52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Greg Rucka has bounced around a bit in the comic industry, finding a home in DC for many years before working for other publishers like Marvel, Image, and Oni Press. But Oni Press will always be Rucka’s first home, breaking into the industry with his first ever comic work on the series Whiteout. Although he hasn’t produced a lot of different works under Oni Press, a lot of the work he has produced for them is considered some of the best of his career. From the aforementioned Whiteout, to Queen and Country, and today’s book, Stumptown, Rucka has shown that when he deals with characters he creates is when he’s truly at his best.
Stumptown Volume 1
Dex Parios is a Private Investigator with a big problem. A near $18,000 problem. Dex has a gambling problem that she just can’t shake, getting placed deep in debt to the local Casino. As a result, the Casino owner decides to call in a favour from Dex to settle up her debt. The owner’s granddaughter has suddenly gone missing, suspecting her to have run off with some boy because of her young age. Dex is tasked with tracking down her granddaughter, Charlotte, requesting that she provide daily updates on her progress until she is found and returned, resulting in the erasure of Dex’s debt. Dex gets right down to business but quickly regrets it, as she’s made an immediate target by some hired muscle who try to kill her. Although their attempts fail, Dex still manages to find herself in an even more difficult position as she is offered money by the Marcena crime family to find Charlotte and bring her to them instead. Now wrapped up with not only a debt but an aggressive crime family as well, Dex’s whole day just got way more complicated than she ever could have imagined. She probably should have stayed in bed this morning.
Stumptown is a modern-day American detective story set in Portland, Oregon following the most unlikely Private Investigator you’ll ever meet, Dex Parios. From the opening moments of this collection, Rucka sets out to make Dex’s life difficult and doesn’t stop until he wraps everything up at the end. Dex, to put it lightly, is a screw up, having a hanging debt over her head that she just can’t shake because of her gambling problem. It’s the vulnerability and the honesty that Dex displays that makes her such a loveable protagonist. Never in all my years of reading comics have I seen a character with as much bad luck as Dex has in just these four short issues. Actually, correction, Peter Parker has some pretty crummy luck but Dex Parios gives him a run for his money here. Nonetheless, she’s a character who has so many problems that you actually could lose count of them all by the end of the story. All that these problems show us as readers is that Dex is a remarkably normal and human character for the reader to relate to. When she isn’t peddling away all of her cash at the casino she’s taking care of her mentally handicapped brother.. It’s these scenes with her brother that show how compassionate Dex is as a sister, never being frustrated with her brother and warming your heart with every panel they spend together. It’s no surprise that every simple scene they share together becomes one of your favourite scenes from this story. Greg Rucka almost molds Dex into a character who tries to please other people because she’s incapable of pleasing herself. She spends her money on booze and gambling, smokes too much, and leads a life that’s far from materialistic, yet when approached with a problem from someone else she jumps into the situation. Dex isn’t the greatest P.I. ever to walk the Earth, it’s how ordinary and flawed she is that makes her such a compelling character to manoeuvre this story with.
There’s plenty of characters thrown into the mix of this one, ranging from the Marcena family to Dex’s mentally handicapped brother. The Marcena family as a whole are the key characters that stand between Dex and her goal of finding Charlotte, as each member has a selfish stake in finding her as well. How each member of the Marcena family contrasts each other is fun to see, creating an interesting familial dynamic for this story. Mr. Marcena, the father of Oscar and Isabel, is a simple man who only wants what’s best for his family. He’s a direct man who seems business focused, but still values his family dearly. Oscar is a bit of a meat-head, being brash, self-righteous, and fairly arrogant. He’s one of the earliest characters that you can take an immediate dislike to, which is surprising consider how he’s one of the last characters to truly get introduced. Isabel is almost like a snake in the grass, knowing how to play the game but not being nearly as clever as she thinks she is. She’s the type of woman who will take matters into her own hands but that doesn’t necessarily equate to the best results. Dex’s brother is a simple but excellent addition to the cast, never feeling as though he weighs down the story. As a matter of fact, he does more for explaining who Dex is as a character than he does for the story. Rucka presents the character’s dialogue in such a way that clearly illustrates that the character suffers a handicap but never really lets that impede who the character is or the relationship he shares with Dex. He almost serves as a grounding element for Dex, something to bring her back down to Earth amidst the craziness that is her life, all while being a character who ends up being a scene stealer because he’s a character who brings with him complexity but is still so easily understood.
The truth about Stumptown is that it isn’t some groundbreaking new-age detective story. Quite honestly, it’s incredible basic in both its approach and execution. It’s a simple story that doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before, but it’s the nature of Rucka’s writing and how his characters function within the story that make this story fun. The mystery to this detective story couldn’t be more straightforward and easy to “solve”, using that term loosely as there isn’t much to really solve at all. It’s more so the misfortunes Dex experiences on her route to completing the case that help to string everything along. As I stated earlier on, Dex ranks fairly highly up there in terms of “Comic Book Characters with Awful Luck”, with each issue seemingly finding a new way to test her luck in a manner that only makes her life more difficult. In the end, this series ends up being a detective story more soundly rooted in the lives of the characters it gets wrapped up in that it does about the actual mysterious element, which is fine by me considering how much you fall in love with the lead character in Dex.
Collects: Stumptown (vol 1.) #1-4
Best Character: Dex Parios
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “I’m sitting here in my second-best bra. Give my vanity a break and pretend you’re having trouble maintaining your detachment.” – Dex
Best Scene/Moment: Dex pays a visit to the doctor – Issue 2
Best Issue: Issue four. Issue four is a satisfying conclusion to this batch of stories with Dex. Everything weaves together, makes sense and payoffs in a way that makes you glad you picked up the series in the first place.
Why You Should Read It: This is just a solid modern American detective series. You’ve got a “down on her luck” PI who is a total train wreck but you can’t help to fall in love with her. Dex is a witty and snappy lead in all the right ways, making you feel some form of emotion every time she opens her mouth. She isn’t complex, she’s simple and that’s what makes her fun to read about. If you’re looking for characters to care about with a solid story to back them up, then give Stumptown a try.