Stray Bullets: Killers bucks the current trend of comics where we have to get small, well-packaged arcs that fit easily into trades. Where most comics would be wrapping up nicely, Stray Bullets wraps up each issue as its own individual story and plays that into the wider mythology of the series, as well as Virginia and Eli’s overall story. In short, it’s a masterpiece. This issue shoots us back into the seedy underbelly of Virginia’s past life as a criminal/accomplice/urchin. This is the first time that Eli has seen the real thing in terms of Virginia’s past life, and the first time he’s been faced with the harsh reality of it, as opposed to the rose-colored, romantic version of it he’s been imagining. Understandably, he freaks the fuck out.
Stray Bullets: Killers spends a lot of time talking about the pasts of our two main characters, examining all the ways the bitterness and violence they’ve left in their past are now coming back to inform their futures. In a lot of ways, it’s a much more hopeful story than we’re used to from this series; instead of a nihilistic belief that nothing is going to work in this life, Lapham presents us with all the ways that Virginia and Eli’s lives have not worked in the past, all the fucked-up shit they’ve gone through, and all the ways they still manage to power through it.
It’s beginning to feel at this point like I’m just shouting into the void, proclaiming the greatness of this series to the world at large. There’s no telling how many of you are taking my word for it, how many of you are ignoring it, and how many of you have impeccable taste to start with and would be reading this series with or without my opinion. As it stands, I don’t think I’ll be reviewing this series any more. There’s several reasons for this that all tie into my critical response to this series.
First, there have been seven straight issues of such high quality that it doesn’t need my help every month. Stray Bullets is a known quantity, like Hellboy or Usagi Yojimbo; it’s an acknowledged modern masterpiece, and we’re blessed as readers by the fact that it continues without flagging in quality. Second, with the structure of the series not allowing for arc breaks as easy ins and outs, it’s tough to jump out of the series at a convenient moment; there will never be a time when I don’t want to keep living in Lapham’s version of Baltimore in the 80s, so there will never be a good time to jump out.
But this is as good a time as any. The cracks in the veneer of Virginia and Eli’s relationship are starting to show, and it’s only a matter of time before life gets in and splits them open. Godspeed, kids. I hope I see you on the other side.
Writer/Artist/Creator: David Lapham Publisher: El Capitan/Image Price: $3.50 Release Date: 9/17/14 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital