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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I haven't read any of Sunshine & Roses, because it hasn't been collected yet. I read an interview in which Lapham says it will run about 16 issues, probably collected in two volumes. I can see from the Wiki timeliine that they're both slotted into the established continuity from the original series. I can see why they're more linear: it could quickly get really confusing if he started jumping around in time. Keeping track of that might make my head explode! 

There's certainly plenty of room to explore. There's a completely unexplored ten-year gap between the end of Killers and Issue #1 of the original series.

We kind of know how Sunshine & Roses is going to end because we already know what happens next.

"There's a completely unexplored ten-year gap between the end of Killers and Issue #1 of the original series."

Not to mention the gap between 1997 and today. (When the series started, 1997 was still in the future.) I read S&R #15 last night. It will go at least two more issues because covers to #16-17 are shown on the Image website.

Hadn't thought about that: in 1995 the series timeline ended only two years in the future. So lots of possibilities.

I'm eight issues into Sunshine & Roses. I know you said you weren't going to read it until it's collected, but are you going to proceed with Killers?

Yes, I've finally got time this weekend to give it the attention it deserves. I'll post some impressions on this thread, since we've got some momentum!

I read this for the first time about a year ago, and posted about it on the board and in my blog. This was before I reread the earlier issues, so I thought I'd repost it here. I read #1-5 today, so I'll return to this thread tomorrow after I've finished the whole collection.

Stray Bullets Vol. 6 – Killers

David Lapham

Image Comics

The original run of Stray Bullets ended in 2005. When David Lapham decided to bring it back in 2014 he chose to publish the new issues as a series of titled miniseries--but the collections are numbered consecutively from the beginning. That's how this new eight-issue miniseries came to be collected as Volume Six. The good news is, Lapham has not lost a step. These stories have all the twisted glory the originals had. This is a unique voice in noir fiction, a dark look into frequently desperate, violent lives. Black and white art has never been more appropriate.

Over time the series developed a group of recurring characters, a few of which reappear here. Seeing Virginia Applejack, Spanish Scott, and Amy Racecar again has a nice resonance for returning fans. But it really is true that this series is completely new-reader friendly. You don't have to know any of the character's histories to follow the action.

The first issue is set in 1978 and features Spanish Scott being his usual charming, ruthless self. But it also introduces Eli as a boy, and shows how meeting Scott affects his life. The focus of most of the rest of the series is on Eli's budding relationship with Virginia in 1986. Virginia meets Eli after her time in Baltimore: the gangsters she met there come to dominate the rest of the story. 

There is one interlude in the story arc. Issue Five features the return of Amy Racecar. As usual her story has an unreal, hallucinogenic quality. She's like a real-world superhero, performing superhuman feats. In this story she decides to leave violence behind, but passes her skills along to her lover. And Spanish Scott appears in the role of bounty hunter Jack Rum.

Eli and Virginia fall in love, but the relationship is anything but smooth. Getting in the middle of a gang war would be complicated for any couple. They break up, get back together, break up again...and then survive an attack by professional hit men, but the final status of their relationship is unclear at the end. Knowing Stray Bullets, I'm sure we'll see them again.

I must have remembered a good bit of the original series when I read this last year, because I only have a few additional observations:

  • Nice bit of misdirection in the first issue. We already know Spanish Scott, so it's natural to focus on his role in it. But it's really Eli's "origin story."
  • Virginia (who is 16 at this point) got sexually active pretty quickly, at least in-story. She slept with Leon in the final issue of the series, and has sex with Eli several times in Killers.
  • As always the Amy Racecar story shows Virginia coping with things in her life, in this case falling in love for the first time.
  • There's a brief update on Beth, in a conversation between Virginia and Marisol. Beth is still in prison, and is making trouble (as usual), which may hurt her chances for parole.
  • Lapham's notes at the end make it clear how hard it was to get back to his Stray Bullets voice after years of freelance work. None of the initial struggle shows in the final product. He also credits his wife Maria with a much more active creative role than editing would imply. In fact she is credited with "Produced and Edited By," and shares the copyright.

In the monthly issues, too, he commented on how many pages he threw away in comparison to final pages (and he made clear that the practice pages were, in fact, destroyed). I’m thinking of updating my Stray Bullets timeline ExCel sheet to include characters as well. I’m no longer so certain Virginia is the “hero” of Stray Bullets. I think she dominates the parts she’s in, but she’s not really a part of “Sunshine & Roses” at all. Or is she? “Li’l B” replaces Amy Racecar (for the most part), but there is some overlap as you will see. The “Li’l B and Boris” sections are obviously done in the same style as Virginia’s “Amy Racecar” stories, yet Virginia was not present at the time of the events the stories are based on. Beth must have told Virginia quite a bit of her and Orson’s backstory.

There are some rejected pages reproduced in Lapham's end notes to the TPB--some rougher than others. At one point he mentions wishing he had made a scan of one of the pages before revising it. But there definitely were some surviving first drafts.

I caught up to present with Sunshine & Roses last night. No spoilers because I know you're not there yet, but I remarked earlier in this discussion that the storyline is a little anticlimactic because we already know how it ends. That is not true! David Lapham still manages to throw in a twist (that he has yet to fully resolve as of issue #16).

Finally got copies of these, and read them over the weekend. Good summaries! They were just what you promised. I thought Lapham changed his style a bit for these--the rendering was even simpler than usual to leave space for Sarah Dyer's colors. I would love to have a copy of the limited edition poster offered at the back of Color Special #2.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

As promised…

Amy Racecar Color Special #1 - Opens with Congressional hearings led by Senator Bob Montgomery into the crimes of Amy Racecar. Amy escapes and flees to Hawaii with her gang. One of them, Jack Rum, is a dead ringer for Spanish Scott. Montgomery, now President, offers a huge reward, sending her fans, some Amish people, and even members of her own gang against her. Jack Rum is killed in the crossfire, and Amy jumps aboard a rocketship bound for Pluto. Amy Racecar “herself” handles the letters page.

Amy Racecar Color Special #2 - An alternate version of how she came to leave Earth. In this version, she breaks away from the President’s custody in the Oval Office, and steals escape ship which was to have taken him to the Moon in case of nuclear war. But it’s a trap! The real destination is Pluto. Leaving Jack Rum behind, the launch of the ship triggers a nuclear war anyway, and Earth is destroyed.

She soon encounters “Space Dog,” a little terrier in a spacesuit with a “Magic 8 Ball” in its abdomen, frozen in space. Because Space Dog appears to “answer” her, she doesn’t quite grasp that the dog is dead. She has to untether her safety line to retrieve him, though, and ends up being frozen in space for 500 years.

Her body is discovered by the remainder of Earth’s population, now built up to 11. She kills 10 of them, and she and the lone survivor drift to the remains of Earth, now a tiny asteroid with a 7-Eleven on one side, and a little volcano on the other. They divide the asteroid in two, each keeping to their own half.

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