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.

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Color Special #2 closely parallels the introduction of the Amy Racecar character in Issue #6. Her stories completely disoriented me at first, because I didn't realize they were "comic book" fantasies, like a comic book within the comic book series that is Stray Bullets. Lapham just completely lets his imagination run wild. I bet he had a blast with the Amy stories.

And just like a little girl's (Virginia's) fantasy stories, they're not necessarily in continuity, even with each other. The Amy stories often flat out contradict each other. What does it mean that (a version of) Spanish Scott is Amy's love interest? (The other survivor from ARCS #2 looks a bit like Orson, but I'm not sure if that's who it's supposed to be.) What does it mean that he's usually killed or betrayed? How do the Amy stories reflect Virginia's own experiences?

I dunno, but it's something I think about.

Stray Bullets #21: "Little Love Tragedy" January 1984, Los Angeles

Benny & Janet are having dinner with Roger & Kathy. Before dinner Benny confesses to Roger about his fantasies about women, and how he sometimes wishes he was single again. Janet starts choking on some food. The event somehow triggers a bizarre series of events. Roger thinks Benny is moving in on Kathy, there's a fight...ultimately things spiral so far out of control that Benny kills Roger. While Benny is recovering in the hospital Janet dies of cancer. He finally makes love to Kathy...then snaps out of his daydream to find Janet still choking at the dinner table. Yet another Stray Bullets twist: the whole story was a fantasy sequence.

Stray Bullets #22: "Bring Home The Devil" March 1985, Los Angeles

Charlie's wife goes away on a trip, and he goes to a bar to try to hook up with a woman. On the second visit he plucks up his courage to talk to Beth. They wind up having a drunken all-night adventure. When they arrive home Charlie propositions Beth. She turns him down, then threatens to stick around and tell his wife. After playing with Charlie's emotions some more, she finally leaves. Ricky Fish is waiting for her in his car outside.

Stray Bullets #23: "The Secret Box"  October 22nd 1980, Baltimore

Finally back in Baltimore, only a few years past 1977, the beginning of the series timeline. Spanish Scott is involved, so things are bound to go south. While babysitting Joey he spots a guy who ratted on the group, and sticks Joey in the car trunk while he kills the rat. Later the victim's brother finds Scott while he is having sex with Janice, Joey's regular babysitter, and shoots her. He dumps her into the trunk with Joey. Then Scott attacks him with the car cigarette lighter and makes his escape in another car.

Stray Bullets #24: "Man or HU-man?" June 15th 1985, Los Angeles

Back in L.A., with a story that casually ties together several story lines. Beth meets Ian (the guy that Beth met by the river in Woodlake two years before) at a restaurant, along with Ricky Fish & Amelia, while Monster waits outside making sure no one leaves. Ian goes to get Virginia from Beth's apartment, but no one is home, and Blue Ed is waiting outside. Ian knocks Blue Ed out, and returns to the restaurant. Beth finally gets Monster to come inside, and convinces him to forget about Harry's missing money & coke. To be continued?

Stray Bullets #25: "Compulsion"  June 14th 1985, Los Angeles

A cop visits Virginia & Beth's apartment asking about Virginia's school attendance (she is apparently still going by "Amy"). She runs off, and since Beth is away she finds herself locked out. She meets a guy named Ron at the record store and spends a night at his place. The next day he takes her and her friend Bobby to see his apartment, and things take a dark turn. He "accidentally" shows Bobby a picture of a naked man and when Virginia and Bobby try to leave a fight ensues. Ron takes them both prisoner, and tells them they're never going home.

Stray Bullets #26: "Wild Strawberries Can't Be Broken or Don't Blame God Your Dog's Dead"

An Amy Racecar story, centering around Amy in therapy. Her mom appears (even though Amy claims to have killed her) threatens Amy, and tries to seduce the therapist. But there are also a number of references made to Virginia and Bobby's kidnapping, making this the first Amy Racecar story with a direct connection to the events of the series just before.

Stray Bullets #27: "Broken" October 1983 / August 1984 / February / June / July 1985, mostly Los Angeles

A recap of Beth & Virginia's history together, ending with Virginia missing and Beth blaming herself. It's the most emotional Beth has been in the series: she really has come to think of Virginia as her daughter. Beth and her friend Ian manage to learn something about the kidnapping, but it is Monster (who Beth had called to help) who concluded that Ron was the kidnapper. They go to Ron's house and find him dead. Bobby is there, but Virginia is nowhere to be found.

Stray Bullets #28: "The Prize" July 4th 1985, Los Angeles

Opens with Virginia escaping from Ron's house, pursued by Monster (upon reflection, this strongly implies that Monster murdered Ron). He captures her and hides her in his apartment. Beth has been denied bail. Ian gets her a lawyer, and tells her he loves her. Monster visits Beth and tells her he will return Virginia to her if she marries him. Ian's PI has found Monster's address: he breaks in as Virginia is trying to escape, and a huge fight ensues, in which Ian is clearly being severely beaten.

