One of the recurring things I tell people about comic books is that they’re all the same medium, but not necessarily the same genre of superheroes punching each other and going through wardrobe changes every couple issues. Whenever I think of genre, my mind goes to fantasy and sci-fi, dragons and spaceships, otherworldly tales. Despite recognizing this distinction between genre and medium, I still feel surprised at times when I read a comic book distinctly working in a time-honored genre that’s been abandoned for the most part by mainstream publishers. Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses, the latest from David Lapham’s resurrected title, tells a crime story in a manner that never feels reliant on tropes, delivering stark action and great dialogue at an enviable pace. The most recent Stray Bullets story takes us back to 1979 Baltimore where a girl named Beth chats up a guy named Kretchmeyer. From there, things go in a predictable pattern of first date, then sex, friendship, Chinese food, doughnuts and The Prisoner, and fireworks as Lapham moves us through two months of their growing relationship. Somewhere between all that, Beth oversees drug deals with a local crew and Kretchmeyer offs a man who’s buying a doughnut in the first few pages. All this time, Lapham continues to make subtle tweaks to their interactions as both lower their guard, and the two confide their past criminal activity, Beth having murdered a man and Kretchmeyer both pissing on Elvis’ grave and stealing a woman’s purse.
Plenty of writers could learn much from Lapham’s ability to briskly setup characters and a setting while continuously propelling the story along. Even before Kretchmeyer’s involvement in a local gangmember’s death, the rising panic and attacks between the Baltimore gangs brings a great sense of urgency to the proceedings, the bespectacled Monster using a stove in one scene to great effect. I’ve read up other’s thoughts on the effectiveness of Lapham’s use of an eight-panel layout, but that won’t stop me from gushing about it as I remain continuously impressed by its utility, and how Lapham manages to heighten the drama of scenes simply by deviating from that structure. For instance, the scene where Kretchmeyer and Beth each confess their past misdeeds moves along at a steady eight panels for three pages until Kretchmeyer commits a violent act against two potential attackers that explode the grid into two panels, the first showing Kretchmeyer’s act and the latter his and Beth’s steady retreat. The gore of the first panel as the two attackers’ faces explode into mess becomes all the more unsettling by Kretchmeyer’s coolness in the second panel.
Soon enough though, Kretchmeyer tells Beth that he murdered doughnut-eating Lonnie, and suddenly things take a new turn as Beth and Kretchmeyer end the comic now aligned with this knowledge. By the last page, things seem to have somewhat settled, and all the pieces have made it onto the board. From here on out though, I’m confident that Lapham will just make Kretchmeyer and Beth’s life shit. Can’t wait.
Writer/Artist/Creator: David Lapham Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 2/4/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital