• Stray Bullets Volume Six: Killers

    Stray Bullets Volume Six: Killers
    Released by: Image Comics
    Released on: January 14th, 2015.
    Purchase From Amazon

    David Lapham’s fantastic crime comic Stray Bullets vanished from racks back in 2007 but proving that good things really do come to those who wait, Image Comics has brought the series back. Not only are they offering up a collected edition of what came before, but they’re publishing some all new material, written and illustrated by Lapham, in the form of Stray Bullets Killers.

    The story begins in 1978 and takes place in a strip club outside of Baltimore. Here a boy named Steven watches his babysitter give an older man a lap dance. Cut to two days later and some of Steven’s friends are retelling the story in a backyard. They talk, as boys are apt to do, about boobs and their collective experience, or lack thereof, in touching them. One of the boys, Eli, shows off some drawings he’s done and the rest of the boys are so impressed they ask him to do drawings for them. He agrees, but then has to run off to watch his baby sister. And he does, until his dad isn’t paying attention, at which point he hides in the car and winds up sneaking his way into the nudie bar where his dad gets a private dance.

    Meanwhile, another of the bar’s patrons, a man named Scottie, tells a working girl named Caroline to lay off the coke. Seems she’s been needing a little something extra to make it through the night and still try to get to school, but she’s failing. Eli realizes this is his friend Andy’s hot sister. The club owner, Lonnie, sends Caroline back to work. Lonnie mentions gun running to Scottie while Eli’s dad quickly realizes that he knows Caroline, and that he knows her dad. He leaves the club in a panic, Eli still hiding at the bar and his baby sister home unattended. As he flees, he’s snagged by Ronnie, the guy Scottie and Lonnie left working security outside. Scottie drives him home and Eli tells him how he made it into the club in the first place but before Scottie can get him home, he tells Eli to look at the ground and cover his eyes. Gunfire erupts and people wind up dead. Scottie drops Eli off like nothing happened and Eli manages to fool his dad into thinking he’s been home all night.

    The next day Eli tells one of the other boys, Barry, that he say his sister Caroline at the strip club. Barry responds by beating him up and calling him a liar and a faggot. Eli heads inside and busts his dad on the phone to Caroline, after which he tells him he has to go take care of a sales call. Eli knows where he really went and when dad comes home late at night and asks him to come downstairs and watch Star Trek with him, the boy declines. He’s scared of his old man. He’s seeing something in him he’s not used to seeing in him and he knows he’s spending a lot of time in the back room with strippers while his mom is working the night shift. And then Caroline winds up dead…

    From there we go back in time to Maryland in 1986 where Virginia shows up on the door step of her Aunt Jane. The make some potato salad and Jane notes how thin Virginia is looking. This inspires the younger woman to tell that there’s ‘a funny story about that’ but they don’t go there, they instead talk about Virginia’s mom and how she’s not been doing so well since her husband, Jane’s brother, passed away. Jane wants to call Virginia’s mom, as no one has seen the younger woman in a while, but Virginia protests. She has a bath and the two call it a night, but Uncle Jack is nowhere to be seen. Jane tells Virginia he’s in the garage working late, but that night when the sun goes down Virginia sleeps under the bed, not on it. Something is wrong. Virginia looks out the window and hears Jane and Jack fighting about something in the garage. She climbs down the window and sees Jack watching TV in a trance like state.

    The next morning Jane makes Virginia a nice breakfast but they don’t really talk, at least not about whatever it was that Virginia witnessed that night. Before they can go there a young man named Eli from the neighborhood shows up, he’s to pick something up for his mother. Jane basically forces Eli to take her niece to the boardwalk to show her a good time, and we learn that Eli has a prosthetic leg thanks to a car accident some time ago, an accident that took his father’s life. The two get to know one another and she coaxes him into breaking into a nearby arcade. Since she’s been on her own it seems she does stuff like this a lot and we learn that she once knew a guy who pulled people’s fingers off for a living. That night they go home and Virginia spies her aunt, in bed alone sans Uncle Jack, moaning in her sleep and calling Eli’s name. Jack’s awake though, and he’s spying in on Virginia through the window. Morning comes and Virginia hands out with Eli and some friends. The friend makes a crack and she pulls a knife but Eli talks her down. Virginia and Eli drop the others off and go hang out alone with a bottle of rum. He shows her his leg, an act of tenderness in a strange way, and so it goes. One thing leads to another. Young love. Eli opens up about what he knows about her aunt and uncle and Virginia, with the best of intentions, decides to do something about their situation.

