Not every woman wants to read “girly” comics all the time. Sometimes, we just want to kick back with a book that has a badass leading character. That’s what this week’s book is all about. There’s nothing overtly feminine about Stumptown, and yet, it has an extremely powerful female leading character who is just as good at getting out of the sh-t as she is getting into it. She’s not super sexy-sexy, and yet you have to admit that her ability to give (and take) a punch is pretty hot. Also, big thanks to PrincessCast co-host Meghan White for suggesting this book!
I was lucky to find Stumptown during a 99-cent sale on Comixology. Given the deal, I went ahead and bought all four books, which just happen to comprise the first story arc. I’m glad I did. Stumptown has the kind of story that makes you want to keep reading, and I can’t imagine not having the four full issues to read all at once.
Stumptown is the story of a private investigator named Dex Parios living in Portland. While she has the conscience of a hero, she’s far from perfect. A loner and gambling addict, she is pulled into the story by a chance to clear thousands of dollars worth of gambling debts. Originally taking the case just for the money, she soon develops a bond with the young victim, and her hunt becomes personal.
As I said before, I read all four issues of this first story arc at once, and that is definitely the way to go. Each issue ends on a cliffhanger which flows perfectly into the next book.
Another asset of this book is its natural dialogue. None of the dialogue comes across as awkward or forced, except in the case of Ansel, Dex’s brother. He has Down’s Syndrome, and although he has communication difficulties, he is still a fully developed character with his own agenda.
All of the characters are highly developed, but also easily fall into the roles present in a crime drama. Hector Morenos and his children are very obviously reprehensible people. Charlotte Suppa and her grandmother Sue-Lynne fall somewhere along the middle. Dex and Ansel, despite their faults, are on the side of good, although Dex has a general disregard for the damage she causes in her efforts to keep herself and Ansel safe.
Dex often leaves her femininity at the door and doesn’t come across as “sexy”. She makes veiled references to her sexuality, saying things like, “I’ve yet to figure out what team I’m on.” She also spends most of this story arc beaten and bloodied. Anyone who isn’t a fan of the sexier characters in today’s comic books should enjoy Dex. While she’s emotionally vulnerable (her personal life is a mess), she’s mentally tough.
Dex gets away with a lot and doesn’t seem to care what kind of trouble she gets into, as long as she gets what she wants. In many ways I draw parallels between Dex and The Bride from Kill Bill. In my mind, Dex talks and acts much as that character does.
Stumptown is a crime drama, and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, its character depth and leading lady make it unique. I hesitate to use the term “noir” to describe Stumptown (it sounds so cliche), but that is the genre that inspired this book.
The art is very graphic and sketchy, and it often isn’t very pretty at all. Dex, and nearly everybody else, is rough around the edges, and it literally shows in Matthew Southworth’s artwork. At times features aren’t clearly visible, but you can easily tell who the characters are by body type and language. Southworth shows that he can draw any body and can make it come alive on the page. This book definitely can’t be considered beautiful, but the sparse, utilitarian art style serves the story perfectly, much more so than a more polished style would.
Add to the art Lee Loughridge’s flat, monochromatic coloring. This is a huge departure from last week’s vibrant graphics. Everything in Stumptown is muted. There aren’t any crazy bright colors, and often there will be pages that are shades of tan. It feels like a monochromatic palette was chosen for three reasons: 1) to avoid overshadowing the story, 2) to add to the seriousness of the work, and 3) as a throwback to film noir style.
If you love crime dramas, film noir, and abstract, gritty artwork, this book is for you. It’s also a great book to pick up if you’re not into spandex-clad superheroes or super sexy storylines. This book is violent, however, and is not intended for children. It was definitely a departure from my normal preferred genres of science fiction and fantasy, but I loved Stumptown and I can’t wait to see what the next story arc will be.