Stray Bullets

Stray Bullets 34 (June 2004)

Stray Bullets #34And here we have the issue where a couple drunk male friends fool around and it doesn’t just ruin their friendship, one of them goes insane and kills the other one.

Guess Lapham liked American Beauty too. The trope wasn’t original in that movie either.

There’s no context for the story. The guys are a couple jerks, so it’s not like Lapham creates much sympathy for their psychological distress. In some ways, Bullets is at its best with the done-in-ones, even the terrible ones like this issue. Because then Lapham’s failings are disposable. It’s a bad issue, not a bad arc.

The art is a little bit better than it has been lately. A little. Lapham is still dragging out his action scenes and his attempt at a haunting finale is a joke. But the art’s a little better.

The comic reads fast. At least it reads fast.

D 

CREDITS

Higily-Pigily; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Renee Miller; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 33 (May 2004)

Stray Bullets #33Here’s another example of Lapham slacking off. And it’s on a Virginia issue too, which is upsetting because he usually treats her better.

It’s in high school, with Virginia setting off the jocks against the greasers. Because Grease, right? I don’t know what else to say about it, actually. I mean, aside from the fighting, there are a lot of lengthy action montages–who knew throwing rocks at a window was worth a page–and not much else. Lapham is back to treating the comic like a parody of itself. Virginia is the superhero.

The most annoying part has to be the appearance from her mother. Lapham’s totally ignored Virginia’s home life. At this point it seems like he’s too cowardly to do it. Instead he just has the high school where kids are allowed to castrate each other.

But seriously, his lame handling of Virginia post-kidnapping is unforgivable.

D 

CREDITS

Donnybrook; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Renee Miller; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 32 (May 2003)

Stray Bullets #32Lapham hasn’t just run out of ideas, he’s now doing reruns. This issue of Stray Bullets reminds of a few others, but in bits and pieces. So less a rerun, I guess, and more a remix.

Some classmates of Virginia–who also remember her before she ran away (in a school district with so much assault going on, wouldn’t there be a lot of runaways and not just one)–are goofing off while waiting in a parking lot and they piss off the wrong guy.

This wrong guy works for the unseen criminal boss Harry.

The guy spends the rest of the issue torturing the kid who heckled him from the car window. There’s actually a chance for Lapham to do something with it at the end and he doesn’t. He goes the safe route, the Stray Bullets route. The comic’s practically a parody of itself.

Loose art too.

D 

CREDITS

Shenanigans; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Karen Hoyt; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 31 (April 2003)

Stray Bullets #31Lapham does some really tight art this issue. I don’t think his figures have ever been so precise. It’s a shame the story’s not there.

This issue has Virginia returning home and, once home, she runs into some kid she had a conversation with during her first issue. Is it too much synergy? Yes, it is too much synergy. But given the comic also has her at a high school where the kids attempt murder on two or three times a day and there’s no accountability–these are incidents where police reports would definitely be filed–too much synergy is the least of the problems.

It’s like Lapham is trying to do a high school story with that “Stray Bullets flavor” and it comes off like a cheap imitation.

As usual, he doesn’t cheap out on Virginia the character and she can hold the comic, regardless of its problems. Not ideal, but….

B- 

CREDITS

Derring-Do; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Karen Hoyt; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 30 (March 2003)

Stray Bullets #30Here’s the thing I love about Stray Bullets–and it’s been kind of hard to love the comic lately, due to Lapham’s scurry into exploitation (intentionally or not)–even when he’s being cheap, Lapham has created a number of such excellent characters the cheapness can’t hurt the comic.

For instance, this issue is a prequel to the pointless (and exploitative) “kidnapped by a pedophile” arc Lapham is wrapping up. So his last chapter to the arc is a prequel to the arc. It’s a cheap move, because he’s showing the reader who wonderful Bobby and Virginia’s lives were before the bad choices she made to get Bobby kidnapped and abused.

But it doesn’t matter because Bobby and Virginia are both fantastic characters. There’s a whole subplot to the issue involving Bobby working on Amy Racecar comic spin-offs. The issue’s got a fantastic pace, then an amazing, touching finish.

Even if it’s cheap.

B+ 

CREDITS

Happy Ending; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Deborah Purcell; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 29 (January 2003)

Stray Bullets #29Ugh. Really, there’s no other word for it. Ugh. Lapham’s colliding of all his story lines and characters continues with Roger the detective–the one who had such a cool dating issue–hunting down Monster to find Virginia. Only Lapham has always used Monster as a force of nature, so having him go up against very real cops is kind of like a horror movie.

There’s also a bunch of lengthy jail interviews between Roger and Beth. Not to mention all the journals from Virginia while she was being held captive.