    Kick back to Baltimore in September 1986 where Virginia sits on the couch in an apartment living room while a couple, Dez Finger and a woman named Marisol, are having a fight. She’s just found out that not only is he married but he’s got three kids. They work together, she’s ‘the Pete in Pete’s Electronics. We specialize in selling shit that falls off trucks.’ Here we learn a bit more about Virginia in that it turns out Marisol took her in when she found her on the street. Before Finger takes off, he talks Virginia into babysitting for him.

    Later that night he picks Virginia up and lets her in on his ulterior motive. He’s been running around on his wife, Pam, for some time now and hasn’t seen her in three months. When he takes her out for the night Virginia is to snoop around the house and find where Pam keeps the emergency cash. So Dez and his dim witted wife, who really seems oblivious to the lie she’s living, head out for the night while Virginia skulks around the house only to find the youngest kids, Lee Lee and Desmond, playing ‘Super Finger’ with a doll and a G.I. Joe – it’s a pretty twisted game, pretty heavy on the sex and violence for kids that age, they’ve obviously picked up on their dad’s personality. Virginia distracts the kids with cookies and cartoons and starts to snoop around only to find the oldest of the three kids, Bev, in her room smoking weed and playing with a lighter. Virginia introduces herself and Bev promptly accuses her of fucking her father.

    When the phone rings and it’s Dez, he tells Virginia that the stash is in cash and that he knows she could find it, keep it and not tell him but that he wouldn’t want her to do that, because killing kids is never fun. This puts a bit of fear into the babysitter who gets the younger kids to help out, unwittingly at least, by watching them put their toys in their favorite hiding spot. Bev, however, is older and smarter and well aware of what Virginia is up to and not afraid to call her on it. The phone rings again, Dez is getting impatient and Virginia knows she could be in serious trouble but there’s more to all of this than she realizes. She’s a smart kid though, and when she finds out about two unmentioned little surprises in the house, she puts two and two together. And then the phone rings again, Dez tells Virginia that Marisol is on the way… and, well… no spoilers.

    The story brings us back to Sandcastle, Maryland in December of 1986. When the issue begins, Virginia and her new pal Eli are in his car fooling around. Just as things are starting to get hot and heavy, a cop shows up and makes them move along. They do, but the yearning is still there. In an effort to find a private spot to get it on, they wind up going to a certain beach house owned by a certain gangster with a penchant for pulling peoples’ fingers off. She heads inside to make sure everything is copacetic, and he heads off to buy some condoms, a simple task that, for many of us, Eli included, proves to be harder than it looks.

    When he chickens out at the corner store, he heads to a diner where he knows there’s a vending machine. When he plunks the coins in and gets the rubber, everything looks good to go until his cousin Adam comes in. He wants to show his girlfriend Eli’s fake leg and it Eli won’t go along with it, well, his mom just might find out what her son has been up to this fine winter evening. This obviously delays Eli’s plan but soon enough he makes it back to the house. Virginia is pissed off that he took so long, and he can’t be bothered to explain what happened because he’s understandably embarrassed by it, but they’ve now found the privacy they longed for and Adam was cool enough to give Eli a spliff to enjoy with his girl. They screw, and then they talk, and then Virginia offers to show Eli the gun. Since she babysat Fingers’ kids for two weeks, she knows her way around the place. They talk some more, their relationship is getting more serious, and Eli uses that second condom. When he goes home, his mom sits him down and has a talk with him. It seems Adam’s got a bigger mouth than Eli thought. Things get weird with mom when Eli leaves his little sister at home with Virginia there to watch her so that he can go pick mom up from work. It gets ugly, but the kid finds his backbone to be sure. Eli and Virginia go hide out at the beach house as long as they can.

