In his interview with CBR's Jeffrey Renaud last year, David Lapham described "Sparta, U.S.A." as "Sort of 'Desperate Housewives' on crack. And not a soap opera," and that only hints at the strangeness of the first issue. It will require a couple of reads for everything to sink in and, even then, there are still a lot of questions that are left over regarding the town, its world, and the people that inhabit it. But, make no mistake, the debut issue of this series is a surprising, compelling read whose strangeness only makes you want to read more.
The town of Sparta is centered on a few core ideas: being American, advancing through life via subterfuge, and football. In a town of less than ten thousand, there are 30 minor league and 12 professional teams, and years are measured in seasons. Every year, the Maestro, a tall, otherworldly blue man, brings children to bolster the population, given to the most deserving couples. The greatest football player to ever live in Sparta, Godfrey McLaine, disappeared three years ago and has returned to town with his skin bright red and bearing news of the outside world. Yeah, just a little weird.
Anyone who read Lapham's "Young Liars" won't be surprised or even too thrown by what happens in this issue, almost feeling like the next stop on Danny Noonan and co.'s journey (though this series was conceived and began production while "Young Liars" was still being published). Lapham's signature storytelling and writing is here as he explains some of the broader elements of Sparta, while leaving the readers to figure out the specifics for themselves. An early sequence that results in the death of a man goes unexplained until later in the issue where subtle hints are given about how this town operates, which is advancement through secret: killing or blackmailing those above you, so long as no one ever finds out the truth.
Joining Lapham on art is Johnny Timmons, whose work is somewhat inconsistent and evolves over the course of the issue as he tries to find his visual voice. He shifts between blocky, heavy inks to more intricate pencils throughout. He's very good at giving impressions of scenery and characters, but not as much when focused on a single character. The change over the issue is a little distracting by the end where some characters don't fit in visually with the rest, because of the thinner, more detailed line work. His art, when he's on, is good, but he needs to find a specific style and voice.
"Sparta, U.S.A." won't be for everyone as it requires patience and a little effort on the reader's part to understand. However, if Lapham's previous work is any indication, that patience and effort will pay off big time by the time the series is done.