Stumping for Stumptown
It’s about ten times easier to write a review of a new comic book series when you’ve read Issue #1. Who knew?
To make a long story short: picked up what I thought was issue #1 of Stumptown published by Oni Press, written by Greg Rucka and inked by Matthew Southworth, only to realize it was actually #2. Having the entire story skewed can really effect your perspective, so I’ve had to re-adjust my opinions of the book based on all the new information about the main character and story. It was a good adjustment, by the way.
Dexedrine Callisto Parios – better known as “Dex” is a private investigator on the mean streets of Portland, Oregon. Which elicits a bit of a chuckle from me – I get that Portland has a criminal element, but it contrasts a bit with our image as the cleanest, greenest city in America. Whatever the prevailing ideas about the city are – Dex is a woman who knows how to find trouble wherever she goes, or at least encourages trouble to come find her.
It’s a classic hard-boiled detective, crime environment – not usually my style but my affinity for Rucka, Portland and resilient comic book heroines make this book a shoe-in, right? Sort of – I wasn’t really in love with this book by the end of Issue #2.
What I took for false machismo in the second issue really fleshed itself out in the first, and my initial trepidations about embracing her started to fall away. There was more background in Issue #1 – a closer examination of her faults, a better definition of her relationship with her mentally handicapped brother, and further defining of her sexuality.
Why do tough chicks always have to be gay? Or viewed by other characters as being gay? Is it impossible for a woman to have typically masculine qualities (strength, intelligence, strong opinions) and not be labeled as homosexual? I was disappointed when Rucka went that route with Whiteout, and was feeling doubly irritated when I opened up my first issue (Issue #2) and Dex is loving up on men and women. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with representing homosexuality or bi-sexuality in comic books, but making a tough female character a lesbian is a straight cop-out, indicating that women cannot be strong, independent and heterosexual. *sigh*
Rucka’s ability to write women has evolved since Whiteout, and after only a few issues, Dex already seems like a person who is defined more by her choices, behaviors and attitudes than by her sexuality or gender. She’s got less intensity than Carrie Stetko – Rucka peppers Dex’s conversations with humor and gives her tough persona a nice balance with her devotion to her brother.
Don’t get me wrong, she is still defined by her sexual preference (we all are), but I’m hoping the need to assert it so prominently will drop into the background as the series progress and lets the stories, personalities and relationships take center stage.
Cynicism and disgruntled feminism aside – I’ve got to give props to Rucka for writing strong women characters and putting them in books with a low sleaze factor.
And more props to Matthew Southworth for working diligently to capture the true Portland feel. While the rough, scratchy inks are not my preferred comic style – it pairs very well with the cloudy Portland atmosphere and the detective-noir feel of the book. The darker earth toned coloring by Lee Loughride works nicely with the art and it’s compelling to flip through the book and see the individual scenes mapped out with a different color scheme. It’s like a new lens applied to each part of the story – quite effective.
And who wouldn’t love seeing their city displayed on a comic book page with such attention to detail? Seriously – from the Craftsman style homes – you know Dex lives somewhere in North Portland. The sequences with the St. Johns bridge featured prominently are particularly stunning.
It’s especially exciting to read the commentary by Southworth on the back pages, as he describes his process of cataloging the unique visual elements of Portland and translating them to the pages of Stumptown.
The plot itself – the case Dex is working to solve over the first few issues features many Oregon elements as well. Dex gets the case from a Native American casino owner and those involved with it ending up taking her all the way to the beloved Oregon Coast. She survives a beating on what looks like the SE Portland streets, and then takes two gun shots down at the base of the aforementioned St. John’s bridge.
She’s a hard woman to kill. My hope is that this series survives long enough to fully develop her, and it’s story into something that surpasses merely a genre piece. And becomes a great piece of fiction. It has promise.