“The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo But Left Her Mini, Part One”
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist/Cover artist: Matthew Southworth
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Editor: James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $3.99 US
Writer Greg Rucka isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with this latest creator-owned project. Fans of his work will recognize his heroine Dex Parios. Maybe not her name or face, but the archetype. Rucka clearly has a fascination with the strong but flawed female investigator character type. It’s easy to see such Rucka-associated characters as Renee Montoya, Bridget Logan, Carrie Stetko and others in Dex. This new feisty private eye even appears to be gay, making it even easier to compare her to Montoya (whom Rucka has written for years, from Gotham Central to 52 to Detective Comics). Nevertheless, the familiarity of the archetype doesn’t detract from the compelling characterization and engrossing mystery. Rucka has teamed with an artist whose style is akin to others with whom the writer has collaborated on crime comics in the past, so not surprisingly, the two creators’ approaches mesh nicely. Stumptown is as fascinating as Queen and Country, Rucka’s last creator-owned title for Oni Press, but it’s even more grounded. I’d only learned about this title this week, having missed any previous announcement, but I’m thrilled with the discovery.
In debt for thousands to a casino operated by her own Native American tribe, private investigator Dex Parios agrees to undertake a missing-person case for the casino’s manager in order to wipe the slate clean. The manager’s granddaughter has disappeared, and the theory is that the 19-year-old girl has run off with a lover. Dex soon discovers that’s not the case. She thinks the girl’s gone into hiding because she’s in trouble. It doesn’t take long for those she’s hiding from — two contingents, actually — to find Dex instead.
The first thing that struck me about the art style for this book was how much it reminded me of Michael (Gotham Central, Daredevil) Lark’s work. Matthew Southworth employs a realistic, dark style that fosters the sort of atmosphere of intrigue and tension that one needs for an effective P.I. genre story. Southworth’s style isn’t quite as gritty or sketchy as Lark’s; there’s a stronger sense of realism that’s reminiscent of the styles of such artists as Steve Epting, Butch Guice and even Bryan Hitch. Lee Loughridge’s colors reinforce the deliciously noir atmosphere, always keeping with muted tones. Nighttime is conveyed with cool blues, and sun with a soft, dulled orange glow.
I like that Rucka roots the main character and those around her in Native American culture. He wisely realizes that doesn’t mean he needs to fill the pages with references to sweat lodges, shamans and sweetgrass. These are modern, urban smart and even sophisticated people, but not perfect either. While we only get a taste of this cultural element early in the book, there’s the promise of revisiting it further later in the series.
One of the reasons I so enjoyed James Robinson’s Starman series from DC years ago was that the setting, Opal City, was as much a character as the heroes and villains that populating the stories as well. That’s a quality that Stumptown shares, only the difference is that the backdrop in this instance is far from fictional. “Stumptown” refers to Portland, Oregon, and it really comes to life here. I visited the city briefly in 1999, and I only got a cursory glance at what seemed like a pleasant, bright community. Rucka, a Portland resident, guides us into its darker corners, just as the artist shows off its architecture and decor. While I already have a good sense of who Dex is at this point, I’m really interested in getting to know this city, if only because it’s a hotbed of comics creation.
One can’t help but like Dex. She’s personable, witty and caring. Her relationship with her younger brother is designed to show off her maternal side, her softer side. I also like her toughness, but Rucka is careful not to overplay. She’s no mistress of the martial arts. She gets roughed up; she’s not the one kicking ass and taking names. Instead, her strength lies with her mind, her perceptions. Dex is smart, observant and good with people. Rucka doesn’t opt to transform into some kind of super-woman. 8/10
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