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Bringing Comics to Screen: The new Stumptown on ABC

While I was never a Boy Scout, I am a planner. I even have a plan for the mythical day when I win the lottery. I don’t want to have to figure out which charities to give to or things I want to fund. I just want a checklist that I can work.

And one of the pop culture items on my list for a while has been pretty simple: “Make more money with Greg Rucka and his stories.”

Image credit: Greg Rucka / The Hero Initiative

If you don’t know Greg Rucka, he is a comic writer and novelist that specializes in action-based stories. He is well known for runs on books like Gotham Central, which focused on the police department in Batman’s Gotham, but also books like Queen and Country, which is an amazing story of female James Bond-like character in service of the United Kingdom.

Currently, he is best known for his book Lazarus, which we Nerds count as one of the best comics being produced currently, even with its quarterly publishing schedule.

But it seems like Hollywood may have finally found the right Rucka property to bring to the screen.

This week ABC debuted the show Stumptown, based on the comics Rucka created with Justin Greenwood and Matthew Southward. It is the story of Dex Pairos, a disabled American veteran who gets drawn into the private investigator life in the premiere episode.

Dex is another in a long line of great, strong female characters that Rucka has a knack at writing. Set in Portland–hence the Stumptown name–it takes advantage of the unique nature and scenery that I hope continues in future episodes.

And as a debut episode, it does a great job of setting the stage. We get enough of a glimpse into Dex’s backstory to establish who she is. Played by Colbie Smulders, Dex is barely functional in life as she deals with PTSD from having served as an Armed Forces interrogator in Afghanistan.

Now she is taking care of her soccer–loving brother, who has Down’s Syndrome, while working through her gambling addiction and making general bad life choices as a coping mechanism. Dex is asked by an old acquaintance for help with an issue that I don’t want to ruin but it shows she has the gifts and talents to maybe be a great detective, or at least one that gets the job done.

The rest of the cast is rounded out with Jake Johnson playing her friend, who is opening a bar and has hired her brother, and Michael Ealy as a Portland detective and potential love interest.

Now, there was one part of the episode that felt a bit out of place. The story opens with a nice comedic bit that introduces the character but then we flashback a few days. It felt gimmicky in a way and I hope that isn’t the pattern of how they are going to translate the comics to the screen.

It felt like a bad NCIS rip-off on a show with the potential to be much, much better than NCIS. Though it is lifted from the first graphic novel’s introduction, it didn’t have to be the show’s introduction.

But there are parts that really work as well. I am especially looking forward to another gimmick, where Dex’s Mustang has a 1980’s mixtape stuck in the tape deck that turns on and off based on random bumps. And they use the music to great effect, using some real 1980s classics, including Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in the introductory scene.

But overall, the rest of the episode was great. The cast is well put together with some established actors who are capable of doing great work. Smulders serves as an executive producer on this show in addition to starring. She seems to really enjoy the role and is working to bring the failing forward heroine to life.

Other comics of the superhero variety are sure to get more press than Stumptown but I am not sure that there could be a better “comics to screen” story this season than Stumptown. With its strong debut, I am rooting for its success moving forward.

And if you are interested in reading the material that they may be drawing from, Stumptown has 4 collected graphic novels, which are available on Comixology or via Amazon.

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