Thee Comic Column #76: Stray Bullets: Killers

image courtesy of Image Comics

Anyone who reads this column regularly and has caught the two issues thus far of Drinking with Comics (number three coming next week!) has probably realized that I could talk about David Lapham’s Stray Bullets forever. So there is probably little surprise that the topic of this week’s piece is my reaction to the release of the long-awaited Stray Bullets #41 and the first issue of Stray Bullets: Killers. However, instead of just talking about the books what I thought I’d do is personalize this a bit and try to recreate in words just how much the release of these two books meant to me.

While it is true that due to a gentlemen named Barry who once owned the High Five Comic Shop in Palos Hills, IL I went home with Stray Bullets #1 pretty much the day it came out in 1995, #1 was not where I fell in love with this book. I’ll never forget reading that first issue. It was a bit of a disembodied experience for me, and with the body count being what it was I’ll admit I was a touch apprehensive about Stray Bullets at first. Would all of this blood and mayhem eventually add up to something more than just blood and mayhem? That first issue definitely affected me though, and it seemed to fit in quite nicely with the other books I had discovered around this time that were slowly pulling me out of the tired old super hero inertia I was stuck in so I tentatively added Stray Bullets to my pull list at the shop, right next to the likes of The Maxx, the then-fledgling Preacher and a bunch of post-Claremont X-books that I would finally disengage from within a year.

Then came issue two of Stray Bullets and I was in, penny or pound. Virginia Applejack’s story was and still is one of the most incredibly affecting stories I’ve ever read, and what the start of it in issue two says about where and who we are and how we get there, well, it still always conjures tears in my eyes.

My appreciation of Stray Bullets deepened with each issue. High Five, unfortunately, closed. I began getting my books from Amazing Fantasy Books and Comics, where Saturday became my comic day – a day that, while already an event for this reason became doubly so on a week where I found a new issue of Stray Bullets in my box. These were days where I’d come home, draw the blinds and sometimes even smoke a little pot before embarking on the new chapter. I’ve always maintained the marijuana is an amazing substance to ingest for cinema, and what David Lapham lays down issue after issue has always played more to my brain like a film than anything I’m actively reading, so it makes sense that these experiences resonated so powerfully with me. And it wasn’t just the inclusion of the drug. I’ve re-read Stray Bullets probably four times in its relative entirety, mostly sober or with maybe a pint or two of ale in one hand, and each time it is such an insight into the human experience that it just blows me away. Creativity on this level, in comics that stick to the logistics of the world we inhabit, they’re few and far between folks. And really, nothing else I’ve read in the medium in that arena has come close to this level of profundity.

And it was time to return to this now, after many years.

image courtesy of Image Comics

So this past Wednesday I clocked out at work and made it to The Comic Bug in record time to pick up my books. After a quick word with Drinking with Comics co-host Mike Wellman I hightailed it home, barely able to stave off the desire to just pull the hell over and blast through at least issue 41. But no dice on that. This was an event and I had been anticipating treating it as such. I was set to recreate those experiences from seventeen years or so ago with a quick puff and then, as I felt my focus tighten, I dove into  issue #41. Then Killers #1.

Then I read both of them again.

This was coming off a recent re-reading of the entire series where I did something a bit different. If you go here you’ll find a wonderful gentleman who has mapped out the entire Stray Bullets timeline up to #40. Being that the order in which Stray Bullets: HiJinks and Derring-Do was published jumps all over the place time and event wise, this was something that seemed well worth the effort, and boy was it. The story – or perhaps stories – of this first series of the book sprawl and connect but never fully revealed the structure of what was at work between each issue. Questions such as who is Harry? what exactly did Orson do to Monster? what kind of adventures or tragedies happened to Virginia on the road between Baltimore and Seaside and how is it that both she and Beth and her friends all ended up in this strange little town? seemed abbreviated in the out-of-sequence way in which the books were originally given to us to read, but after reading the entire series again in chronological order with the aid of this invaluable timeline the invisible interconnectedness of EVERYTHING the book  chronicles felt very close and important. Especially the one-off events of issue 20 where an enigmatic “mathematical code” Harry wishes decoded was introduced. #41 tied up much of the ongoing story we’d been left with eight years ago, one mere facet of this bigger, enigmatic picture. Again, I don’t want to venture into spoiler territory, but these new entries into the SB story were everything I hoped they would be and more. I never once thought they wouldn’t be, as these characters seem to live and breath in a way that Mr. Lapham probably doesn’t even always have an overt say in, but nonetheless, kudos to Mr. Lapham for delivering and doing so with some nice flourishes that made me both laugh and tear a bit. The outcome to the story with Hussey, Kevin, The Finger and Virginia was inevitable, but the manner in which it was executed was the definition of top notch, all the various lines of plot I’d expected and some I didn’t coalescing into a truly epic climax.

I sat there in awe of 41 and then picked up Killers, by the end of that issue realizing once again the sheer grandeur of not only the comic Mr. Lapham had created but the way in which he saw fit to disseminate it to us. See, because I’m inclined to think that Stray Bullets: Killers – which Lapham himself assures us on the final page is going to get better from here –  looks as though it might just go back and flesh things out a bit, offering us a very welcome chance to revisit some of the iconic characters of the original series that are no longer with us.

And now there’s a solicitation for Stray Bullets: Killers #2 coming out in April and all I can think is suddenly an old ritual has been restored and I’m going to have A LOT of event scheduling to do in the coming months.

Cool beans.

……………………..

Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

3 Responses to Thee Comic Column #76: Stray Bullets: Killers
  1. Josh Reply

    I’m about 30 issues in now, and looking for a timeline, but the Stray Bullets timeline is no longer up at that link–does anyone know where I can find one now? Thanks much!

    • Shawn C. Baker Reply

      Josh, below is a link to the stray bullets chronology – luckily I happened to download it when it was up at that link that’s now dead. This new link is to the document (it’s word) in my dropbox – you should be able to download it directly from there. Great series, right?

      https://www.dropbox.com/s/81n1wlrmnpiea2i/Stray%2BBullets%2BChronolgy.doc?dl=0

    • Shawn C. Baker Reply

      If you get this and it works let me know. If it doesn’t work, also let me know and I’ll figure out some other way to send it to you.
      Thanks for reading!

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