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Return of ‘Stumptown’ makes me miss James Garner a little less

by  in Comic News Comment
Return of ‘Stumptown’ makes me miss James Garner a little less

[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]

The manner in which a comic series resonates with me often lacks sense. In the case of the launch of Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown, I distinctly remember  a mid-2007 CBR article where Rucka described it as “my love letter to ‘The Rockford Files.'” From that moment on, I have been a huge fan of Stumptown.

Portland private investigator Dex Parios is not a perfect character; investigations rarely go smoothly for her. But she always succeeds on some level. Her family is important to her, more exactly her special needs brother Ansel Parios means the world to her. For me, the value of family is another homage to the James Garner 1970s series.

As a lifelong fan of Garner (as a kid growing up I watched Maverick repeats almost as much as Rockford), I was truly saddened when he died in July. So the fact Stumptown returned this past Wednesday — this time as an ongoing series (with the amicable departure of artist Southworth, replaced by Justin Greenwood) — makes me miss Garner a little less. What I mean is, in a sense, as long as storytellers remain influenced by Garner’s work, part of him lives on in a way.

This opening issue of the ongoing series proves to readers that writer Rucka is not just randomly setting the story in Portland. He spends a great deal of the first part of this arc, “The Case of the King of Clubs”, capturing the local flavor of the city — and in particular many of the residents affinity for its pro soccer team, the Portland Timbers. Much of the story focuses on Ansel and Dex taking in a game against the Seattle Sounders with their friend, Mercury.

For anyone concerned that the Stumptown universe would be weaker due to the absence of Southworth, Greenwood eliminates that apprehension fairly quickly. He’s got a great eye for page design and artistically hitting the story beats that Rucka scripts. Early in the scenes in the soccer stadium, Greenwood has the three friends pausing for the national anthem. Rather than lettering the lyrics on the page, Greenwood and Rucka merely opt to have the characters holding their hands over their heart. It is a simple moment, but avoids being heavy-handed in explaining the scene. Another great creative choice they make throughout the game scenes is to have the crowds cheers/chants/taunts overlap the art, adding another layer of atmosphere for the story.

Finally, Rucka’s portrayal of Ansel is not one-dimensional. While he may be special needs, Ansel is a character that has special insight into his sister, and can read situations in a manner no other character in the story can. It is a quality I admire in Rucka — many writers may make the effort to include non-traditional or diverse characters in their stories unfortunately the uniqueness of the character ends there and the person is used as little more than a prop. Not so with Rucka’s Ansel.

If the quality from this first issue stays consistent in the coming months, Stumptown will likely make my top 10 of 2014.

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