A girl goes missing. A P.I. on her trail becomes tangled up in a complex series of events, all of which involve seedy characters working at cross purposes. Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” didn’t invent that story, but it’s the one most commonly cited as an influence, and Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s “Stumptown” seems inspired by Chandler, even if it’s not a straight retelling of his most famous novel.
Calling this comic “Chandler, in Portland, today, with a female lead,” wouldn’t be too far off the mark, and it certainly doesn’t seem like the type of description that would make anyone less likely to read this comic. That’s especially true if they take a quick look through these pages and see Matthew Southworth’s gritty pages.
Southworth’s an interesting artist, though, because at first glance — and in select panels — his work seems very polished. He’s of the Lark/Gaudiano school, so even when he’s polished he looks a little rough around the edges, but he’s “polished” in that style, paradoxically. The problem is that some of his panels are a bit too rough — it’s not that they look rushed, it’s that the anatomy or rendering looks a bit off. It’s like the photo-reference didn’t quite come out right (and I have no idea if he uses photo-reference at all, for anything besides the Portland backdrops and architecture). I’d say that Southworth has great potential, and we get hints of it throughout this first issue.
Still, even with its occasional roughness, “Stumptown” #1 is quite a good opening chapter in a noir-ish detective story. And Rucka throws in a few twists to the narrative, a few texture details, that keep this grounded in a troubling reality rather than being just a high concept future movie pitch. This is a crime comic, through and through.
Dex is the protagonist, a Private Investigator on the bad side of a casino debt, and a young woman with a needy brother to take care of. She’s a well-realized character in this first issue, and she quickly gets caught up in a series of events in which lead to her own murder. Or so it seems. That’s not a spoiler, by the way. The opening scene shows Dex getting shot and dumped in the river, and then the first issue jumps back in time to show how she got there.
It’s not just the scenes in the Native American casino that makes me put this comic in the same ballpark as Jason Aaron’s “Scalped.” Like that series, “Stumptown” shows the cruel underbelly of life in some of the poorer regions of America and, like “Scalped,” “Stumptown” has a harsh realism that makes everything feel more meaningful, more intense. Then again, in its pacing and look, it resembles Ed Brubaker’s “Criminal.”
So maybe you should forget that Chandler stuff. “Stumptown” is “Scalped” meets “Criminal,” and that sounds like a comic I wouldn’t mind reading each month.