Greg Rucka brings us back into the world of Dex Parios, female detective and gambling addict living in Portland, Oregon in volume two of his detective series, Stumptown.
In the first volume which started in 2009, Dex was tracking down the granddaughter of a Casino owner in order to cover her own gambling debt. As promised by Rucka, the new issue begins with a new case and a new start – the first page with a full-page montage of the band Tailhook playing to a huge audience in the Crystal Ballroom. Lyrics circle the pictures and an acid-trip explosion comes out from the stage and drenches the images of each band member’s face being picked up by camera phones. It looks impressive, grungy, and leads well into the band exiting the stage – the punk singer refusing to talk to anyone, while the guitarist and drummer head down to the green room to relax. The colours are toned down, but the purple of Mim – the guitarist’s – hair and red of her guitar are vibrant as they let off steam.
On the fourth/fifth page spread, Southworth establishes the setting of Dex’s office as she is settling in. When a man shows up with a job for her, she is charming and businesslike , but turns down the job upon hearing the name of the construction company she would be working as it is owned by Hector Marenco – someone from her past who she refuses to work for out of principle. She is polite about turning the man down, simply saying “I don’t do work for Hector Marenco.” It’s not entirely clear to new readers who this man is, and why she hates him so much, but it serves to show that Dex is a woman of honour; as she rips up the contract she had started to fill in she recites Falstaff’s lament of honour from Shakespeare’s Henry IV. The purple-haired guitarist chimes in with the next line, instantly recognisable to Dex as the guitarist of Tailhook, and at the page’s end a close-up of her face shows her saying dramatically “Someone stole my baby.”
One of the incredible ways this comic is so similar to a detective TV show are in transitions like these – it feels like there should be an advert break after that dramatic line, and when the show comes back we get a double-page spread showing pictures of the bright red guitar we saw in the green room. Mim talks about her love for guitars as art which makes art, for the expensive and beautiful ones she owns, but this particular guitar is her Baby. That’s why it isn’t disappointing anti-climatic to find that the baby is a guitar – instead of feeling like she was exaggerating, Rucka’s writing really hammers in the intense love a musician feels for that one instrument that has always been there for them. It’s because of this, and the fractured art style which really give the feel of an indie comic in style, while still being firmly a detective story. Dex is obviously smart, asking pertinent questions and setting things up quickly to get about her job. A Detective Tracy Hoffman is mentioned a few times, a character from his world who apparently Mim does not get along with. The case has been established, and just to add an extra element of drama to the proceedings, we see outside that the pair are being surveilled by two people in a car. One of them picks Dex to follow, the other going after Mim.
When Dex shows up at the house of Fabrizio, Mim’s guitar tech and the last person to see Baby, he and his wife are under attack by some monstrous-looking skinheads wielding Stanley knives who are also after the instrument. Dex shows her ability to stay calm in threatening situations, inviting the attackers to stab her if they don’t believe her claim that the police will be arriving any second. They fall for her bluff and run away, threatening revenge and it seems that things might be on their way up until the blonde woman who had been watching Mim shows up and points a gun at Dex’s head. The issue ends here, but I get the distinctive sense that this Cathy Chase of the Drug Enforcement Agency will be character as tough as Dex herself. Rucka’s inspiration for Dex was that of the lone cowboy in the Old West – perhaps Cathy will prove to be the sheriff. I look forward to seeing where the story goes, and the progression of the lone ranger/private investigator tone; this seems like a great comic to immerse yourself in the world of Greg Rucka’s creator-own stories, in which he famously writes rounded, in-depth female characters, lead in by Southworth’s ability to create solid locations with personalities of their own. Definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of detective fiction.