Friday, 17 April 2015

Stray Bullets, Volume 6: Killers by David Lapham Review

David Lapham put Stray Bullets on hold in 2005 after the 40th issue and went to work on several work-for-hire properties over at Marvel, DC, and Avatar. These 40 issues, including the 41st which rounds out the fifth arc Hi-Jinks and Derring-Do, can be read in the massive omnibus Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition. 

Then in 2014, after a 9 year break, Lapham returned with a new sixth arc: Killers. In his afterword to this book, Lapham aptly makes the analogy that it’s like a band you loved breaking up and then reforming years later - will the magic still be there? For him the answer was simple: yes. But it’s an apt analogy because reformed bands NEVER surpass their earlier glory days and, sadly, the same goes for Stray Bullets. 

Killers opens with a new character, Eli, who’ll become central to this arc. He sees something he shouldn’t at a strip club after he secretly follows his dad there followed by bad things involving the vicious enforcer, Spanish Scott (the guy on the cover). The second chapter picks up 8 years later with Virginia Applejack/Ginny/Amy and she and Eli have a teen romance while gangsters pop in and out of the story. More bad things happen and that’s about it. 

Part of why Killers didn’t do as much for me as the other books is because Lapham’s seemingly given up juggling storylines. He used to have one issue which was Amy, another issue which was someone else, another issue with someone else, and so on, meshing the various characters’ stories effortlessly with one another. Besides being really impressive and exciting to read, the variety kept each storyline fresh and vibrant. 

Here, it’s just Amy and Eli the whole time for eight issues. They have fun discovering sex, they smoke cigarettes and drink booze, hide out from adults, fight, argue, screw, break up, make up; in other words, they’re your average teen couple. Stray Bullets’ stories - regardless of who they were about - always used to be interesting but here, seeing Amy and Eli’s courtship… not so much. An issue or two maybe but eight? That’s too many. Also Eli isn’t nearly as fun a character as Amy - he’s a buzzkill throughout. 

I still enjoyed parts of it - going back to the band analogy, there’s usually a song or two on the new record that has the same old magic - like the intense action, when there was some. Lapham knows how to choreograph a comic book gunfight like no one else. And I like that he’s as enigmatic a storyteller as ever. We never really find out the reasons behind Eli’s dad’s demise - there’s hints at a couple of answers but it’s left wide open, and I like that kind of approach. Amy too remains a delight and the sequence where she has to babysit the mobster’s kids and find his stolen loot before he comes back and takes her fingers was the highlight of the book. 

Unfortunately for the first time I found myself bored while reading a Stray Bullets book. A couple of storylines don’t feel like they go anywhere or have any real purpose in the arc. Amy’s uncle and aunt are catatonic and falling apart because their son died, and the ending is as bleak as you’d expect. Then later Amy and Eli visit Eli’s high school art teacher whom Amy’s convinced abducted and killed a young boy years ago. There’s no payoff to these storylines nor do they enrich the Stray Bullets world, they’re just there seemingly to fill space. 

It’s really disappointing to say this because I really love Stray Bullets but, at eight issues, Killers feels overlong by half without much of an interesting arc to it. Of the six books in the series it’s definitely the weakest one yet and the only volume in the series that I’d say felt mediocre. I’m still glad Lapham’s back and I’m hoping the next book will be better - Killers perhaps being a means of shaking off the cobwebs - though even if Stray Bullets remains just ok from here on out, at least we still have those first five books.

Stray Bullets, Volume 6: Killers

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