Stumptown vol. 2: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case (#1 – 5) – Greg Rucka

4 out of 5

Everything’s just a bit sharped in Dex Parios second outing as a PI in Stumptown volume 2.  Matthew Southworth’s art is less stiff, and better at capturing personality and the action sequences; colorist Rico Renzi is more dialed in to how to complement Southworth’s loose style; Rucka feels better at expressing Parios’ skills as an investigator over just trying to show us that she’s tuff n’ stuff; and the case itself – while starting out kind of lightweight – is more complex and interesting and escalating.  Even the backmatter, from Greg, is more onpoint, replacing Southworth’s rambling (but appreciated) process narrative with an issue-by-issue study on what makes a PI.

On this outing, Dex gets called in by ‘Mim,’ guitarist for Tailhook, to find her missing “baby,” a prized guitar that’s now MIA after their last local gig.  Mim has vague, band-y reasons for not wanting the police to get involved, and maintains that the guitar is of greater personal than dollar value, though Dex reminds her that her name – Tailhook is a big act in the Stumptown universe – connected with the item would fetch a fair price.  Nonetheless, Dex takes the job.

…And soon runs into skinheads, and the DEA.  There’s an intense car chase, during which – somewhat obnoxiously, but maybe it’s also cute – Southworth and Greg decide to go widescreen and flip the action so you hold the book portrait instead of landscape.  All of Dex’s actions in the case feel purposeful, and her interactions with the DEA / cops are still anti-authority, but not without provocation, and she doesn’t outright get in the way of their business.  In other words – she holds up as a detective in this case, and comes across as capable, and someone you’d want to hire.  The conclusion after the conclusion could maybe have been tightened up to keep this at four issues again – in the middle, we kind of feel like we’re doggy paddling while waiting for a new lead to materialize – but the humdrum pace is, I’d say, part of the street-level procedural vibe for which Greg was aiming with Stumptown.

After a too low-key, somewhat generic first arc for Greg’s Portland detective, volume 2 upped all antes, turning Dex into another winning Rucka character.