After nearly a decade, David Lapham returns to one of the greatest crime series of all time with “Stray Bullets: Killers” #1
Written and Illustrated by David Lapham
One of the most acclaimed crime series ever returns! When Gary Goldsmith and his young son Asa are involved in a deadly hit and run, their night goes from bad to worse when their grisly deed is witnessed by a disturbing stranger. Find out what thirty dollars, a dirty diaper, and a girl named Yummy will reveal about the true meaning of life in a little story we like to call “The Love Ride.” Featuring the return of Spanish Scott!
This new arc of stories about life and love and all the things we do to kill them starts out in the best noir tradition, then turns the genre on its ear. Would you expect any less? If you’ve never read STRAY BULLETS before, jump in here. Hell, jump in anywhere. Every issue always presents a complete story that fits into a larger whole.
I’m just going to go ahead and assume we’re at least sort of familiar with True Detective. You might’ve been disappointed when the finale didn’t really have any supernatural elements and I feel comfortable writing that sentence because True Detective, or at least its terrifying parts, were never really about any unseen eldritch forces. The terror came from the cruelty humans can inflict upon each other, the unseen atrocities performed behind closed doors, and the chilling suspicions that the familiar will for now and always be anything but.
It’s this type of uncertainty that Lapham lives in when it comes to “Stray Bullets.” The series, finally coming back from a nearly decade-long absence, is a masterwork in horror. On the surface, it’s a crime series, but not one that glorifies any of its characters. People kill, people die, people do anything in order to survive, get ahead, or even just for the simple sake of revenge. It’s a world where morality’s bleeding dead in a corner, tied up in ropes, gags, and the consequences of our actions. And for the life of me I can’t tell the world of “Stray Bullets” apart from our own.
“Stray Bullets” (from the few issues I’ve read) usually concerns itself with the dying days of the 20th century; that era from the 70’s through to the end of the 90’s where there was no internet or smartphones with glowing screens that could dispel the darkness peeking around every corner. From the perspective of a child, a POV Lapham has issued to excellent effect in previous issues, the world of “Stray Bullets” isn’t just a violent one; it’s horrifying. It’s one we’re not really supposed to be seeing. Similar to how tons of people were expecting True Detective to end with a straight-up Cthulu cult being behind everything, it feels like there should be some tentacle monster hiding behind the pages, influencing our characters, but there never is. It’s just men. It’s only men, only women, only children.
In spite of the solicitation, this issue is actually about a strip club; it’s workers, it’s patrons, the kid trying to get a peek, and series stalwart Spanish Scott: the closest thing this series has to a judge. I said before that I couldn’t tell “Stray Bullets'” reality apart from ours. On a personal level, part of that is due to the setting for this particular issue. I haven’t been a patron of strip clubs but I can say with some authority – cross my heart, the ever-evolving disaster that is my life just happens to have a chapter involving an ex with an unusual job, a twice Wall Street broker twice her age, and a series of pretty awkward texts at 4am – Lapham captures, not the lust or glamor of a gentleman’s club but the paranoia and surreality of both its patrons and observers as seen through the eyes of an outsider. Lapham’s black and white art seems relatively simple at first, but that’s only because his details are so realistic that you almost don’t notice ether. The sweat on a father’s skin as he talks to a girl he’s known since she was in diapers, the way Spanish Scott’s eyes adjust when he an old flame calls out to him, and the urgency in an encounter outside the strip club all give the sense that the world of “Stray Bullets” is unwell. There’s a huge sense of claustrophobia which can be attributed to Lapham’s ridiculous adherence to a seemingly typical panel layout. That paranoia bubbles under the story’s skin, culminating in a burst of violence that breaks the skin.Continued below
Morbid prose aside, “Stray Bullets” isn’t all doom and gloom. There’s a charm in the characters, Spanish Scott especially, that can draw you in within just a few pages and that’s where “Stray Bullets” gets all its strength. The solicit lied about the plot but not the accessibility of each issue of “Stray Bullets.” Through brilliantly engaging characters, who always find a way to engage themselves with the worst of the world, Lapham draws you into literally any issue. So give “Stray Bullets” a try. It probably won’t utterly scare you the way other books might; in fact it’ll probably make you chuckle. But I can guarantee that with each issue of “Stray Bullets”, the reader will walk away just a bit more uncomfortable with the world. And with “Stray Bullets: Killers” Lapham proves that he hasn’t lost his ability to make some of the most visceral, gripping, and unnerving stories to ever be set in a “mundane” world
Despite the laughs, despite the lack of the supernatural, “Stray Bullets” is a horror comic. And a damn great one at that.
Final Verdict: 8.9 – Welcome back this series with a Buy.