It has been approximately two years since the last issue of the first “Stumptown” miniseries, ‘The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo but Left Her Mini.’ This week, the intrepid detective Dex begins her next case, ‘The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case.’ Don’t let the title deceive you, though; this baby might be a tiny bit different from the kind you’re used to.
Written by Greg Rucka
Illustrated by Matthew Southworth
From Eisner Award-winning writer Greg Rucka and acclaimed artist Matthew Southworth comes a new STUMPTOWN mystery! When Mim Bracca, guitar player for the Portland-based rock group Tailhook, returns home from a long tour, she finds not everything made it back with her. Can P.I. Dex Parios track down
her missing baby?
Of the various talents renowned writer Greg Rucka has, perhaps the one that is most on display in this first issue is his ability to create complex and realistic characters. We, of course, see this primarily in the protagonist, Dex. The character work that Rucka does with Dex in this issue alone fills the reader in enough on her ins and outs that reading volume one beforehand is hardly necessary (though highly encouraged if you like good crime comics). Turning down a job for moral scruples is a common scene in detective fiction, but gestures such as quoting Falstaff from Henry IV while tearing up papers in frustration make this seem less like a plot point and more like a human being’s personal decision — Dex’s choice, rather than Greg’s. We see the same sort of human factor in her smarts; one of the most common problems in detective fiction is a protagonist who comes up with solutions that no one could have ever dreamed of, as if she or he had read ahead in their own book, but the rescue scene that Dex participates in shows that she is a real person with real world solutions to problem, not some flawless alien entity. Dex isn’t alone, in the well-developed category, though. When Miriam makes her entrance into Dex’s office and explains the situation regarding her “baby,” so much heart and soul is put into her dialogue that, by the time it ends, we leave with an almost complete picture of who Ms. Bracca as — especially if you have any musician friends. Before giving us any hooks, a writer needs to make us care about people who aren’t real — a veritable miracle, but one that Rucka performs admirably.
Then there’s the hook itself. The most common hook of any detective story is someone/something is missing and the protagonist has been asked/hired to find it, and this case of Dex’s fits that bill to a t. Rucka knows that trying to drastically alter a tried-and-true approach does not equate to immediate reader interest; by trying to get out of the confines of one convention, you will often find yourself waltzing straight into another. Rucka instead focuses on the details, giving us a case that may be a recipe we’re used to, but with some unique ingredient substitutions (it’s not a perfect metaphor). When the nature of Miriam’s “baby” is revealed — no spoilers here, folks — the reader is momentarily thrown off balance, but not so much that they think that this story is going to be ridiculous — especially due to Miriam’s above-mentioned dialogue, which establishes why her treasure is as important to her as a baby might be to a mother. This is how you get readers interested: not by trying to futiley change the formulas we know and — despite our protests — love, but by doing something different within that formula. “Protagonist has to find person/object, runs into complications along the way” leaves a lot of leeway for writers, after all. Issue #1s that make you want to read more have always been one of Greg Rucka’s strong points, and that’s because he is able to take ideas we are familiar with and change them ever so slightly into something new and enticing — see, for example, this very issue.
Just like they were in the first miniseries, Matt Southworth and Rico Renzi are powerful artistic pairing. While Southworth’s style may look a bit “rough,” it’s more a stylistic choice than anything else; not once does this style prevent or even hamper him from displaying clear and concise sequential storytelling. In fact, it helps. Compare the cover of the issue to its contents. There is a marked difference in style between the two, even though they’re both clearly by the same artist. Southworth knows what many undeserved big names don’t: covers and actual comics require almost entirely different approaches. Sure, the issue might seem crisp and polished if it all looked like the cover does, but it would not have the same excellent sense of motion and life that it does when taken with a looser approach. These are the differences between a great cover artist and a great comics artist — luckily, Southworth is both. Much of the book’s visual credit needs to go to Renzi, as well. Southworth’s line work could easily be ruined by a colorist without any sense of playing to individual artistic styles, instead relying on some default palette. Renzi’s colors, though, have clearly been carefully picked with Southworth’s style in mind, and enhance the line artist’s work even further. Renzi is the kind of colorist that the comic industry needs more of, not more of those who manage to make some of the most strikingly different artists look exactly the same.Continued below
The first volume of “Stumptown” was great, so is it any surprise that the second volume looks promising in its first issue? I don’t think so. Rucka, Southworth, and Renzi have made for us another great comic, because that’s what they do. That you don’t even need to have read the first volume beforehand is icing on the cake. There’s no justifiable reason to purposefully miss out on this comic, so stop reading this review and go get yourself “Stumptown” if you haven’t already.
Final Verdict: 8.6 – I said stop reading! Get to it!