It’s too bad that Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s run on “Detective Comics” hadn’t debuted in its own comic, because then I could say that Rucka was responsible for two of my favorite new series in 2009. Reading “Stumptown” reminds me of that initial flush of excitement when I first encountered “Whiteout” and then “Queen & Country,” where I’m getting to know a new protagonist that has captivated my attention in a matter of seconds.
What I think grabs me the most, right away, is how Dex Parios is a flawed person. It’s easy to write a character who always has the withering put-down, the dazzling charm, the strong leaps of logic. In the case of Dex, though, she’s also someone who’s a little emotionally manipulative to get what she wants, she doesn’t know when to shut her mouth, and she’s got a knack for pissing people off. It’s this mixture that makes her enthralling; she’s a walking loose cannon with the best of intentions, even as you brace yourself for just what kind of collateral damage she’ll cause next.
There’s more to like about “Stumptown” than just Dex, though. Her supporting cast is starting to form up and they’ve all got their own stories. The job that Dex is on (with the fantastic title of, “the case of the girl who took her shampoo but left her mini”) is unfolding nicely, with interesting twists and turns that don’t come out of left field but still manage to surprise. And, at the halfway point of the story, we’ve hit a moment that I’d have thought would appear much later, which means that we’ve got quite a few more surprises around the bend. Rucka’s an excellent crime fiction author, and “Stumptown” brings that point back home to roost.
Matthew Southworth is a real find for Oni; his art looks like a beautiful combination of Guy Davis, Vince Locke, Andy Bennett, Alex Maleev, and a few other artists all rolled up into one. Southworth nails his characters, with convincing body language and posture in every panel. And while he pays special attention to his main character, even bit parts get just as much care. Little moments like the suspicious look of the hotel desk clerk, or the wordless fight outside a bar, flow and move across the page wonderfully. Southworth also extends that attention to detail to minutia like the trash in Dex’s car, patterns on the hotel floor, and charts on hospital walls. Lee Loughridge’s colors helps the art just pop right off the page, and the final package is top-notch.
I used to be sad that we weren’t getting any more “Queen & Country” for the duration, but “Stumptown” is more than mollifying any sadness I once had. Between this and his Batwoman stories, Rucka’s re-positioning himself as an author to keep an eye on. “Stumptown” is fantastic, pure and simple.