to invest us in it, or in his relationship with another key character properly introduced at the end of the issue. It's safe to assume that those elements will be expanded upon in future issues, but that ambiguity—plus the largely-generic dialogue from writer-artist Declan Shalvey—ultimately makes the proceedings somewhat forgettable, outside of a few key sequences.

On essentially every single aesthetic level, Old Dog #1 picks up the slack left by its narrative in some truly remarkable ways. Shalvey's art grounds the two sequences with a dynamic flair that fans of his work on Moon Knight and Deadpool will surely recognize, as the fight sequences are carried out in a straightforward, impactful way. The scrappy, but deliberate use of shadows evoke the pulpier work of Will Eisner and Alex Toth in all the right ways, and might be my favorite component of the visuals. Shalvey's color work goes the extra mile to establish the two settings of the issue, with some brilliant uses of teal and green. Clayton Cowles' lettering is unobtrusive, but effective, helping make even the wordiest of sequences relatively easy to digest.

Like its protagonist, Old Dog #1 is a bit of an enigma. Its visuals are inspired, and its central premise has a ton of promise – but too much of the issue's construction underwhelms where it could soar. If you're a fan of Shalvey's work, Old Dog is worth diving into immediately, but otherwise, we'll just have to wait and see if it's worth taking the plunge.

Published by Image Comics

On September 28, 2022

Written by Declan Shalvey

Art by Declan Shalvey

Colors by Declan Shalvey

Letters by Clayton Cowles

Cover by Declan Shalvey