Stumptown: The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo But Left Her Mini (#1 – 4) – Greg Rucka

3 out of 5

Stumptown was a lifeline.  In the midst of the mire of middling DC work Greg got caught up in – the stuff that happens when you’re a breakout writer on titles like Wonder Woman and Gotham Central, and suddenly you’re writing Event books – a lone indie title appeared that called back to his crime-writing days.  Stumptown’s low-rent PI Dex was of the rough-and-tumble, take-no-shit Tara Chace archetype, but the title was all about low-stakes, local Portland flavor; there are guns and threats in our first arc, but the world keeps turning, and Dex finds the missing girl and is still a poor, low-rent PI at the end.  In my mind, for Greg, this was like a purposeful rejection of the Big Two fanfare, which would lead to one more attempt at finding his voice again with a more fitting big leagues character – The Punisher – before he took a full on dive back into the indies with his most sprawling and studied accomplishment to date: Lazarus.  Then, suddenly, the gates were open, and we started seeing more of Mr. Rucka on new smaller press books.

But he started back on that road with Stumptown.

And as – again, from my perspective – a reactionary book, and reacting to the churn of DC’s 52 Crises, it’s rather frustratingly stripped of personality.  It assumes personality from Dex’s eff-off ‘tude, and the Portland setting is absolutely lived in, but the first arc’s case of that missing girl never really congeals into something too grabbing, and snark aside, we never really get a clear understanding of whether or not Dex is actually good at her job or can just take a punch.

Matthew Southworth’s sketchy, loose style is occasionally perfect, but also occasionally inscrutable.  His heavy use of blacks and photo reference for action shots makes choreography not the best, but damn if he doesn’t capture the vibe and atmosphere that the book needs.  I love his Dex, and his back-matter rambling on the book’s creation lets us know he’s got a lot of personality that does come across in his art, but the rambles are also sort of indirectly indicative of something: Greg has no back-matter contributions, and there’s no letters page.  Our writer is absent.  It’s strange.

The book remains enjoyable as always being on the verge of turning into pulpy goodness, but it also reads like something of a side project.  Or a warmup.  Climbing that lifeline to get above ground, settled, and on to bigger and better things.