    From here, fairy tale style narration tells the story of a blind and limbless young man whose father passed and who lived with his mother, a horrendous woman who made him try to scrub the floors, a sponge in his mouth. His name was Gil and the only peace he found in life was when his mother stuffed him up the chimney like a human pipe cleaner. It was here that he would be afforded a few fleeting moments of privacy that he would use to pray in hopes of finding someone who would love him and take him away from this shitty life.

    Three planets away, Amy Racecar is in the middle of an epic shootout with the cops. She swiped forty million from a bank and blew the place up on her way out. Amy’s anti-establishment tactics have made her a folk hero lately. While this is being covered on the news, Amy shows up at the home of William Williams, her former partner in crime and now the man in charge of bringing her to justice. She’s come to tell him that she quits, she’s giving it all up and doesn’t want to kill anymore – and she does, but she reads in the newspaper six months later that bounty hunter Jack Rum is on the lookout for her and so she bails, heads to the coast where no one will know her. Here she sees limbless Gil try to drown himself in the surf but she saves him before he can finish the job. She tells him she loves him and he tells her how he came to be in the state he’s in. Together, they go to see his mother. Predictably, it does not go well and they wind up on the run together, but Amy can’t kill anymore and Gil has no limbs. Whatever shall they do and what part in all of this is Amy’s mother going to play?

    From there it’s once again to the Maryland coast in 1987. It’s April and the Atlantic Ocean is cold but that’s not stopping Virginia and Eli from playing in the surf. Virginia’s relationship with her Aunt Jane is still understandably strained since her insane uncle killed himself, an act she feels responsible for. Given that the last time she came to visit her aunt, when she was eleven, her cousin Michael died Virginia has difficulty reconciling things. And who can blame her, that’s a lot to think on, especially for a confused teenager.

    They head back to the house to find the mail has arrived and that Eli has been accepted to art school in Baltimore. As Eli cleans up so they can go out and celebrate, Virginia tells Jane a story about Michael relating to Eli’s art teacher, Paul, a ‘mean’ man with an interest in building model ships. They cry over some things, hug it out, and then the young lovebirds head out for dinner only to get harassed once again by Adam, who covertly slips something into Virginia’s drink. Adam and his cronies take off but when Virginia and Eli walk back to the car, she starts feeling funny and acting it too. They head to Paul’s house, a small home packed with ‘stuff’ – not too far off from something you’d see on a reality show about hoarders. Paul starts offering up the kind of advice that teachers tend to offer up but Virginia really wants to see the model ship Paul built that her late cousin Michael liked. He obliges her but whatever it is that was in her drink kicks in, she hallucinates and then uncovers something that triggers a repressed memory… after which the two of them decide to find out what exactly is in that room in Paul’s house that he won’t ever open for anyone.

    Cut to a baseball game in 1987, our two young love birds, Virginia and Eli, are having a good time attending, the latter still reeling from his acceptance to art school. As he ‘dorks out’ about school, Virginia does the same over the game. Her father was an Oriels fan. They drive home through a bad neighborhood and talk about their respective parents. The park the car and head into Pete’s Electronics so that Virginia can catch up with Marisol and introduce her to Eli. Since Eli’s going to school, Virginia wants to crash with her for a while but Marisol says she can’t, Dez is still causing problems and Harry left her with a mess to deal with. She’s carrying a gun because of it.

    Eli and Virginia go outside to talk, he’s not impressed and he wants her to distance herself from these criminals. They argue. Eli has a point but Virginia isn’t one to bend easily, even if as Eli points out, Marisol carries a gun and deals drugs out of the back of an electronics store. When gun shots erupt, a person on the street opening fire, and a bystander is shot in the face Marisol fires back but she and her ‘co-worker’ Dicky are shot. Viriginia and the guy behind the counter start carrying what they can out of the store to Eli’s car while Eli freaks out, cop sirens getting closer. They take off in a car with a bullet hole in the windshield and a trunk full of drugs. As they drive, they talk, and Eli decides he’s going to ditch art school and they two of them are going to go to the shore and get away from Virginia’s criminal ties. Not surprisingly, she protests, but only about him not going to school. She wants to tell Marisol’s sister and Dez what happened, he protests this time but she talks him into it. They hit Dez’s place and his wife thinks she’s there to babysit, just like she used to but once she talks to Dez and tells him what happened… yeah, the shit really does hit the fan.

