I got hooked on David Lapham's crime noir series Stray Bullets the first time I picked up one of the original trade paperback collections. I kept picking them up periodically, but it was a long time before I got to read Vol. 1, and I never found a copy of Vol. 7. The original trades ended with Vol. 8 (at issue #32), which left issues #33-40 uncollected. Not only that, but issue #41, which ended the original run of the series, was delayed when the entire series went on hiatus.
The Über Alles Edition, which collects all of the issues from #1 - 41, fills in all the gaps. I was about to read the issues I missed, but realized that I had read some of the earlier collections out of order--and it had been a long time since I read the last one. So I'm starting from the beginning, and thought it might be interesting to record my impressions as I went.
Issue #1: The Look Of Love
An unbelievably brutal--and random--series opener. It's almost as if Lapham was challenging the reader: "can you handle this? It's going to be a rough ride." Two small-time hoods (apparently gophers for real hoodlums) are supposed to be disposing of a body. But they have a flat on the way to the lake, and things go downhill from there, in accelerating fashion. The pair keeps picking up witnesses, and since they can't afford to leave any witnesses, more and more people get killed, many of them completely innocent bystanders. One of them is pretty unstable, and he's fallen in love with the murdered woman they were transporting (hence the title)--so calling him unstable and unpredictable would be generous. There was no way things were going to end well.
Issue #2: Victimology
More than one story line in this issue. The opening scene introduces Spanish Scott, the killer who recurs throughout the series. He casually murders another hoodlum, which is witnessed by young Virginia Applejack, another recurring character. Ginny is an outsider at school. When she stabs a fellow student who was teasing her with a pencil, she sets a revenge plan into motion. While out trick-or-treating on Halloween night--in the ghost costume that has become one of the defining images of the series--she is ambushed by the boy and a group of her friends. They beat her severely and cut her face, leaving her dead or unconscious in the final panel.
One thing I had forgotten about the stories: they're long by contemporary standards. Most are around 30 pages long; Lapham allowed himself some leeway on page count. The individual issues included letter columns--not included in any of the collections--and some visual material, which was in earlier collections, but not in this omnibus. There was a photograph used for reference in drawing the ghost costume.
Issue #3: The Party is pretty much what the title says. A pair of lowlifes steal some money (after a failed jewelry store heist) and decide to use it to throw a party. Spanish Scott is there, and the first appearance of Monster, but all of the other characters are new. It ends in a cliffhanger of sorts; I don't remember if it ever gets resolved.
Issue #4: Bonnie And Clyde catches up with Virginia Applegate. She survived the Halloween attack (a year earlier) and has a facial scar to show for it. She's running away from home, hitchhiking. When an older man picks her up they become partners in crime. He tells her he's a thief/travelling salesman, and seems to be looking at her lecherously, but in the end he takes her home without incident. In fact he dons a campaign button and greets the press as they get out of the car. Strange. I'm still not sure how to explain the bag of cash he brings back from the supposed heist at a convenience store.
Great idea, Mark! I've had this book for a year and a half now, and haven't gotten very far with it. I'll try to read along! I've been meaning to reread this whole book before starting on the new Stray Bullets series, which I've been buying and setting aside for, what, 17 months now? Yikes.
Maybe the Congressman's cash was a political donation?
I thought about the political donation idea, too. Or maybe a kickback of some sort? He was acting like it was shady, but the whole thing seems to have been an act.
What a great idea for a discussion, Mark! I don’t recall how, exactly, I became interested in Stray Bullets. It wasn’t from the beginning, but it was near the beginning. I have all of the individual issues, plus I have three large hardcover collections. At one point I loaded all of the stories into a spreadsheet for the purpose of eventually reading the stories in alphabetical order, but I haven’t done so yet. I’ve been reading the new series since it returned, but I haven’t read the original series (the first 40/41 issues, I mean) in years. I’ve been thinking about it, but I never seem to be able to slot it in among my various other reading projects. Tell you what, though… I’ll follow along with this thread. You may just inspire me to re-read it along with you. I’m getting enthusiastic just thinking about it!
