Stumptown (Volume One) by Greg Rucka (writer) and Matthew Southworth (artist)

Stumptown (volume one) by Greg Rucka and Matthew SouthworthStumptown volume one collects the first four issues of Greg Rucka’s excellent comic book series about P.I. Dex Parios. Clearly influenced by Hammett, Chandler, MacDonald, and Parker, Rucka takes the tradition of the hardboiled P.I. and puts a female in the lead. With excellent art by Matthew Southworth, this is a series to seek out.

The comic starts out with Dex’s trying not to get shot by men who have taken her out for disposal by a lake at dusk. She’s trying to talk them out of killing her. We do not see the end of this scene, as the sequence ends by showing us a long-distance shot of the lake with gunshots ringing out, and a lone bird flying off into the evening sky. The story then backs up to twenty-seven hours earlier when Dex is gambling in an establishment on a Native-American reservation. Dex fits the P.I. stereotype by being down-on-her-luck and broke. Well, not just broke, but in debt to the casino owner Sue-Lynne, who wants to hire Dex to find her missing granddaughter. For such services rendered, Sue-Lynne will cancel Dex’s gambling debts.

The rest of the comic is about Dex’s adventures and the mounting problems she faces when another player comes onto the scene: the head of organized crime in the area tells Dex that she should report to him first, before Sue-Lynne, as she pursues her case, making clear her life depends upon her following his instructions. But Dex has a moral code, in keeping with P.I.s in the past, and while she will let herself get pushed into a case for a missing young woman, she will not bend to the will of this powerful man. She also will not listen to rougher men who speak with their fists and warn her off the case. Dex is frequently getting beat up, slugged, and shot at. She seems to have nine lives.

This story is a must for fans of P.I. novels in the hardboiled tradition. Greg Rucka is known for his writing strong female characters in both novels and comics (including Queen and Country, Lazarus, and Batwoman), and with Dex Parios he has added to this growing list of powerful women. There are four volumes out total, all published in impressive hardback editions by Oni Press. All of them are worth readings. The art is dark and noirish with interesting choices in color palettes that accent specific scenes. It suits the story. I highly recommend Stumptown.