    As things wrap up, young love birds Eli and Virginia had reunited with some of the criminal element from Virginia’s past with dire results. People got shot and they wound up at Dez’s house where he assumed she was arriving to babysit. Dez tells Virginia that ‘this shit with Kretchmeyer’s just getting started’ and tells her to get out while she still can and to take Eli with her.

    Flashback to the beach house at Ocean City three weeks later and Virginia is upset, missing her boyfriend and still fearing for her life. She sees a car outside and knows she’s being watched so she flees. The next day Eli is practicing what he’s going to say to Virginia, obviously planning to take her back, but his obnoxious cousin Adam shows up and insists on taking him out to take his mind off of things. They talk and Eli tells him about his art school plans and Adam, flush with cash, hands Eli a thousand dollars. No strings attached, until Adam tells Eli he wants him to take his girlfriend Jane to the doctor’s because she’s pregnant. And by doctor, Adam means an abortion clinic. Begrudgingly, and without much of a choice after accepting the money, Eli agrees. Adam throws Jane in the back of the car, hands Eli a map and takes off but then hops in another car with a friend and covertly follows them. When Eli realizes how scared she is, he tries to stall but a confrontation with Adam goes bad quickly. They force Eli to take her, holding his leg hostage.

    Meanwhile, Virginia is back with her Aunt Jane. When Adam realizes Eli and Jane have split, he heads to Virginia to find out what she knows. She tells him the truth – he’s not there. Adam splits but Virginia knows there’s trouble brewing. Eli and Jane, meanwhile, hold up at Dez’s beach house, the same one that Virginia just split from with the gun. They talk, one things leads to another and they screw on the couch completely unaware that they’re being watched by two of Kretchmeyer’s thugs, Kobby and Blue Ed, who mistake Jane for Dez’s daughter. They move in on the house, just as Virginia shows up…

    The eighth issue concludes the Killers story arc but the into to the letters pages from Lapham lets us rest assured that there’s more Stray Bullets coming in January in the form of Sunshine And Roses. And that’s a very good thing because the way that this issue ends… damn. If you thought it hit the fan in issue #7, this one turns up the heat in a big way and it ends on one Hell of a cliffhanger.

    Stray Bullets is anything but an average comic. Lapham’s multi-layered crime epic is so well written and so rewards those with good attention to detail that there’s really nothing else like it out there on the racks these days. Eli and Virginia were and remain the focus but some of these fascinating supporting players are suddenly much more important than they were and you can’t help but wonder how he’ll explore their stories in the next arc. Until then, enjoy having your fucking mind blown by the big finish that Lapham goes for here. The artwork continues to be perfect. The dialogue all too real but not without its trademark black humor. The main characters a mix of genuinely bad ass and loveable white trash assholes that could very well live right next door to you. Awww…. Stray Bullets. There’s nothing else out there like it.

    This TPB edition includes not only all eight issues from the run but some extras too, starting with ‘Stray Bullets: Killers – A Look Behind The Rose Colored, Chocolate-Flavored Iron Curtain…’ which Lapham describes as “a little bit of show-and-tell about the making of Killers, how Maria and I collaborate together and how that makes Stray Bullets ...well...Stray Bullets.” This is a really interesting mix of text and illustration in which they describe the understandable hesitation in bringing the series back after its lengthy absence. Additionally they how they worked together to make this happen, you really get a sense for the team work that goes into the series at this point. Some great rough illustrations are on hand to compliment things and all in all this is just a really interesting glimpse into their collective creative process. This is followed by some rough outlines, showing how the panels are laid out before the pencils are finished and then inked. Though the always interesting letters columns aren’t included in this TPB, the additional material is definitely a nice bonus.

    With this run David Lapham and wife Maria have crafted with the PERFECT comic book. If you skip this series for whatever reason, you're a fool. Do not miss this – especially now that it’s been collected into one handy TPB. Everyone should be reading Stray Bullets because of storylines like this one.