Stumptown’s Back: How The Show Diverges From The Graphic Novels

by Rachel Bellwoar

One of the best new series to air this fall, Stumptown returned this week from winter hiatus. Having decided to give the show a season pass, you might be starting to wonder about the graphic novels that inspired it. Co-created by Greg Rucka (Black Magick) and Matthew Southworth (Cloven) and published by Oni Press, Stumptown currently stands at four volumes long, with Justin Greenwood (Crone) taking over for Southworth as illustrator on volumes three and four.

This review will be focusing on volume one, “The Case of the Girl Who Stole Her Shampoo (But Left Her Mini).” Dex Parios (Colbie Smulders’ character) is a private investigator set up in Portland. Unlike on the show, Dex is already established as a PI when the book begins. She doesn’t come to that career choice over the course of the book and her PI license is already framed on the wall.
What is the same (or at least starts out the same) is her first case. Sue-Lynne’s granddaughter is missing and no matter whether it’s Dex on the show or in the comics, luck is not on her side. Having worked up $17,616 in gambling debt at the Whispering Winds Casino Resort that Sue-Lynne runs, Dex isn’t in a position to turn the job down. She also has less impetus to – Dex and Sue-Lynne (played by Tantoo Cardinal) don’t get along on the show (and there’s a reason for that) but their relationship doesn’t seem to be fueled by the same animosity here. Dex also doesn’t suffer from PTSD in the comics and, unless it comes up in a later volume, wasn’t a marine (a storyline which the show has been handling well, in that it’s not something the show brought up and then forgot – it’s something Dex lives with every episode).
One of the biggest changes (or at least it feels big, given how much the love triangle between Dex, Hoffman, and Grey has been played up in the marketing) is that Hoffman is a woman in the comics. On the show Hoffman is played by Michael Ealey (Jake Johnson plays Grey) and while the show has retained Dex’s bisexuality, it doesn’t come up until episode six.
Hoffman’s gender doesn’t have to matter but the way the book handles romance is very different from a network TV show. On the one hand, Dex has sexual chemistry with everyone. She flirts. She puts her hand on Grey’s shoulder, a gesture that wouldn’t mean anything if Southworth didn’t give it meaning, but as for the existence of a love triangle – if you weren’t looking for one, because of the TV show, it’s not there. It’s possible Hoffman and Dex had a romantic relationship before, but Dex’s focus is on the case, when it’s not on her brother, Ansel (played on the show by Cole Sibus), and even if they were involved, it’s not like on the TV show where Dex and Grey have history and Hoffman’s new. Dex and Hoffman have history, too, which makes the “love triangle,” if you want to call it that, more balanced.
The case plays out differently from the book, so being familiar with the plot from the pilot episode won’t spoil anything. Lee Loughridge and Rico Renzi provided the colors for volume one, with Southworth, and whenever a scene’s important or has some urgency to it you can tell because the number of colors increases and get brighter. Otherwise the volume leans towards being monochromatic, with each location getting its own, moody tone.
Volume one includes some great scenes of silent, detective work where Rucka lets readers be directed by Southworth so they can try and solve the case on their own. There are also a ton of one-on-one conversations that Southworth has to draw, yet they never feel visually the same or repetitive. Instead, his use of closeups gives these conversations a combative edge.
Volume one moves at a fast pace, that never lets up and while there are less car chases than on the TV show, Dex still ends up locked in her trunk at some point.
New episodes of Stumptown air Wednesdays at 10 PM EST on ABC. Stumptown Volume 1 is available now from Oni Press.

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