Greg Rucka's new Oni Press Detective book is out this week, and wow, it's really fucking good. Seriously, drop something this week and pick it up.
I'm maybe not the best person to do this review, because I've never read a Greg Rucka creator-owned book before, sure I've read his work on Batman and his supporting charatcers, and also on Superman, but Queen and Country? Nope, Not even Whiteout, and that had the lure of Kate Beckinsale... so I didn't know what to expect when I read Stumptown, but now I know I want more.
Stumptown follows a Private Eye as she is hired to solve a missing persons case, but as in any missing persons case, it soon spirals out of control and our heroine is trapped in a complex web of lies and deceit and mystery upon mystery. So far, so Chandler, the way our character bounces around is pretty much exactly what you expect for the genre, but Stumptown confounds those expectations on more than one occasion.
First of all, the PI is a woman, she's not Philip Marlowe, but she is tough. In many ways she's a typical Rucka protaganist, a woman that's just as strong as a male counterpart, and who is probably a Lesbian. But at least this one's not dressed as a Bat, that would be lame! The character of Dex is also a highly flawed Detective, the only reason she's hired in the first place is because of her crippling gambling debts, and throughout the issue she keeps getting knocked the fuck around, it's pretty funny how many knocks she takes actually, Stumptown has a pretty wry sense of humour and it really works. I particularly liked Dex's interactions with her disabled brother Ansel, which almost edged on schmaltzy but not quite, and I loved the running joke that everyone Dex meets asks after Ansel, it gives a subtle insight into what Dex is like in her community, and family. The structure of the story is also unconventional, but still Noir, we start with the main character being shot (as you'll see in the Preview), and then flash-back to 27 hours earlier. It's often said that Noir is about inevitability of destiny, and Stumptown #1 fits that bill.
Another thing that sets Stumptown apart from the typical PI Noir series is that it's not set in a Big City like LA or New York, but in small-town Oregon, which adds a different flavour to the proceedings, and allows Rucka to do something different. Exploring Crime in Oregon is definitely going to be different than in LA, and I can't wait to see where this series takes us in that aspect.
Artwork comes from Matthew Southworth, an artist I'm not familiar with, but it's really excellent. It reminded me of Sean Phillips or Michael Lark in places, and that's no bad thing for a crime book, they are masters of it, and Southworth follows in their gritty, line-heavy footsteps. It says a lot for an artist when the writer feels free to have entirely word free sequences, and trust them to guide the reader through it, and Southworth does this particularly well throughout the issue, one sequence where Dex searches the Missing girl's apartment is a standout. The colours from Lee Loughridge also help the book's tone, but we should all know how good a colourist he is by now.
This was a strong opening issue, it's very much a traditional Noir story actually, a PI gets in over their heads on a routine case, and it just keeps getting worse, but Stumptown really hooks you in, you want to know why the Missing girl goes missing, and there's something else under the surface. Rucka's characterisation of the central character is strong, and throughout the 35-pages, you get a good feel for what she's like and what she'll do. What this reminded me most of actually was a series by Rucka's Gotham Central co-writer Ed Brubaker, Scene Of The Crime for Vertigo, where a similarly unconventional PI is caught up in something bigger than him. If you're a fan of that, or Brubaker's other Crime stuff, or even Scalped, as this issue touches a little on Indian Casinos, this is yet another great instalment in the Crime comics renaissance. It's a good mystery, well-told, with a special Rucka twist, now excuse me while I go and order as many Queen and Country volumes online as possible.
'The Case of the Girl who took her Shampoo but left her Mini Part One'
Written by Greg Rucka
Artwork by Matthew Southworth and Lee Loughridge
Stumptown #1 is out this Wednesday in the US, and Thursday in the UK.
Here are some Preview Pages: