Sunday Slugfest: Stray Bullets: Killers #8

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on October 26, 2014.

Stray Bullets - Killers - Cover

Incredible. Heart rending. Tremendous. Powerful. Transcendent.

I do not have enough superlatives for David and Maria Lapham’s Stray Bullets. After an almost decade long hiatus, it returned this year in the form of the new series Stray Bullets: Killers giving younger readers like myself a chance to discover this jewel of Western comics. This issue concludes the first collection of the resurrected series and it is loaded with every bit as much potency as the preceding 48 issues.

Stray Bullets: Killers #8 is simultaneously a standalone story of heartbreak and violence and the culmination of the previous 7 issues (and, to a lesser extent, the other 41). As a narrative vehicle it functions on two distinct levels as a one act play and a single scene in a grand Shakespearean tragedy, yet never falters in either regard. Lapham is interested in a wide array of ideas (most notably the causes and effects of violence) and explores them on both a micro and macro scale. He constructs stories that present the little tragedies of an individual life ruled by entropy and coincidence, while allowing readers to move beyond that scope and immerse themselves in a broader world where every person is somehow connected and every action has far reaching consequences. Not since David Simon created The Wire has anyone created such a complex and cohesive story.

Unlike The WireStray Bullets is not focused on realism. Instead, it takes advantage of its medium to exaggerate reality. Every person and incident in the series reads as if it occurs in a slightly heightened version of our own world. Irony and tragic coincidence are the rules of this story, and work to create a bleak commentary on the most terrible aspects of the human condition. In Killers #8 that is more apparent than ever. Lapham explores a relationship, one filled with all of the love, mistakes, and random hijinks of anything real. He raises the volume with a mob war, a secret hideout, and plenty of guns, then uses that concoction to examine his characters. The result is a comic that will force readers to examine their own beliefs and ideas about their responsibilities to themselves and one another.

I’ve avoided discussing this issue in too much detail not to avoid spoilers, but to encourage you (yes, you) to go read it. Stray Bullets is simply too well crafted and too important to be ignored.

– Chase Magnett



I was introduced to David Lapham through his Marvel work but I’ve become a fan through his creator owned comics. Caligula, a raunchy, yet poetic, work, opened my eyes to his ability to build a story so utterly fucked up that it made me hungry for the next issue. Pulling a dozen issues of Young Liars out of a bargain bin only confirmed his aptitude in writing stories with originality, humanity and disregard for appeasing the everyman.

Lapham is simply one of the medium’s best creators. He has a highly distinguishable style, a mind that in unrivaled in terms of presenting fresh ideas wrapped around common concepts. I consistently find myself floored by the willingness to tackle taboo ideas without ever jumping the shark. I didn’t read any of the Stray Bullets series before Killers #1 but the title somehow turned into one of my favorite of 2014

The end of this arc features a very satisfying, and shockingly bloody, cap to a story about two teenage lovers and their struggle to understand a complex and gray world. The adventures of Eli and Virginia are just like any other coming-of-age love story when viewed from the outside but once you dive in it’s impossible to refute the raw smarts of David Lapham’s, and editor Maria Lapham’s, storytelling ability. The pacing, the dialogue, the awkwardness and confusion, the shady morals and conundrums they produce — they all harmonize into a tale that leaves you wanting more and more.

Lapham is a very talented penciller and his vision for this series is tightly compressed, packing in loads of story into every issue. His layouts, typically nine panels per page, should be a guidebook for up-and-coming sequential storytellers. Overly dynamic paneling is not necessary in building a successful comic, in fact it often gets in way of the true heart of the story. David Lapham’s vision is as clear and concise as his linework, and the finished product is brilliant in all its black and white glory.

Stray Bullets: Killers #8 ends a very successful “mini-ongoing” by utilizing a bunch of characters introduced over the previous seven issues and putting them against each other in unforeseen ways. With a savvy mix of violence, emotion and absurdity I recommend this series to anyone looking for a damn good read. Now excuse me while I catch up on the 1000 or so pages that I missed.

-Jamil Scalese


 

Stray Bullets #8 is a masterful, well-constructed narrative that explores not just violence, but rather the characters and relationships through the violence. It’s a wonderful examination of how seemingly unrelated and bizarre turns of events pan out in a cause and effect type of storytelling.

I should start by saying this is the first issue of Stray Bullets that I have read – ever. It’s a confession I am slightly embarrassed to admit, but I believe is incredibly germane to the review at hand. The Laphams do such a great job at creating a strong cast of characters and a well-constructed plot that starting at the very end of the story arc did not effect my reading of the story in a negative way.

The issue reads as a cohesive piece and supplied me with enough information that I was able to engage with the story and connect the dots. No previous information was necessary in order to understand what was going on and when it was, Lapham provided that information in a way that was not overwhelming or watered down. This takes a great understanding of storytelling technique to pull off without readers feeling cheated.

Nearly duplicate images occuring in the past are juxtaposed with panels in the current timeline to subtly let readers know that these were memories without needing to use caption boxes.  His line work is tight and purposeful and doesn’t overload the panels with distractions from the story that he’s telling. We see a full-range of emotions displayed in Stray Bullets that bring characters to life through gestures.

I was able to connect, sympathize, despise, and root for characters even after just reading one issue because of how much is character development is crammed into this story. The plot touches on multiple relationship problems, large and small, between Eli and Virginia, Adam and Jane and all variations of the couples. It’s a serious comic and a seriously good read.

I’d tip my hat to the Laphams (if I were wearing a hat) because being thrown into the middle of a comic is usually a hellish mess, but I felt comfortable and confident reading this comic. I couldn’t be more happy that the arc is finished, because that gives me some time to go catch up on years’ worth of Stray Bullets while anticipating the new arc come January.

-Michael Bettendorf

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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