This is the second week in a row where I unknowingly picked up the last in a series arc. I’ve been wanting to catch up on Stray Bullets for a while now for no other reason than because of all the critical acclaim it’s been receiving, and my love of bandwagoning. Usually, I’m not very interested in crime stories in any medium due to their over reliance on genre tropes and plot twists. However, Lapham avoids those easy trappings by keeping the story tightly focused on the characters and tracking their emotional arcs. Lapham somehow manages to convey all the information necessary to understand the story even for those like myself who haven’t read a single previous issue. Eli and Virginia are a teenage couple who recently got into an argument following their run-in in Baltimore that results in several deaths. Shaken by Virginia’s criminal affiliation, Eli lashed out at Virginia and this issue starts off with their relationship in limbo.
Add to that, Eli’s slimy cousin Adam comes knocking at Eli’s door to ask a favor he can’t refuse as well as the threat of retaliation from the gang Virginia’s friends assaulted, and this issue may seem to have taken on too much. However, it all flows organically from the characters so that no decision appears motivated by the need to get to the great action sequence at the climax.
Lapham portrays the central couple with realism and empathy, at once having them recognize how young they are to be so deeply in love but never treating their youth with condescension. It’s thanks to that even portrayal that the most heart-pounding page isn’t the one when Eli and another person are attacked, but when Virginia finds Eli at the end after one of the most badass sequences I’ve seen for a female character outside of Captain Marvel or The Walking Dead.
Stray Bullets’s sense of realism is further amplified by Lapham’s art. Lapham has an extensive mental catalogue of facial expressions with each character having their own range of faces that never seem duplicated elsewhere. Just as Eli has ten different ways to appear suspicious of Adam, Adam has ten different sneers to make the reader dislike him. Then when Lapham picks up the pace in the issue’s last scene, he conveys all the action with a level of coherence often missing when an illustrator tries to achieve something stylistically original. Lapham always puts the focus in the panel on the area of greatest emotional weight, trusting his audience to determine the repercussions of the panel’s actions.
Now that this arc is over, I’m excited to start back at the beginning once the trade is released. While the next arc won’t follow Eli and Virginia, I think it won’t be too far off until we get see how that last page plays out for them. In my ideal world, we’d first find out that Adam died from spontaneous combustion.
Writer/Artist/Creator: David Lapham Publisher: Image/ El Capitan Price: $3.50 Release Date: 10/22/14 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital