Oni Press’ debut issue of Stumptown, written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Matthew Southworth, starts off with an interesting premise. Take a band, put them out front and center, and build a mystery with a missing guitar.
If first impressions are the make it or break moment for a new relationship, or in this case a new comic, Rucka and Southworth swing hard, but fly out by the fence. Granted, there’s still a lot of story to be told, which makes it hard to judge a first issue too severely.
The issue starts off at a rock concert for the fictitious band Tailhook, fronted by a female singer, female guitar player, and male drummer. They’re on the cover of the Rolling Stone and wrapping up a tour of the country.
First off, I have to admit a certain bias towards these types of stories because I covered bands for years, and the story Rucka’s trying to tell feels rather inauthentic. A lot of clichés get bandied about in the written and visual narrative.
On a bright note, the story does get some traction with the appearance of Dex Parios, the owner of Stumptown Investigations. Rucka builds some strong characterization and dialogue with Dex from the word go. I’m hoping that Rucka will do more with her character and a bit less with the band thing because she’s the strength of the story so far.
She’s an unusual private dick along the lines of Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias, but more down to earth. Things get back to being clichéd when Tailhook’s guitar player Miriam Bracca hires Dex to help her find her stolen guitar “Baby”. There’s a long line of guitars that guitarists have named from Eric Clapton’s Blackie to B.B. King’s Lucille, but Rucka cheeses up the story with the overkill on this point.
Southworth’s art doesn’t really help. Again, I have a n expectation of a certain aesthetic for how I think bands and music should be portrayed in comics, so maybe I’m expecting too much, but the poses and looks of each band or music related panel come off as novelty. I know he’s a musician too, which has me scratching my head about it. Again though, I could just be nit picky.
My criticism could be seen as nit picking, but I think you should do your homework on any medium you or scene you put into a comic book and find its soul or essence. Southworth’s art just doesn’t seem to do that for me.
On the other hand, I do appreciate his work when it’s just the basics. He does a great job of helping move the story from a visual standpoint.
This first issue is a mixed bag for me. I’m hoping that the story continues more along the lines of the way it finishes as the tone gets a bit more down and dirty. Since this is a first issue, I’m going to give Stumptown an incomplete because it deserves a chance in the long run. There’s some stuff that works here for good storytelling, but I think Rucka and Southerson need to find their respective strengths to keep me coming back for this one.