Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Private Investigator Dex Parios experiences days like this more than the average person. She regularly finds herself in over her head, whether she’s gambling, working a case, or just trying to have a normal one on one conversation. Dex doesn’t have her life together by any stretch of the imagination, but she is the likable sort and certainly a lot of fun to follow in the first volume of “Stumptown”.
Credit Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth for imparting charisma and life into the private dick who may not be a model citizen, but she’s got detecting down pat. Rucka is an experienced crime writer and he’s weaves a just-complex-enough story featuring a dysfunctional crime-family and a missing girl. Along the way, the writer gives us glimpses into who Dex is through her ability to competently unravel facts and piece them back together properly. Her wit and imperfections make her an interesting protagonist, one who readers will want to follow on future cases. That is, if she can stay alive. Dex gets a lot of guns pointed at her in “Stumptown”.
Rucka and Southworth introduce us to Dex, who claims to be “feeling lucky” while rolling the dice at the Whispering Winds Casino. Unfortunately, she isn’t lucky and has racked up some massive gambling debts when she gets pulled off the casino floor by one of the casino owner’s flunkies:
Hollis: You know why you’re such a bad gambler? Because you don’t know when to quit.
Dex: Sure I do, Hollis. Consistently about a minute too late.
Southworth is a serious revelation on “Stumptown”. There’s a grittiness to his style that works in perfect unison with Rucka’s story, his characters, whether in the background or the forefront of the action, are three-dimensional and expressive, and his sequential storytelling is terrific. Southworth moves the camera around the action smartly, as though he’s been drawing comics for years (although his comic book resume is not extensive).
In a sequence that has Dex hit hard on the back of the head, Southworth communicates Dex’s pain and confused state through numerous slanting panels that focus close on her face, then from above, as the P.I. struggles to reclaim her faculties. Southworth is given more to communicate through clever storytelling techniques since Rucka does not rely on narration to move the story along.
Lee Loughridge keeps the colors simple and atmospheric, which works beautifully with Southworth’s pencils. Loughridge typically doesn’t employ more than a few colors on each page, leaving the characters and action to bask in lovely blue, orange, and brown hues. The artist uses contrasting colors from time to time to add impact to the scenes of violence and heightened danger.
Rucka’s main focus is to continue sorting out his mystery, but he layers “Stumptown” with supporting characters to add substance to Dex’s backstory. The book begins to feel as though it’s the fourth of fifth volume instead of the first because Dex clearly shares a great deal of history with the featured cast of “Stumptown”. Grey is the man who wants to be in Dex’s life, but he hasn’t gotten much further than babysitting her mentally-challenged brother Ansel. It isn’t totally clear what has happened between Dex and police Captain Volk, but things couldn’t be icier between these two. Rucka only plants seeds in this opening volume, but they’re intriguing B-stories that help to establish Dex as interesting lead.
Rucka has created a mystery that is revealed believably, piece by piece, and the story grows even more layered as secrets are bared. Southworth and Loughridge seal the deal by capturing the tone of Rucka’s story through exceptional sequential storytelling and a subdued palette. With all of Dex’s character flaws, “Stumptown” invites us into her world, and it’s one that readers are going to want to revisit again and again.
Stumptown, Vol. 1
Written by: Greg Rucka
Art: Matthew Southworth
Colors: Lee Loughridge, Rico Renzi, Matthew Southworth
Publisher: Oni Press
Original Publication Date: November 2011
Pages: 144 pages