I was reading from the very beginning. In fact, my letter to CBG about the book was the first feedback David & Maria had seen from anyone they didn't know. They sent me a teeshirt in the mail as a thank you. Years later I saw them at a small-press convention in Maryland and I got a chance to thank them in person.
It might have been your letter (and others like it) that inspired me to give it a try.
Issue #5: Backin' Up The Truck begins with the title event A high school student witnesses the accident, which he eventually comes to realize was a murder (we see Spanish Scott briefly, driving the truck). An older woman on the scene befriends him, beginning a dance of seduction that plays out over the next several days. It culminates in a night of debauchery, and as the boy is making his way home he witnesses another pedestrian hit by a car! As the issue closes we see him attacking the driver, presumably venting his rage and confusion over the events of the past few days.
Issue #6: "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" or "The Rocket Ship Of Life Is Going My Way" or "Three Cheers For God - He's Certainly a Swell Guy" or "Home Is Where Mom Lives" or "I Don't Care, As Long As I Gots Me Space Munchies" or "Nothing From Nothing Was Something for Awhile" or "Where Are My Shades?" and on and on... introduces Amy Racecar, in exactly the disjointed, surreal fashion implied by the title. It's the craziest issue in the series so far, by a wide margin. It all hinges around Amy discovering that there is no god. Before she's done she kills her mom and lots of other random people, then starts a worldwide thermonuclear war. As the issue closes she has destroyed the planet and is escaping in a rocket ship. No, really.
Issue #7: Freedom! catches us up with Virginia Applegate. The title has to be ironic, because the story centers around Ginny's relationship with her parents. She and her mother can barely tolerate each other, but her father supports her and understands her uniqueness. Her father is a trucker who has been on the road a lot, but has decided to stay home and focus more on family life. In true Stray Bullets fashion, this means he's doomed: his medical condition rapidly declines from a stomach ulcer to terminal cancer. It's a heartbreaking issue. Low on the random violence, but high on real character moments.
Issue #8: Lucky To Have Her catches up with high school student Orson and Beth, the young woman he met right at the end of Issue #5. That issue looked pretty random, but here they are in their own feature. Orson has apparently embraced his dark side--which is referred to obliquely rather than shown, until he flips out at the very end--but now he and Beth are living in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere, keeping a low profile after stealing cocaine and cash from a gangster. By the end of the issue they have broken cover, so it seems likely we'll see them again after they hit the road.
I re-read the first six issues over the weekend, Mark, and I’ll catch up to you tonight. Since the title’s come back, the storytelling has been more linear, but one aspect of the series that attracted me to it in the first place was how it jumped backwards and forwards along the various characters’ timelines. The first issue, for example, takes place in “Summer 1997,” still in the future at the time of initial publication. Subsequent issues were set in 1977, 1980, 1987, 1981 and (?). I’m going to read these in release order this time, but next time I’ll read them in chronological order. Lapham has a strict timeline in place and sticks to it, releasing information in dribs and drabs, foreshadowing events and keeping characters (such as Harry) a mystery.
Does the Über Alles Edition contain the Amy Racercar color specials?
I keep meaning to look more closely at the dates--it should be possible to say how much time has elapsed between the two Orson stories, for example. No, the omnibus only contains the main series, just like the individual compilations (the table of contents mirrors the new trade paperbacks, so there are 5 groupings of stories). I've never read the Amy Racecar specials, so I would have welcomed them even in B&W.
Anyone trying to follow along gets a break this week to catch up. I'm going to Knoxville to cover the Big Ears Festival all weekend, so I probably won't be reading any comics.
I'll try to drop something in about the Amy Racecar specials at the appropriate spots.
The current Orson and Beth story (“Sunshine & Roses”) is set in 1981.