Sunday, 1 February 2015

Stray Bullets, Volume 3: Other People by David Lapham Review

David Lapham takes Stray Bullets in a less crime driven direction towards more romantic ground in Other People. Like the other two volumes, this book is made up of short stories, some of which are connected and some which are standalone. 

We catch up with the recurring characters Beth and Amy after their misadventures in the last volume. Beth is fooling around with various guys she picks up in bars while Amy, unable to live in an apartment where this is a regular occurrence, runs away to live in a friend’s basement, which ironically doesn’t prove to be much of an improvement! 

Elsewhere, Lapham introduces some new characters. There’s a man called Hank who accidentally murders someone which changes his personality to become completely uninhibited. There’s the drunken idiot Ricky Fish who passes out at his home one night, bringing along a cop called Roger he owes money to and who meets Ricky’s wife Kathy. 

The stories take in the problems relationships bring. Men cheating on their wives, wives cheating on their husbands; how one woman can destroy relationship after relationship by hooking up with men who take up her offer of no-strings sex; and how relationships begin when you’re least expecting and end when the same people change drastically over the years. 

As Beth says to the man who desperately wants to have an affair after being married to the same woman for years, “Learn a lesson: the risk is much higher than the reward… treat your wife a little better.” All of the characters in this book would do well to heed those words. 

This is also the book where Lapham reveals the secret behind the Amy Racecar stories. I’m sure more than a few readers at this point have been wondering what these bizarre stories of a futuristic thief blowing up the world has to do with the other down-to-earth stories of crooks, and it turns out to be a fairly mundane explanation. It’s a fine one though that slots that character and her stories perfectly into the rest of the Stray Bullets world, especially as the Amy Racecar story in this book is a reflection of the real world Amy’s recent experiences. 

That said, the noir-ish Amy Racecar short was the only part of this book I didn’t love wholeheartedly. I like noir as an idea but whenever I try reading one of those stories I always get bored extremely quickly. The noir approach is also why I couldn’t get very far into Lapham’s other book Murder Me Dead - turns out I just don’t like noir! The story does get funny and farcical towards the end but it’s just a style that doesn’t grab me at all. 

Besides that though I really enjoyed this book. Beth and Amy are both terrific female characters - strong-willed, clever, and wily to boot. I’m glad Lapham’s keeping them alive so we can read more of their lives. Monster is as terrifying a figure as ever - Harry’s hitman shows up to enact a kind of Biblical retribution upon a cheating professor in the book’s most exciting sequence, and the one closest to most Stray Bullets tales of gangsters and guns. 

I also really liked Kathy and Roger’s stories. We see how they meet in the earlier story with Ricky Fish and then later on we see that they’ve been married for years though the romance has soured and Roger has turned out to be a son of a bitch, beating Kathy. The way Lapham switches between characters, picking some up and continuing their story, leaving others behind, is fantastic - he’s building an amazing world with his ever-expanding cast and it’s extraordinary to see how he alters their lives, writing them just as convincingly at different ages and situations. 

Stray Bullets is beautifully written and drawn - Lapham generally uses an eight panel grid in black and white to tell his stories and you’ll not see an artist use this format as masterfully as he does. It’s also hella entertaining and fun, besides being true art - these are outstanding comics for grown-ups. While not as full of car chases and other action story tropes as previous books, this volume’s stories of complicated relationships is just as thrilling and compelling to read. Other People is a fine addition to a remarkable series.

Stray Bullets, Volume 3: Other People

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