Stray Bullets #29: "The Notebook"  July 1985, Los Angeles

Roger and his partner read Ron's notebook, with the scripts for the plays he made Virginia & Bobby act out while they were kidnapped. They also have Virginia's diary that she kept in secret, where she details their torture & Bobby's rape. They find Monster's apartment: it's empty, but there's a lot of blood, matching Ian's. Beth marries Monster as promised. While he's eating wedding cake the police get impatient and raid the apartment. In the gunfight Blue Ed gets shot and Monster escapes. Ian's body is found in Malibu--another meaningless death left in Beth's wake. Roger finds Rose's apartment through phone records, and finally rescues Virginia.

Stray Bullets #30: "Happy Ending" May/June 1985, Los Angeles

A story about Virginia and Bobby McGraw just before the kidnapping. Bobby takes his father's gun and brings it to school to show off. It's taken from him, and Virginia manages to get it back. In the last scene Virginia & Bobby talk about the Amy Racecar comic, and Bobby draws his alter ego in the comic falling in love with Amy.

Stray Bullets #31: "Derring-Do!" September 3rd 1985, Baltimore

Virginia goes back to school in Baltimore--her runaway days are definitely over. She's been living with hoods and degenerates, so high school cliques don't stand a chance. She's a total badass, which repeatedly takes people by surprise.

Stray Bullets #32: "Shenanigans!" September 12th 1985, Baltimore

Begins with Dez Finger pulling a guy's finger off and killing him (his signature move). A kid named Lorry mocks Dez in a supermarket parking lot. Dez stalks him--scaring the kid half to death--and finally issues him a warning. He's not going to hurt the kid, but he says he has already hurt Lorry's father, and hands Lorry a small box.

Stray Bullets #33: "Donnybrook!" October 6th 1985, Baltimore

Virginia beats up one of the jocks, to join up with the burnouts. And she instigates a big fight at a party, which explains the title. She is definitely trouble: I'm looking forward to seeing what else she gets into.

Stray Bullets #34: "Higily-Pigily!" October 1984, New Jersey

Another high school story, with a group of characters I don't remember seeing before. Mike & Brian are friends who both play on the football team; Michelle & Dana are their girlfriends. There's a lot of drinking and sexual tension. The implied rape of Dana and murder of Brian by Mike Hussey are confirmed by Leon in issue #38.

Stray Bullets #35: "Bamboozled!" November 1985, Baltimore

High school football again, this time at Virginia's school, but the focus is on team members. Tony is dating Stephanie, who Kevin thinks he has claimed. He gets blackmail photos, forcing Tony to break up with Stephanie so he can go out with her.

Stray Bullets #36: "Monkey Business!" Early August 1985, Baltimore

Virginia has been home for three weeks, before she returns to school. Her mother still hates her, and she has a new boyfriend named Craig. Virginia finally decides Craig may be OK, but she still reveals Craig's infidelity to her mother--as part of her birthday present to her mom. This issue also features the return of Virginia's diary entries, something we haven't seen in awhile.

Yikes! I have fallen behind. I am a little over-extended on “reading projects” right now, and up until this weekend, I hadn’t read any Stray Bullets for two weeks. This weekend I read through #22. (The theme of all the stories in that volume was marital infidelity, if various forms.) I am now moving into a new phase in this reading project. All of the stories up to this point (#22) I have read three times: once upon initial publication, once when collected in hardcover, once for this reading project. From here on out, I have read each issue only once.

Sorry I picked up the pace on you! I realized I had enough time to read more than two issues at a sitting, and the interest, as well. Especially given the big events of the last several issues. When I first read the series I was reading the original TPB collections. Since I never got Vol. 7, issues #25–28 were new to me, as well as everything from issue #33 to the end. No wonder so many of this weekend's issues seemed unfamiliar! Looking back, I was really missing a climactic event by not reading Vol. 7 at the time.

"Sorry I picked up the pace on you!"

Don't apologize! I know: you've got to read what you want to read, when you're in the mood to read it. that's why I stopped hosting discussions for the most part, because I have to slow my reading pace to account for the discussion. I like to participate in other people's discussions, but again, it has to be something I'm in the mood to read at the time. I'm in the mood to read Stray Bullets now, and should be able to catch up with you soon.

I read issues #23-24 last night. I have nothing to add to your synopsis, but reading a chunk of stories together gives me a better sense of how the pieces fit together. I also keep the chronology from that web-site by my side, and I'm ticking them off the list as I read them, keeping in mind where they fall in the overall tapestry. I'm really looking forward to finish reading them in release order, then going back and read them in chronological order. I don't know yet if I'll do that back-to-back, immediately upon catching up to present. I'll have to see what kind of mood I'm in when I get to that point.

Lapham made a cryptic remark in one of his editorials about the final fate of Beth and Virginia, then he went on to say he always lies in his editorials.

All of which has me wondering: just whose body is in the trunk in issue #1?

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