With one look at this issue’s cover, you know the likelihood of death is a solid 100%. Only four issues in, the latest volume of Stray Bullets already seems to be a steady incline to even greater chaos for Baltimore’s shady and morally dubious types. To say that I love Lapham’s work would be a mere repetition of previous reviews, but if Lapham can churn out top notch issues month after month maybe there’s some hope that I can get to something new this time around. Whether or not you’re persuaded by my thoughts though, you really ought to be reading Stray Bullets. One aspect in which Stray Bullets particularly succeeds is its ability to generate sympathy for even the most odious of characters. The fact that I grew to somewhat like Sonny, the stoner idiot who was best friends with Led right up to the moment that Led gets shot is a pretty revolting character in the comic’s present, and only slightly less so a month prior. Lapham’s decision to open the issue with a flashback to Led’s death helps in this regard, revealing Sonny as a scared young man incapable of aiding his friend in what is clearly a moment that will lead to dire consequences. Seeing Sonny in this scene contrasts well with our meeting with him in the present a mere two pages later along with Nina where Sonny has become a pot-addled guy with predilections for casual sexual harassment.
Nina as well takes on new dimension this issue as we have previously only seen him in other flashback scenes set on the day of Led’s murder, and in the present as Beth’s former best friend who has been held hostage by Harry, one of Baltimore’s biggest gangsters. While some of the same entitled attitude seen in previous issues comes across here, we also get to see Nina express both kindness toward Sonny and fear at the potential effects her disappearance can have on her and her friends. Lapham clearly trusts readers enough to be ok with the jarring point of view change this issue to what have so far been two secondary characters, and I’m glad we got to see this pairing at least once.
I have previously remarked on how I think Lapham just kills it with his pacing, but here he takes that to a new level thanks to an issue with a timed deadline. Nina shows up at Beth’s place looking for her in order to provide information that can aid in Harry’s take down. Once Sonny tells Nina that Beth’s not around though, the two leave together for Sonny’s house to find Beth, their search delayed time and time again, Nina becoming increasingly concerned as the minutes pass by before she has to return home or else potentially suffer greater physical abuse, or worse. This could have come off as melodramatic fare, but Sonny continuously injects levity to the proceedings thanks to his total obliviousness to the severity of the circumstances, one of my favorite moments being the introduction of a spear gun that Sonny’s wealthy parents have laying around in their barn house. The simple inclusion of an exposition bubble with the time at the start of each scene increases the tension for the reader as we realize how little progress the two make.
To say how things come to a head in the issue’s final few pages would spoil too much of the fun? shock? of this issue, but it ends up serving as the first time all the major characters of this volume show up at once. In addition to the death toll at issue’s end, it’s clear that some allegiances have shifted and plans have been set in motion that will lead to an overturn in Baltimore’s criminal underground one way or another. Damn, this is good. Read it.
Stray Bullets: Sunshine And Roses #4 Writer/Artist/Creator: David Lapham Publisher: Image/ El Capitan Price: $3.50 Release Date: 5/20/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital