Friday, 14 November 2014

Stray Bullets, Volume 1: Innocence of Nihilism by David Lapham Review


It’s tricky to talk about Stray Bullets without acknowledging Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, which came out the year before Stray Bullets debuted in 1995. The clever dialogue, likeable criminal characters, and violent, interlocking stories must’ve felt derivative like the million Tarantino copycats that popped up in his wake. And yet Stray Bullets is its own thing. It shares only superficial similarities to Tarantino’s masterpiece and possesses notable differences to make it stand out separately. 

Innocence of Nihilism collects the first seven stories in the series. It opens in 1997 where a couple of lowlifes are looking for a spot to bury a body before things go to hell and they shoot up a diner. From that explosive beginning, we’re thrown back to 1977 where we meet Ginny, a young girl who witnesses a brutal murder in an alleyway. The stories then jump ahead to different years, 1980, 81, and 82, featuring new characters like Spanish Scott, a charismatic killer, and Orson, a high school kid whose entrance into adulthood is something of a shock. 

Pulp Fiction took place over a day or two while Stray Bullets is set over at least a couple decades. Also, while I admire Tarantino’s work, I don’t think he writes real characters – they always come off as cartoons, so that when something emotional happens to them, it never affects the viewer. With David Lapham’s stories, you do feel an emotional connection with some of the characters, especially with Ginny, who we see change after seeing the murder. 

Ginny’s mind begins to unravel, her relationship with her mother falls apart, she tries running away, she stabs a kid at school with a pen, and then we see her beloved father contract cancer. It’s a rich, powerful arc that makes me hope we see more of her in later volumes of the series. 

And then there’s Amy Racecar – if ever there’s a story in this collection to distance himself from Tarantino comparisons, it’s this character! Set in the 31st century, Amy meets God who tells her the truth behind human existence. She spends years in bed with this knowledge until a truth machine gets it out of her and the information brings down the world’s governments! Amy becomes the world’s greatest thief and most sought after woman - until she blows up the world! 

I suppose Amy’s criminal element ties her story thematically to the others, but otherwise what an unexpected and quite brilliant break in the book! In fact, all of the stories do away with expectations as they go on. Ginny’s second appearance, the Bonnie & Clyde story, where she decides to hitch a ride west and gets picked up by a pervy old dude makes you think, uh oh, she’s a 10 year old girl on her own and she’s gonna have to fight off a sicko’s advances; and then you read the ending which completely flips the story around! 

The characters are fully realised and fascinating, the stories are equally compelling, the artwork is very accomplished and expressive, and it all comes together perfectly as a whole in this book. Stray Bullets transcends its genre and comparisons to similar works to become an absolutely amazing and singular title with its own identity. I’d recommend this one to every adult comics reader, unless you’re sensitive to violence. 

Cool beans, David Lapham!

Stray Bullets Volume 1: Innocence of Nihilism

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