Last issue, “Sparta, U.S.A.” ended on a big cliffhanger with the Maestro, a leader/founder/father figure to the town of Sparta, returning to quell the problems raised by Godfrey McLaine’s return, with the Nazi army as his back-up. Here, we learn that ten thousand Nazi soldiers have taken over Sparta, leaving some of its residents to form an underground resistance against the occupiers. Despite the surprising concepts of the series with David Lapham always ready to surprise readers, this issue feels more fragmented and listless than previous ones. The introduction of the Nazi force hasn’t just disrupted the day-to-day life of the Spartans, it’s disrupted the narrative flow of the book.
Part of the problem with this issue is that there’s so much going on in the book that scenes feel rushed or incomplete as Lapham tries to touch on the essential points. None of the scenes have room to breathe. Advancement of the subplot between Ralphie and Sissy only gets three pages that only give a taste of what’s going on there, while the confrontation between Godfrey and the Maestro is even shorter. Since the narrative keeps skipping along, jumping from scene to scene, the idea of the Nazis occupying the town isn’t really developed. A lot of the story is carried on the narration, falling firmly into the ‘tell’ category rather than ‘show.’
However, the scenes themselves are strong. Lapham is good at packing a lot of content into short scenes, living by the idea of entering late and leaving early, and doing so effectively. The scene between Godfrey and the Maestro is carried by well-honed and crafted dialogue where the things they say get across the relationship the two share as well as their personalities. While it might be nice to have the two talk around one another a little more, the straight-to-business approach is effective. Sadly, the reality is that, at six issues, Lapham doesn’t have the room to make scenes breath and linger on the smaller details more.
This is the first issue where Johnny Timmons’ art didn’t contain a moment that surprised me and made me stop. His art is becoming less detailed in places, relying on suggestive lines than concrete depictions of characters and objects. That’s not a bad thing necessarily since some pages look better for it, the art having a looser feeling to counter the photoreferences of earlier issues. The problem is that, overall, pages look like they’re more rushed with a more liberal use of blacks and less details in places. The compositions of characters also don’t have the same energy as before. I still like Timmons’s work, but this issue shows signs of the deadlines perhaps catching up with him.
The concepts of “Sparta, U.S.A.” are strong and interesting, especially the basis for the underground where the Spartans have been raised in subterfuge since birth, but the execution of this issue is scattered and rushed with individually strong scenes not fitting together as a cohesive unit. I’m very interested in seeing how it plays out in next month’s finale.