Comic Picks By The Glick

Stumptown vol. 2

December 19, 2013


I don’t know why Oni thinks that it’s a good idea to release Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s enjoyable shaggy dog private investigator in an oversized hardcover format for $30 a volume.  Done correctly, putting a title in hardcover can signify prestige and that’s best seen in manga releases like “A Bride’s Story,” “Thermae Romae,” and “Vinland Saga.”  It’s also worth noting that the latter two are two-in-one editions so you get a particularly good cost-per-page value.  Also, while most of Marvel’s “premiere editions” don’t justify the extra cost those editions entail, they do a good job of trying to give you good value for their oversized hardcovers which collect multiple volumes as in the case of “Superior Spider-Man.”

“Stumptown,” however, is none of those.  You’re not getting any extra pages or substantial bonuses for the format and the story isn’t quite good enough to justify this special treatment.  If you’re wondering how I wound up with it, Amazon was offering a special coupon during Black Friday that when coupled with their existing discount, brought the price down to a more reasonable level.  It’s a shame that there’s such a high barrier to entry in terms of cost for this series as it’s easily the most fun writing Rucka has done.

There’s been plenty of humor sprinkled throughout his work, but it’s usually applied to make the self-destructive habits of his given protagonist -- Batman, the Punisher or “Queen and Country’s” Tara Chase -- go down a little easier for the reader.  That’s not the case here as Dexedrine “Dex” Parios possesses the most terminally crap luck I’ve seen in a protagonist in recent memory.  This is a woman who got shot in the chest at the end of the first issue of her first miniseries only to have the culprit comment on her awful luck after she has her car stolen right in front of them.  Yet Dex takes it all in stride without forcing herself to be upbeat or engage in any saccharine “look on the bright side of life” rationalizing.  It led to some great moments of humor in the previous volume and that remains true here.

The volume’s subtitle is “The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case” and finds Dex working for Miriam Bracca, guitarist for Tailhook who are currently one of the hottest bands around right now.  Mim comes to Dex because the “Baby” in the title is her treasured guitar which has gone missing and she wants it found with a minimum of fuss.  It seems like a pretty straightforward case, but finding the guitar is actually the easiest part of things.  Encountering skinheads, crystal meth smuggling, and the DEA all but convince Dex that there’s something Mim isn’t telling her about her “Baby.”  If only that were the case.

Part of the fun is seeing how the story progresses after Rucka drops a major twist at the end of the second issue.  It’s a good one as it pretty much destroys your expectations as to how the story is going to proceed from there.  The man is one of the smartest writers around, however, and that just winds up being a clever way of keeping his audience on their toes throughout the narrative.  There’s never a moment when you feel like he’s playing for time, and the story makes a nice return to some of the territory from the first volume to let you know that it’s going to be an ongoing concern here.

The majority of the entertainment from this volume lies in Dex; or rather, seeing how she handles almost every challenge thrown her way in as relaxed a manner as possible.  Whether it’s dealing with skinheads in a home invasion by trolling them regarding the police’s response time or getting on the bad side of a DEA agent, she gets what she needs in some refreshingly unorthodox ways and we get entertainment out of the result.  It’s notable that the only time she does get aggravated is when she’s asking her brother with downs syndrome about the deliveryman who dropped a critical piece of evidence in their lap.  As for the supporting cast, Mim is interesting to observe in the way that she doesn’t have it all together and may or may not be hiding something.  Her band mate David is also appealing in his low-maintenance manner and the obvious chemistry he has with Dex has me hoping we’ll see more of him in future volumes.

Though the story and characters are engaging, they’re not transcendently good enough for me to recommend the volume at its current price point.  As for Southworth’s art, it’s generally pretty acceptable and gets across the characters’ emotions while telling the story well.  However, his style is very rough in parts and won’t appeal to everyone.  It’s not helped by the shifts in coloring style between Southworth and Rico Renzi throughout the second half of the book which create a significant visual distraction.  That said, I did like the gimmick of shifting the orientation of the panels from vertical to horizontal for the car chase sequence as it was a neat way of selling the change in style and momentum of the event.

I’d love to tell everyone that they should go out and buy this latest volume of “Stumptown,” artistic quibbles aside, if only to ensure that we get the next volume in a shorter timeframe than it took for this one to arrive.  Yet the basic problem is that while this title is good, it’s ultimately not $30 worth of good.  It would be ideal if this title was packaged as a $15 paperback, as then I would even consider gifting it to my friends for this holiday season.  As it is, it’s probably doomed to having an audience of hardcore fans of the creators and dedicated bargain hunters like me.

Jason Glick

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