by David Lapham (Writer/Artist)
The Story: Pissing off a killer isn’t a good idea, even if he is a honest-to-god Star Wars fan.
The Review: Confession time: I have never read a single issue of Stray Bullets before. With the supposedly cult status of the series and its reputation to bring in solid done-in-one tales of criminality and violence, I had to take a chance with David Lapham’s supposed magnum opus. With the first issue of this new volume being released just as the Über Alles edition came out in stores, I figured it was the right time to try.
Right away, this is not a typical book, with Lapham tracing a very fine line between obscenity and normality that serves as the very basis of the book. Weaving moments of pure humanity and banality with a more perverse, yet fascinating approach to the more depraved aspects of people. The creator manage to makes this a story that is deceptively simple, yet at the same time warrant multiple readings to get the many points across for the readers.
Part of the charm is how he is able to present the more somber moments through the innocence and utter cluelessness of Eli, our point-of-view character that is also a kid about 10 years old. His curiosity, his small-time mischief and his sense of discovery, accompanied by his mistakes and his more natural traits makes for a certain detachment to what is happening that is quite refreshing, yet also disturbing in its own way. With the progress of his story set through his perceptions, yet not through his own conclusions, the readers get the satisfaction of connecting everything together until the finale, with the characters suffering the consequences of their actions with no one but the readers actually understanding exactly everything.
Still, despite Eli being a rather intricate and audacious lead character in terms of choice, Lapham also inhabits this issue with plenty of other fully-fledged souls, such as Spanish Scott, Ronnie, Eli’s dad and friends and a certain other number of others, making his tale a part of a world more than a tight vacuum where only certain characters are important. By letting the readers know about a certain back-story between most of the characters and letting them connect the dots, this results in the intrigue and the more criminal and horrific aspects to become even more striking and haunting.
Still, the actual horror that makes the story a much more memorable affair comes from the fact that it simply transcends the normality presented in the setting. The violence, sexuality and more adult moments in the book becomes that much more visible, with Eli focusing on them as he is fascinated by this strange new world. Making those moments an oddity; their results tend to be much more explosive in terms of effects as they clash with the ways things are shown throughout the issue.
Nevertheless, much of this effect is also due to Lapham’s art, who pulls it off as well as the writing. Preferring a black and white approach to a fully colorized one, the artist still manages to pull a lot of complexity in his characters and decors, thanks to a good handle on shadows and the illusion of light. With the more uneasy moments focusing more on darkness and the mundane being a bit brighter, the emotional impact of some scenes are carried very well thanks to this simplicity in design.
The very progression of events is also very notable in its quality, with Lapham not missing a beat due to his understanding of the medium. Letting his characters evolve slowly yet without being redundant in his angular approach, the art focuses on what is important at all times. With a good evolution of motion and a certain economy in detail, what is seen on the page is very much what’s important for the readers to know. There’s not much in terms of fluff, but that is more of a blessing than a curse here.
The choice of portrayal in terms of violence is also splendid here, with the artist either hiding it as a stylistic choice in some scenes or downright suggesting it instead. With a few notable exceptions, Eli becomes as much a help to the presentation and the tone of the issue to the art than he is to the writing.
Not everything is great, though, as Lapham does struggle sometimes with faces. With some expressions not matching very well what is said on the page and some that are just a bit jumbled and ugly, as a result some of the more intense moments aren’t the as powerful as they could be. Ronnie and Eli’s father are two good example of this, with some of their features being a bit unpolished and not exactly very pleasant to the eyes. They are supposed to be ugly, but some of their traits just end up looking wrong instead of appalling, which isn’t the effect I believe Lapham is trying to represent on the pages.
The Conclusion: Unrelenting, unapologetic and a bit perverse at times, this series pulls no stops, as Lapham is able to present a good balance between normal and obscene, resulting in a fascinating read on every front. It might not be for everybody, yet those looking for good crime and more horrific stories should be definitely pleased by Lapham’s return!
-Hugo Robberts Larivière