It’s great to see “Stumptown” — Greg Rucka’s private investigator series set in Portland, Oregon — back and now moving forward as an ongoing series. It’s been long enough since the two previous mini-series that I was looking forward to Rucka and new series artist Justin Greenwood reintroducing the cast of the title, and giving a strong opening issue to grab our attention. But the end result, unfortunately, didn’t quite fill all of those criteria.
Rucka’s story moves through two soccer games; the first one where main character Dex is the goalie, and then moving from there to a professional MLS game between the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders. Readers watch Dex interact with her brother Ansel, as well as friends and even a potential love interest. And of course, by the end of the issue, there’s a dramatic event that will likely kick off the investigation for the rest of this opening storyline.
The problem with “Stumptown” #1 is that the pace feels a little too relaxed, a touch too languid. If this were the second storyline of the new series and took place as “Stumptown” #6 or so, I think the series would be right on track. By that point, the audience would be firmly on board, subplots and storylines would be in full swing, and you can take this leisurely, day-in-the-life approach to the start of a new storyline. It’s been over a year and a half since we’ve visited “Stumptown” though, and this feels like a bad move to try and draw in new readers. We’re deposited in media res within “Stumptown” #1, and there’s not much of a hook when it comes to Dex, Ansel or anyone else in this comic to particularly care about them. Perhaps if you sit down and read the previous two mini-series right beforehand, things would click, but in a vacuum (or at least after a 20-month gap), it feels a little too slow and uninteresting.
Greenwood — whose work on “The Fuse” over at Image is nice — does a good enough job here. I like the softer take on Dex and her brother’s features, but it’s one that can still handle a harder edge when necessary (like when Dex is hustling Ansel past the “I need tickets” guy). Greenwood takes a lot of time to get all of the features of Portland down, especially their stadium at Providence Park, and that’s admirable. Occasionally some of the action sequences are a little muddled, though. For example, when Dex accidentally gets elbowed and spills her beer, Mercury looks like he’s five feet away from her because of how the panel is set up. And honestly, I still can’t figure out why there’s green smoke pouring off of the ground after her beer is spilled. (Are they drinking hydrochloric acid? I’m guessing this actually some sort of ritual that takes place at Providence Park, but for non-locals it’s perplexing.)
I was excited to see the return of “Stumptown,” but if I was a new reader and picked this issue up, I might be a little perplexed to see why people have enjoyed this comic up until now. It’s not bad, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary either. Looking back at the first “Stumptown” mini-series from 2009, that’s a comic that started strong right out of the gate and grabbed my attention in a way that didn’t let up until the story was over. Right now, I wish this series had a similar hook.