Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Stumptown #1 – A Review

Stumptown #1

Publisher Oni Press

Writer Greg Rucka

Artist Matthew Southworth

Colors Lee Loughridge

Format $3.99 – 35 pages of story and art

What a great frelling book. From the moment I saw the cover on the stands I thought this book had a chance to be something special. Greg Rucka is one hell of a writer and has done some beautiful work for DC. Still when you read Queen and Country or the two Whiteout adventures you can tell there is something extra with these books as Greg works best grounded in the real world. I think that is why the Question and Batwoman work well for him as they are non-powered heroes and also female leads. With all the great work that Greg has done this book was a grand slam with the first issue and has the feeling of being something extra special from Mr. Rucka’s pen.

So many writers start there stories at the end or middle and then go backwards to get to the opening and then wrap it up. It has been done so often by so many writers that it is a cliché. No one can work up to a climax, so why bother, start with one and then explain it. It sounds like a great idea but some writers don’t know how to do it or over work the gimmick. Greg does it perfect. The first five pages grab you by your shirt collar and drag you right into to the book. Once you hit page six there is no turning back, you are reading the entire issue and will be ignoring phone calls and even the urgent pleading of your dog to come back inside, everything else can wait. With page six we jump back 27 hours and then work back to the beginning of the book. We then go a few steps further to get to a solid ending that has you checking your calendar and circling the Wednesday four weeks from now when you hope issue #2 will be hitting the stands. Hell this book is one that I want to buy more copies of and give them to other people to show them how good comic books can be and how to tell a great modern private eye story.

The first five pages are wonderful. Page one is a series of panels showing two men near the river opening up the trunk of a car. Page 2 we see a woman is in the trunk with her phone/PDA and she is pleading that she wants to talk about it. On page 3 she is marched down towards the river and backing up, obviously in fear of her life. We can see she has a black eye. The last few panels show a gun being drawn and she goes wide eyed. On pages 4 and 5 it is a double page spread and the bridge over the river and below on the river bed the gun man is firing two shots as the girl goes down into the river. We have 4 insert panels across the bottom showing us the woman as she is hit and falls into the river. We also have insert panels showing a bird scared by the noise taking off in flight. It is a terrific opening sequence.

From there we go back 27 hours and meet this woman whose name we ultimately learn is Dex. The story line is a straight sequentially story line from there to get back to the beginning of the book. In the span of time we learn tons of information about who Dex is, who is in her life, what her job is, what some of her vices are, hints of her sexual orientation and more and more.

The short story is she is in debt up to her ears both personally and to a casino. The owner of the casino Sue-Lynne hires Dex to find her missing grand-daughter in exchange for expenses and wiping out her debt to the casino. She is beat up after searching the grand daughter’s apartment by the guys we saw at the beginning, then picked up by classier guys and taken to an extremely wealthy man’s house. He also hires Dex and is offering double what Sue-Lynn is paying her and he will pay her in cash. The only thing he wants is that when she finds the girl call him first. Dex never says yes, but he expects that she will do it and has her driven back to her car. So much happens in this one issue and we met so many great characters to get things started that I just amazed at how well so much is set up and how much happens in one issue. Greg Rucka is at the absolute top of his game with this first issue.

Now, no matter how great of a writer Greg is or even how much art direction he gives in his scripts we still need an artist to deliver the goods. Matthew Southworth does as good of a job with the art as Greg does with the story. I have never been to Portland, Oregon but I get the feeling I have at least visited there now. The sense of place that he gives us is spot on. I felt like I was in a place that was unique and had an identity. The neighborhood where she lived, the river scene, the rich man’s house, the apartment of the missing girl, the bar we find Dex at one night, all felt real and liked they belong in Portland. I don’t know all of what Mr. Southworth did to achieve this effect but I assume between visiting, references or what ever he nailed it. That is not to take away from his characters. Everyone was as distinctive as you could hope for, each character was easily identifiable as being who they are, no wondering is that so and so. Matthew has the expressions, the looks, the attitude, the body language, the camera angles and the story telling ability all down pat. His realistic style is perfect for this story. The crème de la crème was the coloring of Lee Loughridge. Lee’s work is always a plus for any book and he is well known to me for all of his work in Vertigo. Lee gives the mood of the book its overall noir impact. It is a dark book and has a muted palette, but his work is always enhancing the look and never muddying the look of the art.

Overall Grade A + - A first issue that will not be your last issue. Rucka, Southworth and Loughridge have a dynamite start to this series. This book jumps right into the fray and looks to be in the Scalped and Criminal class of great comic book noir fiction. It is time to pack up and move because I hope to be living in Stumptown for many years.

1 comment:

  1. Dead on review. I got the last comic off the rack last night as I boarded a train at Union Station. I had seen the page previews at CBR and simultaneously praised and cursed Greg. I knew now I had to buy the book, that day! I also knew that even when I got to the end, I was going to only be one of four issues from finding out what the heck is happenig!! (Curse you and your brilliance RUCKA!!)

    Anyway, great review. I hope with people like you getting the word out that this title takes off for Greg and Oni because it deserves to be on everyone's short list.

    One of the other interesting things about the story is that, although Dex is getting out from under what she owes to the casino, if she manages to live through the job and deliver, she is still going to be far from out of debt (which some reviewers have been getting wrong, though not you). As the casino manager notes, not only does she owe almost $18,000 to the tribe, but all her credit cards are maxed out and she has next to nothing in the bank. Even if she succeeds, she'll just be less screwed finances wise. I think money, and people who want it from Dex is going to be a real feature of the book.

    Ansel, Dex's brother with down symdrom, is going to be a pretty major player in the atmosphere of the book. It is clear that he is special to everyone who knows Dex and that she and he are the most important people to each other in their world. This being a noir setting, I think we are counting down the pages until someone tries to pull something by putting Ansel in danger or trying to take him.

    I would anticipate all sorts of hell to break loose when that happens (in tour de force writing).

    Also, I have seen people really not getting the art, which I am glad to see that you do get it. Southworth sets a perfect tone and atmosphere. His art is a perfect compliment to Greg's writing and I really loved the entire package.

    Again, spot on review. Well done!