Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth
32 pages, color
Published by Oni Press
Almost three years ago, Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s first Stumptown mini-series debuted. Starring Dex Parios, it followed a private investigator in Portland, Oregon who was often down on her luck and even more often got in over her head. With the mini-series having numerous delays, though, Rucka and Southworth promised that they’d wait until they could guarantee the next one would be on time before it began to appear. Well, it looks like that time is now, and with Stumptown Volume 2 #1 we’re getting "The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case." But with all the intervening time, is it too late for Stumptown to try and make a comeback?
I’ll admit that I was amused right off the bat when I realized what "The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case" was really about (a guitar stolen from a rock star), but fortunately there’s a lot more to Stumptown Vol. 2 #1 than just a play on words. Rucka does a good job of quickly re-establishing the series; in a matter of pages we’ve met Dex, we’re given an example of where she’s willing to take honor over a paycheck, and most importantly we get to see her interact with her new client Miriam Bracca. When Dex is interviewing Miriam and asks for the value of the guitar, that’s when we get to see how Dex’s mind works. As she deftly sidesteps the cost that the guitar originally went for in the pawnshop and shifts to both the emotional worth and also the fact that it was owned by Miriam, we see that Dex gets the criminal mind. Likewise, when she defuses a potentially deadly confrontation using nothing more than a stopwatch, it’s a reminder that Dex is smart. Obviously a private investigator that stays in business needs some brains, but Dex is more than just book-smart; she’s quick on her feet and once again shows that she knows how to engage the criminal mind. In short, she’s the kind of protagonist that you want in a story.
One thing that I appreciated about Stumptown Vol. 2 #1 is that Rucka doesn’t assume that we’ve read any of his earlier stories with these characters. Dex is of course from Stumptown Vol. 1 (now out in a nifty hardcover edition), but I didn’t know until later that Miriam appeared in one of Rucka’s prose novels (A Fistful of Rain). You don’t need to have read either of these books/comics, though. With the several year gap between Stumptown Vol. 1 and Stumptown Vol. 2, Rucka’s approached this as a new entry point for readers. That may sound like an obvious thing to do, but any long-time comic reader will know all about an issue #1 that is anything but new-reader friendly. The story moves at a nice clip, too; the tension builds up at just the right moments and by the end we’ve hit a strong end-of-chapter that should make people want to come back for issue #2.
The art in Stumptown Vol. 2 #1 is a little different than what we had in the first series, both for the better and the worse. Southworth is now teamed with colorist Rico Renzi, whose work here is spectacular. There’s a lot to love about the coloring in this issue; from the black-light poster influenced palette on the first page (perfect for a rock concert montage), to the gorgeous watercolor-smeared black clouds in the sky over Dex’s office. Every page feels like it’s been carefully thought out and attacked in a cohesive manner, and I think most comic creators would be counting their lucky stars to get something so well-composed. I’m a little less crazy, though, about the changes in Southworth’s art style. His art is much looser and not quite as strongly formed as it was in Stumptown Vol. 1, and while that style can work, it’s not quite coming together for me here. It feels a little too simple without also falling into the iconic category; it’s almost going for a Guy Davis sort of look, but Davis’s style came together over a number of years and was on stronger footing. Add in that this is a story set in the real world, and the rough, slightly-coming-apart art style doesn’t feel like the right match for Rucka’s script. The art in Stumptown Vol. 2 #1 is going to take a while to grow on me, but I’m willing to give it some more time. The page layouts are still strong, though, and I appreciated that the landmarks and neighborhoods of Portland felt alive and real to me as I read the comic.
Art quibbles aside, I’m still glad to see Stumptown having returned. It’s got a strong first issue script, and hopefully this means the series of mini-series is going to be back a little more often down the line. I’d forgotten how much fun the first story was until now, but getting Dex back is reason to celebrate. The book might not have come together 100% for me, but there’s definitely more than enough that makes me pleased and wanting to find out what happens next. I’ll be back.