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Stumptown, Vol. 1 (Stumptown Hc) Hardcover – April 5, 2011
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The main issue I have is the protagonist. Her whole personality is just that she's a woman detective. Almost every bit of conflict the character faces is because she is a woman, and the people she fights are against that. They are sexist or phobic in some area and that's where the conflict comes from. The story needed a villain and a hero so the writer created easy ones. If this was the 1960's I can imagine characters acting the way they do, and the novelty of a female private detective would be more appealing, but its not 1960 it's 2014. Rucka's always had a interest in female heroes, but it's always been incidental to the story, not relied on so heavily. It just seems like a real lazy way to create empathy.
The other main issue is that mystery isn't compelling. I wont spoil it, but the motivation for the bad guys and reason the case begins is pretty cliche. Yes the races of the people are different and yes the protagonist is a woman, not a man, but everything else about the story, even the henchmen, feel too typical. Maybe it's my fault for reading too many detective stories, but for whatever reason I was disappointing when I got to the end.
I also don't see how Portland was unique to this story or why it mattered that it took place in Portland. It didn't feel any different from any other city. Maybe the names of places in the story are real locations, but it didn't seem any different then gotham central or any book that took place in new york.
As Rucka admits in his afterwords, he was a big fan of The Rockford Files. Dex is modeled on that same ne're do well private eye saddled with family frustrations and burdened with lousy cases that put her in the way of all kinds of danger - including a very lethal crime boss.
On the surface, Dex is working off a casino debt by looking for Charlotte Suppa, granddaughter of the casino owner Dex is in debt to. But the case gets lousy with twists and turns as the Portland, Oregon, based private investigator picks up the trail.
Dex isn't superhuman (though Rucka is good at writing those too), and she comes with a lot of baggage. Her dimensions on the page aren't heroic either. She's just a young woman trying to find her place in the world, no mad kung fu skills, no superpowers, no figure that's going to turn the heads of fanboys. She's not even overly intelligent. Best I can figure is that Dex's chief claim to success is the fact that she just doesn't give up and sometimes - sometimes - manages to get one step ahead of the bad guys.
The opening of the book is awesome, guaranteeing instant attention on part of the reader as Rucka backtracks to show you what's going on and how we got to Dex getting shot and dumped in the sound.
Dex has a lot of family and friends, too, but they've got their own problems. Brother Ansel has Down's Syndrome and requires constant attention, but it's that love that Dex has for her sibling that really captures the heart too. Her buddy Gray doesn't quite fill out in this book, so I don't know he is to her except a friend. Detective Darcy is a friend, but the kind that comes with friction and judgment, not an easy friendship to maintain.
Matthew Southworth, the artist, is amazing. I love how he uses the pages to bring in the Portland environs and to telescope action. He has a very realistic/cinematic style that captures visual attention and complements the story very well.
The story is a classic one that won't throw fans of the genre for long, but it's fun watching Dex work through it. Since Rucka is also a bestselling novelist, Dex would be an easy character to bring into a book, and I'd be happy to read those as well.