Review: Stray Bullets – Killers #1

Returning to the world of a well-loved story is like putting on a favorite pair of beat-up sweatpants. You know exactly what kind of experience you’re in for, and you trust that it’s going to be a good time. (I’m a great admirer of sweatpants). Stray Bullets: Killers is one of those series. After an almost decade-long Stray Bullets drought, David Lapham and Image have opened the floodgates on it, publishing a new issue of the main series, a collected edition of the first 41 issues, and this new series. I went back and re-read the first seven issues of the main series last night, as a sort of dipping my toes in the pool, seeing what the water was like. Aside from some refinement in the drawing and the scripting, this is the same world. Spanish Scott is the same smooth asshole you hate that you love. It’s all here, and it’s great.

As with any Stray Bullets story, this issue is self-contained. Things have a definitive end, but there are seeds planted for a bigger story involving Spanish Scott and the strip club he runs security for. I can’t tell what the plans are, but I’m in for the ride. The art is gorgeous, and the dialogue is some of Lapham’s most realistic in years. For example, there’re several exchanges between preteen boys about the physics of boobs that bring up a lot of playground nostalgia in this reporter.

David Lapham has used the comic book medium to become a master of the short story. I mean, if this series doesn’t have something of a nod to the Ernest Hemingway short story or either film adaptation of it, I’ll start wearing a hat so I can eat it. Individual issues of Stray Bullets all take place in the same universe, on the East Coast in the late 70’s/early 80’s (aside from the Amy Racecar issues?), and there is a grander plot happening, but it all happens very episodically. Each issue feeds you new information about the criminal empire in the area, but each issue also winds itself up. It sort of feels like an anthology show, a Twilight Zone format, but for the Tarantino/neo-noir crowds. Terrible things happen to people, we learn new things, and the story ends. Then it all happens again next month.

straybullets_killers1_coverAny issue of this series could be the last issue, and you would feel like there were more things that had to happen, but you wouldn’t feel cheated out of plot. The master plot has never been the fun anyway; it’s always been the glimpses into these peoples’ personal lives. In the original series, it was never the Spanish Scotts or the Monsters that I was interested in; it was the Virginia Applejacks and the abandoned children. It was these people in a world of heightened violence and absent gods, these people who struggled with the same things we all did. Ginny Applejack vs. bullies at school, fathers battling cancer, Sonny trying to find his mom while she’s disappeared into a back room at a party. Quiet moments.

This is a quiet series masquerading as a bombastic crime book. These moments of human pathos are what we live for, moments where we can connect with other people, and that makes this book effective. We connect with people through a common humanity, and then watch them live through (or not live through, as often as not) extreme situations. We feel those situations, and we feel for those characters. This series asks us to feel those things for the “regular” folks as well as the killers themselves. It promises to be complex and involved, and I’m on for every twist and turn.

Score: 5/5

Writer/Artist/Creator: David Lapham Publisher: Image Comics/El Capitan Price: $3.50 Release Date: 3/12/14