(Image Comics / El Capitan, 2014)
Written, Drawn, & Lettered by David Lapham
David Lapham is one of the most versatile writers working in comicbooks today. His work runs the gamut from super hero stories to extremely poignant human drama but the one element that all of his writing has is common is great character development; perhaps best known for his Stray Bullets series or his substantial contribution to the Avatar schlock horror/porn series Crossed, Lapham has also brought his uniquely human narratives to some of the most iconic super heroes including a stint on Detective Comics in 2005-2006 at DC as well as quite a respectable resume at Marvel that boasts several X-Men mini-series, some Spider-Man work and an impressive assortment of stories featuring other A-List characters like the Punisher, Daredevil and Deadpool. Lapham is an accomplished artist; in fact many of his credits are as both writer and artist as is the case here with Stray Bullets: Killers. His gut-level approach to storytelling is reflected in his art; characteristically economic when it comes to detail, Lapham’s visuals are effective graphic portrayals of some of life’s less glamorous moments. His style, while it could appropriately be labeled cartooning, is much deeper than that estimation would convey. He distills life down to its core elements then renders those moments in the harsh uncompromising light of staunch reality, always capturing the essence of a particular moment with surgical accuracy. There is a level of enhancement as he fine tunes his intended visual statement through the lenses of sarcasm, dark humor and social commentary. Lapham is a clever conundrum, a modern renaissance man disguised as an everyman; he is that guy who always says what we wish we had said or even thought to say.
This issue of Stray Bullets: Killers is a poignant slice of low brow life; as is the format for the series, this story is told in one issue. Lapham packs more complex story into a single issue than most writers working today; each page is full of vitality and intelligence, a record of a life being lived like present day hieroglyphics these images mark the existence of being; although the characters may be fictitious they are no less alive. This story centers on Virginia Applejack and like most of Lapham’s narratives it is set in Maryland, this time Worcester County which is close to the tourist town of Ocean City, a popular summertime destination for Baltimoreans like me for time immemorial. Virginia is a troubled teen-aged girl who ends up in the sleepy town to visit her Aunt Jane, a likewise troubled spirit whose decaying marriage to a mentally unstable man who has stopped taking his prescribed medications is about to implode and catch everyone nearby in the fallout. Aunt Jane introduces Virginia to a local boy named Eli who helps her with her shopping and various errands. Eli lost his father as well as the bottom part of his leg in a terrible auto crash when he was younger; he and Virginia commiserate over lost fathers and eventually end up awkwardly fumbling over one another’s zippers the way that intoxicated teenagers will often do. The pair forms an odd sort of bond, partly romantic, partly adventuresome vandals and petty criminals. Eli becomes a source of stability in her transient life and when her mother and Aunt Jane decide that she should stay for a while, Virginia is openly ecstatic due in large part to the potential that exists inherently in the budding relationship with Eli. However, it wouldn’t be Stray Bullets if things were too shiny and happy, suffice to say her uncle’s decision to forego his medication plays a major part in the events that unfold and speed this narrative to its ultimate heart-rending conclusion.
This is perhaps not as bombastic as the first issue but it is certainly no less agonizing and poignant. Lapham is such an adept student of human nature that he can find the poetic beauty in the otherwise distressing. His stories are always so well paced that they pull you in, panel by panel the inertia builds and the story becomes this organic entity that progresses by its own volition, it’s organic, alive. There is a twisted kind of beauty that exists in Lapham’s narrative and the characters exude that kind of tragic poetry. The dialog is so authentic yet strangely ethereal at times like working class Shakespearean or Kerouac filtered through David Lynch.
I have been a huge fan of Stray Bullets since its first inception and have recommend it to countless acquaintances looking for a comicbook that is outside the super hero realm but no less engrossing and imaginative. Lapham offers us a glimpse into lives in turmoil or perhaps just a peek at the ramifications of an awful decision, whatever the case these narratives uniquely capture the human condition at its most vulnerable, these are tales of woe and loss or love unrequited. One thing is for sure Stray Bullets will stay with you long after you have read the final page and in the final analysis isn’t that the measure of a truly great story. If you missed the first run of this phenomenal series here’s your chance to have your heart broken in the very best way possible, vicariously. Don’t miss this issue or any that follow. (5/5)
Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.