Lapham is bad with all of it. Why read Stray Bullets for a cop story? Lapham established the series as startling stories about people who experience violence. Roger’s just doing his job.

Worst is how Lapham just apes his plotting for the Beth investigation comic. It’s painfully uninspired. While not as bad as it could be, it’s still terrible.

D 

CREDITS

The Notebook; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Deborah Purcell; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 28 (December 2002)

Stray Bullets #28Lapham almost brings it back, he really almost does. The comic’s been missing active intelligence from Beth–and Virginia–for quite a while (seriously, Virginia’s been on her own how long and she couldn’t sniff out a pedophile, especially one who looks like Sideshow Bob) but the end of this issue has Virginia come back. It’s fantastic.

There’s a lot of the interconnected nonsense, with Joey and Rose showing up again and reminding of better days. Especially Rose. She’s been one of Lapham’s better characters and he does write her stuff pretty well here. But Joey? He’s annoying. Again. Lapham beats it in like a hammer–remember him being crazy, here’s why.

Anyway, the ending falls off a bit because Lapham goes too long to bring everything together. It could have been a lot better. But it’s far from bad and closer to good.

Even if the art’s really loose.

B- 

CREDITS

The Prize; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Deborah Purcell; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 27 (October 2002)

Stray Bullets #27How does Lapham resolve a story he didn’t have any reason to do? Poorly.

He fractures Beth’s search for Virginia, cutting in scenes in their past, scenes of Beth’s investigation, lots of little cameos from other cast members. And then he turns it into an action movie. The entire issue has a frantic pace, so having a car chase at the end only seems logical. And having an open ending? Well, it’s Stray Bullets after all.

I don’t think I’ve ever said something has jumped the shark before and it’s unclear if this issue signals a downward trend for the series, but it’s a terrible, terrible comic. It’s inept. Lapham takes one of his two best characters and reduces her to a crying mess before building her into Charles Bronson. But a bad Charles Bronson.

The issue’s a bunch of manipulative scenes strung together. Every one of them is pointless.

How does Lapham resolve a story he didn’t have any reason to do? Poorly.

He fractures Beth’s search for Virginia, cutting in scenes in their past, scenes of Beth’s investigation, lots of little cameos from other cast members. And then he turns it into an action movie. The entire issue has a frantic pace, so having a car chase at the end only seems logical. And having an open ending? Well, it’s Stray Bullets after all.

I don’t think I’ve ever said something has jumped the shark before and it’s unclear if this issue signals a downward trend for the series, but it’s a terrible, terrible comic. It’s inept. Lapham takes one of his two best characters and reduces her to a crying mess before building her into Charles Bronson. But a bad Charles Bronson.

The issue’s a bunch of manipulative scenes strung together. Every one of them is pointless.

F 

CREDITS

Broken; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Deborah Purcell; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 26 (June 2002)

Stray Bullets #26And now Lapham just decides to mess with the reader. The story has Amy Racecar–you know, Virginia’s alter ego–kidnapped by a bad guy, along with her male friend. She escapes, leaving the male friend behind. Is Lapham finally going to break from the Amy Racecar stuff into Virginia’s real life, where she’s escaped from the pedophile in the previous issue (Lapham’s worst?). No, no, he’s not.

Speaking of worst–this issue is actually awesome at the end and Lapham really does some great stuff with the Amy character but it’s so cheap. He’s learned how to manipulate the reader with forced machinations. Or maybe he always intended to manipulate the reader and there’s some Stray Bullets story bible out there with all the plans.

It’s doesn’t matter because Lapham’s still produces a great comic here. The manipulation hurts, but Amy Racecar can’t be defeated by cheap narrative tricks. She’s bitching.

A- 

CREDITS

Wild Strawberries Can’t Be Broken or Don’t Blame God Your Dog’s Dead; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Deborah Dragovic; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets: Killers 3 (May 2014)

Stray Bullets: The Killers #3It’s another outstanding issue. This one goes a little cute, with Virginia now a babysitter to a mob guy’s bratty kids and searching the house for his missing fortune. Not missing fortune, the money his wife has stashed he now needs. He’s out with the wife. And there’s a mistress in the mix and one of the kids reminds Virginia of herself.

What’s particularly interesting about the issue is how Lapham shows his nostalgia. There are some big nods–with Virginia standing in for Lapham’s nostalgia and the reader’s. Doing a sincere, loving tribute to Stray Bullets should be impossible given the comic’s content, but Lapham does it. He can even use it to get away with logic gaps; he knows the reader is on his side.

There’s some lovely art in the issue too. Lapham’s very careful with the people and especially the sequences with the older daughter and Virginia.

A- 

CREDITS

The Five Fingers; writer, artist and letterer, David Lapham; editors, Renee Miller and Maria Lapham; publisher, Image Comics.

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