"The Strange Talent of Luther Strode" has never hid the fact that it's a slightly... all right, very violent book. The opening scene in the first issue gave everyone a warning of what was to come, so it shouldn't be a surprise that as we near the end of the mini-series, the violence levels are climbing up to the amount that we saw in those first few pages.
But while "The Strange Talent of Luther Strode" is violent, don't let it be said that is predictable. It feels like writer Justin Jordan is playing with the expectations and stereotypes of comic books, and the end result is a far more satisfying story than you might otherwise expect.
This issue has Luther as less of a character and more a force of nature, so it's up to Luther's girlfriend Petra, best friend Pete, and mother to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Happily, all three do a good job with just that. Petra's always stolen the scenes that she's been in up until now, so it's no surprise that she does just that again in "The Strange Talent of Luther Strode" #5. There's a famous short story by O. Henry called "The Ransom of Red Chief" where a pair of kidnappers snatch a young boy only to quickly regret it and eventually pay the child's father to please take the boy back. It's hard to keep from having flashbacks to that story when it comes to Petra having been kidnapped by the bad guys at the end of issue #4. She's not just someone with a wise-cracking mouth, after all; she's genuinely cunning and clever, and she's not afraid to fight back. Luther may be on his way to save Petra, but the amount that Petra is able to accomplish on her own (both before and then after Luther's arrival) is admirable. It's part of the reason why I think Petra's captured the attention of so many readers; she's just that much fun to read about (and, I expect, write for).
Pete and Luther's mother end up a bit more in the victim role this month, but even then both of them are characters who are smart, strong-willed, and anything but shrinking violets. Their appearances in "The Strange Talent of Luther Strode" #5 are bound to disturb, though, and I think it's to Jordan's credit that he makes their scenes so hard to read. Even as disaster is on the horizon, you find yourself rooting for them to surprise us. And after all, Jordan's awfully good about whipping out some surprises just when you get complacent. By the end of the issue, everything's built up to enough of a crescendo that you're quite eager to see how #6 will wrap things up.
Tradd Moore's art is also as strong as ever. Luther going up against the bad guys is energetic and powerful; as walls fracture and doors splinter, you never lose sight of just how strong Luther Strode has become. It's not all just punches, though; look at the face of Petra when she's captured and starts engineering her escape, for example. Jordan doesn't have to include any sort of narration box or thought balloon to let us know what she's thinking, thanks to Moore's expressions. And when the Librarian shows up? Well, let's just say that there's a reason why we start seeing naked fear on everyone's faces just then.
Moore also handles the violence in a way that feels both grotesque and cartoonish. I think he's found just the right balance; too much in one direction and you wouldn't be able to take seriously what was happening, but too much in the other direction and it would be too disgusting to read. It's a good final call, and while I still jumped quite a few times (especially the scenes involving the Librarian's attack), I never felt like I had to put the comic down because it had gone off the deep end.
"The Strange Talent of Luther Strode" #5 continues another strong installment in this debut series from Jordan and Moore. I don't know what they're going to do as a follow-up (either more "The Strange Talent of Luther Strode" or something entirely different), but based on this comic, it'll be well worth everyone's attention. Definitely one of the big surprise comic hits of 2011, and I'm sorry to see it already winding to a close. Fun and disturbing, just the right thing for a super-hero meets horror comic. Check it out.