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Stumptown Volume 2 #1 (Oni Press): It’s safe to say that I was hooked on the very first page when I could actually hear the song lyrics in my head. There are a couple of nods to Volume 1 (Marenco, Tracy, etc.), but for the most part this story stands on its own. I think it might even be stronger in its ability to immediately grab you. Greg Rucka’s dialogue is subtle when it needs to be, and it’s bold when it needs to be, flexing both muscles. I felt burned out on crime stuff a long time ago, but Stumptown has been one of the lone exceptions. This story sees Dex investigating a stolen guitar belonging to Miriam “Mim” Bracca of the band Tailhook. Rucka does all sorts of crafty things with the dialogue and introduces a character named Cathy Chase who has the potential to be an even tougher version of tougher-than-nails Dex, judging from her few sparse lines. I also feel like I really learned something about the lineage and evolution of the PI archetype in the backmatter. One thing: DEA is the Drug Enforcement Administration, not the Drug Enforcement Agency as the character says. It’s a common mistake, and it seems so sloppy for a writer of Rucka’s caliber and notorious authenticity when it comes to procedurals, espionage, etc., that I almost feel like it’s a deliberate plant and the character could be lying about who she is. Or it could just be an honest mistake I’m over-analyzing. Anyway, artist Matthew Southworth seems to have improved the clarity of his lines and the ability for the characters to emote with their facial expressions. There are a couple of isolated instances of "wonky" art (my meaningless generic term for those times that perspective or proportion just seems "off" to my eye, or the art is otherwise just generally awkward), such as the close-up shot of Dex’s head while she’s driving in her ‘stang, or the few times when the small scale figures appear a little too beady-eyed, but all the rest is on point. All of the full page and two-page spreads, the larger mosaics that Southworth composes really shine. In short, the boys are back. Stumptown is a must-read book, for the second time. Grade A.
The Manhattan Projects #6 (Image): It’s “The Red Issue” entitled “Star City,” which begins to chronicle the Russian side of the equation. During the final days of the war, we see how the remaining German rocket scientists were largely divvied up between the Americans and the Soviets. There was a time not long ago when I was a bigger fan of this book, but not today. I’m starting to feel like Hickman shouldn’t have attempted to sustain one of his Image books beyond a mini-series. I think it’s extremely difficult to maintain the balance between kitsch and gravitas. They seem to be at odds with each other. At times, it’s kind of sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek, and other times it’s done in full earnest trying to make grand points. Let me be clear, I think Hickman is capable of doing either, but trying to weave both together makes for a somewhat muddled composition. I like the mention of Tunguska, I think Jordie Bellaire’s colors are a large part of what makes the book shine, and the entire Russian aesthetic in those sequences at Star City is killer from Nick Pitarra. That stuff aside? Call me fickle, but sometimes it feels like Hickman is just trying to do his best Ellis and Pitarra is trying to do his best Quitely. And that’s not strong enough for me to support in singles, something I’d probably try to score in trade for a deep discount at a con. Grade B+.