Stumptown Comic: Finding the Thorns in Rose City

By Taylor Pechter — A missing girl, a run-in with MS-13, gambling debt...these things are a regular part of the life of Dex Parios, the private investigator at the heart of the Stumptown comic. Dex runs the aptly named Stumptown Investigations in Portland, Oregon. First seen in comics from writer Greg Rucka, artist Matthew Southworth, and colorists Lee Loughridge and Rico Renzi, the series has now been adapted for television. With more attention surely coming, now is a great time to take a closer look at the original comic series from Oni Press. 

The Stumptown comic itself is broken into certain arcs depending on the case Dex is following. The initial arc is titled The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left Her Mini), and it’s a great place to start today’s closer examination of the book.

Stumptown Comic - The First Arc 

The story begins like any good private investigator story — with Dex in a precarious position. She has been kidnapped by thugs who are questioning her about her case. As she escapes by jumping off a bridge (a very Portland way to escape something), the audience learns what exactly brought her to that point. 

Within a series of flashbacks, Rucka presents us with the many facets of Dex’s personality. We have a woman who would risk it all, as seen in the casino scene before she is given her case. We also see her sentimental side as she returns home to her mentally-challenged younger brother Ansel. Finally, we see her feisty side within the context of her first confrontation. All of these traits coalesce into a signature Rucka character; a no frills, independent woman with a job that involves great danger. This danger allows for high stakes, hard-hitting action and great cool down moments that are rich with character building.

Stumptown Comic - The Antagonists

As Dex starts unraveling her case — the case of the disappearance of Charlotte Suppa, the daughter of a renowned casino owner in Portland, Sue-Lynne Suppa — she comes into conflict with the Marecno family. The family is lead by patriarch Hector Marenco, and its key members include his son Oscar and daughter Isabella. Hector is said to be the seventh richest man in Portland. Most of that wealth, however, is quite likely to be blood money, as he is said to have ties to the brutal international gang, MS-13. 

Hector as a character is cold and calculating, to the point of him bribing Dex with more money to stop following the case. Accompanying Hector in all of this is his son, Oscar, the quasi-secondary antagonist of the story. Oscar is the one in the field, with his thugs, trying to roadblock Dex at every turn. Finally, we come to Isabel, who also has a key role that I will not spoil here, but let’s just say she has a certain connection to Dex’s case that is very important.

Stumptown Comic - The Artwork and Conclusion

As the story rockets toward its conclusion, we see a final confrontation between Dex and the Marencos as they make a decisive trade. Once Dex returns home, she gives tidings to both Sue-Lynne and her contact within Portland Police, Tracy Hoffman. With the case closed and the Marencos now having to deal with a family crisis, Dex can rest easy, knowing her job his done, at least for now.

Moving on to the art, this book is gorgeously rendered by artist Matthew Southworth. The book is filled with a great noir atmosphere with deep blacks and fantastic layouts, and Southworth is amazing at facial expressions and body language as well. Joining Southworth on colors are Lee Loughridge and Rico Renzi, with some additional colors by himself. The colors, much like the inks and layouts, add additional atmosphere, mainly drenching the pages in blues and reds, with some hints of orange and brown that give it a great vintage look, while still maintaining an inherently modern aesthetic.

Overall, the Stumptown comic is a great piece of noir storytelling. The many elements congeal into one of Rucka’s most overlooked works, although hopefully that will change soon with the advent of the television show. With a great lead character, a dynamic setting, hard-hitting action and emotional moments conveyed via atmospheric art, Stumptown stands within the top-tier of crime books put out today by contemporaries such as Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis. If you have the time, come and take a visit to the City of Roses, and peel back the many layers of it’s underbelly with Dex Parios.

Stumptown Volume One
Greg Rucka
Artist: Matthew Southworth
Colorists: Lee Loughridge and Rico Renzi
Publisher: Oni Press

Taylor Pechter is a passionate comic book fan and nerd. Find him on Twitter @TheInspecter.