Friday, November 27, 2009

Two recent comics starring tough broads.

I wonder, is it an insult or a compliment to say that Greg Rucka’s Stumptown #1 (Oni Press) reads precisely what one would expect a Greg Rucka-written comic to read like?

Because the first issue of Stumptown, Rucka’s new creator-owned crime series from the publishers of his Queen & Country and Whiteout comics, does just that.

It stars Dex, a tough, sarcastic, trouble-prone hard-living young woman whose hard living doesn’t show up in her runway-ready good looks who is so far indistinguishable from Rucka’s Renee Montoya/Question (save that her vice is gambling), and could be most any Rucka heroine. The plot is super-straightforward, all-event and no-character genre plotting.

That probably sounds somewhat insulting, or, if it’s a compliment, then perhaps a backhanded one, but all I really mean by it is that Rucka is well within his comfort zone with Stumptown.

No, it’s not ground-breaking, no it’s not going to change your life (or anyone’s else’s), but it’s well-produced genre entertainment, and if crime is one of the genres of comics you did, then you’re probably going to dig this.

Dex is a busty, young, presumably lesbian private investigator with a severe gambling problem and a little brother with developmental issues she’s trying to support. She gets a chance to clear her debts at the local casino when the little old Native American woman who runs it hires Dex to find her missing granddaughter.

The case immediately becomes very complicated for Dex, who takes a beating or two and almost gets killed immediately. As the title suggests, the book’s set in Portland, Oregon, and it sure seems to include a lot of local color, but I wouldn’t know for sure, I’ve never been there.

Rucka is working with artist and co-creator Matthew Southworth, who’s based in Seattle, which is in the same general corner of the country, if I remember my sixth grade geography class correctly.

Southworth is a real talent, and one I suspect we’ll be hearing more and more about in the years to come. His work reminds me a bit of the sort that Brian Michael Bendis used to do for his pre-Marvel crime comics, and maybe a bit of Michal Gaydos, and a bigger bit of Guy Davis. There’s a nice balance between realism and scratchiness—Southworth’s Stumptown always looks like a comic book, even if it’s drawn in an extremely realistic style.

It’s fully-colored, which still strikes me as kind of unusual for an Oni book, and the palette is slightly muted, so the art pops without ever doing so too loudly. Hell, even the letters and cover-design are top-notch here.

Crime comic fans will definitely want to check this out, and comics readers simply looking for quality entertainment may want to give it a look as well.

Stumptown seems even stronger when read around the same time as Nola #1 (Boom Studios), as the former is well-constructed as an introduction to the character, story, conflict and premise. After one issue of Stumptown, you’ll know if it’s something you want to read another issue of or not.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for Nola. After reading the first issue, I still don’t know enough about the comic to be able to say if it’s very good or not…wait, check that. Since I have read the first issue and still don’t have enough to go on regarding the story and its quality, that sort of answers that question right there.

The narrative is split in two, with scenes apparently set in the present giving way to ones set in the past, and then jumping back and forth. Why this particular strategy is employed isn’t quite clear; I suppose it’s to keep an air of mystery about the events, without spending too much uninterrupted time on the character drama of the flashback portions, but I’m just guessing. How exactly the pieces fit together remains to be seen, but I didn’t see much to entice me into coming back next issue to see if that’s when it will start fitting together.

According to the credits, Nola is created by Chris Gorak, who gets a story credit, while Pierluigi Cothran gets a script credit and Damian Couceiro handles art.

The title refers to the main character’s name, but it’s also set in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA, get it?!?).

In the present, a black woman in a makeshift mask and extremely tight black top is trying to cross a bridge into post-Katrina, still-flooded New Orleans, but a pair of cops are trying to keep her out.

In the past, we spend a day in the life with a young black woman named Nola as she hangs out with her mom and goes on a “date” with some rich, married, scummy dude who has sex with her on the kegs in the backroom of a seedy bar. By the issue’s end, she’s caught in an explosion.

Presumably, both women are the same, and Nola is trying to get back into town to get revenge on her boyfriend for letting her get blown up. She kills the cops in order to do so.

So in both the present and the past, Nola’s a rather unsympathetic and unlikable heroine, and if she’s got good reason to be so unsympathetic and unlikable, we weren’t shown her motivation by the end of the first issue.

This is one of those comics that reads like an unproduced screenplay, chopped almost arbitrarily into enough chunks to fill out a comic book miniseries. It will therefore likely read infinitely better as a trade than it does at the moment as a serial. Couceiro’s art is pretty nice, at least.


Greg said...

Just to reassure you, the scenes in Stumptown in Portland look very much like Portland. The first (and, I guess, last) scene is the St. Johns Bridge, and her house looks like one you would find in the neighborhood. The beach scene looks like the Oregon coast, too.

I like how you wrote "presumably lesbian." I thought the same thing. I liked Stumptown quite a bit, but it's a shame we immediately think that when we see a Rucka heroine.

Caleb said...

Well, in our defense, there was that scene where the young girl comes on to Dex, and Dex is all "I can dig that" and the body guard dude is like, "You don't want to dig that" or whatever.

LurkerWithout said...

but it's a shame we immediately think that when we see a Rucka heroine. do? I don't see why. Yeah Batwoman and Question II. But the female leads in Whiteout, Queen & Country and Checkmate? All straight...