This review starts with a threat. If cable tv or Netflix doesn’t buy the television rights to Stray Bullets by a week from this publication, I will release a cheapo adaptation on Youtube, featuring sock puppets and me doing each character’s voice with my old timey prospector accent. That should do it. Thank me in six months, readers. David Lapham writes and draws Stray Bullets as if he’s taking some really screwy found footage from 80’s Baltimore, and giving us the best of. In a book featuring intense violence and morally questionable acts, Lapham consistently delivers uncomfortable moments of hilarity, making each issue of Stray Bullets a riot to read as self-contained story while advancing the plot of Beth and Kretchmeyer, this volume’s up-and-coming no-gooders. Lapham doesn’t give new readers a chance to doubt this book’s crazed energy with a first page that opens on a deranged smiley face in the first panel before moving us to an attempted robbery at a liquor store. Smacked in the face by the cashier, college-bound Orson wakes up in his bed the next day with a searing pain in his head and his crotch riddled with crabs. The only thing he remembers is meeting a woman named Beth, and heading to a party with her. Determined to figure out whether she gave him crabs, Orson returns to the party venue, meeting Beth there and getting a crash-course in the insanity of her life.
A book like Stray Bullets, grounded in realism, relies on a reader’s investment in the characters and their plight to succeed in the absence of flash and world-ending scenarios that can sometimes sufficiently cover up the lack of emotional connectivity. Fortunately, Lapham crafts characters that I come to invests more within a single issue than some people I’ve seen on a daily basis in the past six months. Through dialogue and action alone, Lapham portrays Orson with an array of contradictory qualities that make up a recognizable teen. Orson uses his meeting with Beth as an opportunity to behave with the wildness she had come to admire in him during drug-addled liquor store robbery, acting contrary to his typically nerdy self who his derisively calls a pussy who would rather retreat and play Atari than deal with difficult situations.
Lapham uses the tension between who Orson is and who he’d like to be to propel the majority of the story’s events, Orson vacillating between wanting to impress Beth and fleeing to preserve his own life. I liked how Orson repeatedly dismisses opportunities to abandon Beth even when she makes it obvious that she actually doesn’t care about him, such as, you know, when she lays one on him after he professes his love for her. In a totally believable fashion, Orson ignores common sense and thrusts himself into a situation simply to win the affections of someone who clearly wouldn’t care about how he is. What’s so impressive is that Lapham never uses narration to tell us this is the case, he relies on his artwork to convey the emotional state of Orson, giving him some really pathetic expressions throughout the book.
Without ever deviating from the overall book’s gritty tone, Lapham flexes his comedy chops this issue, using Orson’s naïveté to great effect. Second only to the opening robbery scene, I couldn’t quiet myself at the back of a conference session as I looked over the page of Orson stumbling onto a tragic scene that Beth predicted he would find. Showing us Beth and Kretchmeyer’s world from an outsider perspective repeatedly illustrates the insanity of it all, such as the panel of the unknown man in the eponymous Rose’s apartment who Beth considers abandoning Sunshine with.
We get hints about where Beth and Kretchmeyer’s latest schemes are in this issue, but I didn’t mind that the overall plot stalled a bit here. Issues like this are a great way for readers to gain a new perspective on the world of the main characters, and now that we can confidently say that Beth, while confident and charming, is also nuts, I’m digging to find out where she ends up dragging Kretch next.
Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #2 Writer/Artist/Creator: David Lapham Publisher: Image/El Capitan Price: $3.50 Release Date: 3/18/15 Format: Print/Digital