“Stumptown: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case #1”

Have you ever loved something so much that you can’t live without it? Human beings are funny creatures that way–we obsess over things that we believe help us to be the person we are or sometimes even the person we want to be. These “things” we obsess about are often of a material nature. At the center of  writer Greg Rucka and artist Matthew Southworth’s newest Stumptown story, The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case, it is an object that sets the tough, charming, intelligent private investigator Dex Parios on her latest case that is sure to be filled with a few twists before all is said and done.

I picked up a guitar for the first time when I was fourteen years old, and twenty-one years later I am still plinking and plucking around on that first beautiful Fender sunburst electric. For the uninitiated, guitars are an obsessive pursuit…well passion really that sinks its hooks into so many of us. Some get to tinker with it on the side after adolescence, much like myself. The lucky few, often through talent or perservarance, actually get to play guitar and perform for a living. That first guitar though, the one that actually was your first or maybe the first that just made that small wheel in your head click over a notch, is something that purists of the form know as something special, like a talisman that holds a power over what you are able to do as a writer and performer. Such a guitar is the object, the “baby in the velvet case” that is missing, and Dex Parios has been hired to find it. I don’t know how much Rucka plays (if at all), or if he has just done a good deal of research, but he absolutely nails in a two page spread, about how much a guitar can actually mean to someone as the guitarist for the band Tailhook explains to  Dex (and the reader) about her “baby” that has been stolen and why it matters:

“I own…I own a fuckton of guitars, understand me. I think all of us do, all of us who play them, I mean its like….not fetish, not collecting, but… they’re art, and they’re the art by which we make art, if that makes sense? Capital ‘A’ art.”

Dex takes the case and before we know it the end of the issue ends on a scene with skinheads, a breaking and an entering violation, and a supposed DEA agent offering Dex a rather sticky ultimatum.

The team of Southworth on pencils and Rico Renzi on colors is a wonderful surprise. The muted blues, greys and yellows of the previous series is gone in favor of a brighter, richer palette. Southworth stretches some of his design muscle here, as well as showing some very nice shading work. For example, in one sequence, he conveys convincingly a sense of shadow and  light in relation to the way the sun comes through a car window while driving at a certain time of day. Touches like this are seemless, but cause the reader with a keen eye to linger for a moment to appreciate the attention to detail, not only aesthetically, but also in helping create a feeling for the images as  a whole attempting to convey a mood or even suggesting foreshadowing of events.

Stumptown is back, and while sometimes the  comic shelves at the LCS can seem overburdened by noir, p.i., and police mystery procedurals, this is one that you can bet on that will not only be narratively tight and character driven (we are talking about Greg Rucka after all), but also it looks like it is going to give us a visual bang for our buck as well.