Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition by David Lapham Review

Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition (the subtitle is German for “above all”) collects the first 41 issues of this amazing series. I’ve reviewed #1-29 as four separate volumes so this review is for #30-41 aka the fifth story arc, Hi-Jinks and Derring-Do. 

I want to get this out of the way at the top of the review because this is the only truly negative thing I will say about Stray Bullets and it’s entirely to do with the format, not the comics themselves which are near flawless: for the love of criminy, David and Maria Lapham, GET AN E-BOOK OPTION!! 

This paperback, which runs to nearly 1200 pages, is a fucking BEAST. It’s so heavy and unwieldy I can only really read it when I sit upright, leaning over the book with it balanced on my knee or on a desk – an uncomfortable position I don’t like holding for the duration of a book. I can’t sit back on my couch or lie on my bed or take it with me when I travel – I can’t take it anywhere really – like I would if I was reading it on my Kindle or iPad. 

As a result, I bought this edition the week before Christmas 2014 and I’ve only just finished it in April 2015. Had this been an ebook, I would’ve knocked this sucker out by Christmas Eve 2014 because the comics are so damn good! Yeesh. I love print too, and I’m not saying don’t bother with it, I’m just saying have an electronic edition as an option for Uber Alles. I would’ve paid the same price for an ebook edition as I did the print because Stray Bullets is worth it, whatever the format. C’mon guys, it’s the ‘90s. 

Ahh, that’s better. I’ve been holding in that complaint for over 4 months now! Onto the Hi-Jinks and Derring-Do. 

After the horrors of the last book, there’s a lighter coda to Amy and Bobby’s story in California as Amy rescues Bobby’s dad’s magnum from a group of older kids who nicked it off poor clueless Bobby. That final splash page is fantastic and kinda sweet too. It’s somewhat bittersweet though as it’s dated before their abduction and subsequent abuse. 

I can’t believe it’s taken me this many comics to realise something this obvious but Ginny, Virginia Applejack, Amy, and Amy Racecar are all one and the same person! The entire series has been about her life from when we see her outside a movie theatre showing Star Wars in 1977, watching Spanish Scott and Monster killing a dude in an alley, up to the final page (the Amy Racecar sequences are her imagination/comics she made with Bobby). 

It’s a helluva character portrait, sustained for so long from when the series began in the mid-90s to a couple years ago. If you’ve been following her adventures, it’s easy to see how she became such a hardened person, capable of literally fist-fighting with guys twice her size in the schoolyard. In a way Ginny’s become her heroic, rogueish alter-ego, Amy Racecar, by the end of the book. Bruce Wayne fought as viciously and he became Batman! 

The Hi-Jinks storyline is Amy’s return to life back east as Virginia Applejack, back to a mother who resents her, a sister who dislikes her, and a stepfather with a secret. She makes the acquaintance of a nerd who gets picked on, Leon, becomes his protector, and causes chaos amongst the jocks and burnout gangs at school. Along the way she continues her development as a burgeoning vigilante, helping out an innocent pair of lovers from an avaricious rival, and defeating a psychotic football player. We also meet another of Harry’s enforcers, The Finger, who embroils some of Amy’s rivals in a drug blackmail scheme. And, like in all of the Stray Bullets books, there’s an Amy Racecar story, this one placing her in the world of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai! 

I didn’t love the storyline here as much as I did others like Somewhere Out West and Dark Days. Part of that might be that this is the longest arc yet but also because the storyline isn’t as intense. It is exciting at times and still a fine book, but the schoolkids gone crazy story doesn’t measure up to the action we’ve seen from when the gangsters and the loonies get stirred up. Mike Hussey, the psychotic football player and Amy’s nemesis, wasn’t that great a villain either despite a promising start to his descent into madness. In the end it’s just a dumb teenager with a handgun, the image of which is a bit underwhelming, especially given the more powerful figures around him. 

I’d give Hi-Jinks and Derring-Do four stars, like Volume 3: Other People, partly for the reasons above, partly because it’s not as varied or imaginative as the other volumes have been, all of which are a solid five stars across the board. 

As for the series as a whole? Without question Stray Bullets is one of the best comics titles I’ve ever read, up there with Sin City, Scalped, Transmetropolitan, and Hellboy. David Lapham has created an extraordinary world of fascinating characters with simple black and white art on an eight panel grid. He’s an incredibly talented writer who writes convincingly realistic and white-hot dialogue, memorable and fully-fleshed out characters who get thrown into fast-paced, totally gripping storylines that run parallel to and intersect with each other in the most wonderful ways. They’re dark stories but are told in the most tasteful and compelling way. 

He’s also a brilliant artist capable of a wide-range of expression in his figures from their faces to their body language. And he knows precisely how to make the stories fit within the eight panel format – not a single panel is wasted and each one is used to effectively advance the plot. Quite simply, David Lapham is a born comics creator who can do everything to an enormously high artistic standard. 

I recommend Stray Bullets to all comics fans everywhere – but maybe wait for a more manageable edition/s to pick up the series, unless you’re into weight-training!

Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition

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