Stray Bullets has possibly never been about the criminal element at all. With issues like this, where the only criminal who makes an appearance is a teenager who sells weed, I’m starting to like the idea that maybe the real criminal act is forcing extraordinary people to conform to the normality of suburban living. Eli, the new character in this Stray Bullets arc, has only had to interact with hardened criminals in a tangential way, but this issue shows the real tragedy and the real violence in his life is always from the people who are supposed to protect him. It’s the same for Virginia Applejack, it’s the same for everyone in that universe. There is no love without the hurt that follows it, and every time, it breaks my goddamn heart. I await each new issue of this series with trepidation, not because it won’t be fantastic (it always is), but because I know there’s going to be at least one page or panel that will break my heart. It’s this melancholy appreciation that makes this series such a joy, oddly.
If someone was new to Stray Bullets and asked if it was easy to jump into as a new reader, I would hand them this issue and tell them to enjoy. It requires little-to-no familiarity with the issues before it, in the first series/volume, or in this new series, and it has everything to love about Stray Bullets in microcosm. Vicious families masquerading as healthy suburban ones, legends of violence, teenage sexual discovery (presented in a tasteful manner, short on nudity and short on judgment), and people who are outcast by society but find ways to be heroes themselves. Plus, this issue has one of the only honest-to-goodness happy endings I can remember reading in a Stray Bullets comic. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I will say it until my voicebox rots and falls out of my throat, David Lapham is a master of the comic book short story, and it’s because of issues like this. The fact that he manages to create larger, just as satisfying arcs out of them is icing on the cake.
At the risk of looking too far in the future, I’m excited about next month’s issue already. As Lapham himself notes in the letters column, it’s the return of everyone’s favorite loveable action-hero/psychopath, Amy Racecar. It’s about time for Stray Bullets to get straight-up weird again, y’all. I’m ready to take that hyperviolent, surreal, childish trip with her. Also, they’re bringing Murder Me Dead back into print, which was apparently produced between the third and fourth Stray Bullets arcs, back in the before-times, and I’ve never read it or even heard about it. Needless to say, I will definitely be getting my hands on that.
Basically what I’m saying is that not only is Stray Bullets the only crime comic you should put on your pull list and make sure to pick up every month, it might be the only comic period you should pick up. It might not always have intergalactic action (although sometimes it does), or violent/graphic murder (although sometimes it does), but it’s the only book I can name that consistently takes the outskirts and outsiders of the human experience and makes them into real, relatable people who can uplift us, the readers, and break our hearts in two.
Writer/Artist/Creator: David Lapham Publisher: El Capitan/Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 6/25/14 Format: Print/Digital