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 #9: Twenty-Eight Guys Named Nick involves Orson and Beth, in that they both appear, and it's set in the town with the trailer park they've been hiding out in. But the focal character is a guy named Nick, an erratic loser with a vivid fantasy life. It's hard to tell what's real from what he is imagining. Re: our discussion of the series timeline, it turns out someone has already created one:
The entire timeline actually starts with Issue #2.
Issue #10: Here Comes the Circus is an Amy Racecar story. So as usual it's hard to know how much of it is real: it all seems so surreal that it's hard to believe in the reality of any of it. There's a connection with the previous story, because she takes up residence in the same small town where Orson and Beth have been living.
Issue #11: The Supportive Friend is again set "Somewhere in the West," near the town where Orson and Beth have gone to ground. This story takes place at a nearby lake, where Beth and Nina have gone to get back to nature and have a picnic. Beth really is trying to be a supportive friend, but Nina is behaving very erratically. Beth meets a famous actress and her entourage, and remains faithful to Orson--not what might have been expected of her.
Issue #12 : Hugs, Not Drugs or Hugs on Drugs takes place back at Seaside, the bizarre desert town where Beth and Orson are staying. We finally discover the meaning of the town's name and the boardwalk they have constructed: the town believes there will be a cataclysmic earthquake which will place the town on the new coast. A county fair is taking place, complete with rides, five-legged cows, and pie baking contests. The cast includes all of the strange characters seen in previous installments, including the sheriff and Nick.
Issue #13: Farewell, Fair Cow!
Issue #14: You've Come A Long Way, Baby
A pair of issues continuing the Seaside saga. Issue #14 is double-sized, and seems to wrap up that story line. In typical Stray Bullets irony, Beth and Orson have just decided to move on, thinking the heat must have died down--so naturally Spanish Scott and Monster show up, demanding the return of Harry's cocaine. Interrogation and violence follow. In the end it appears that Spanish Scott and Orson may both be dead. Beth goes to the bus station to get out of town, and finds Virginia Applejack asleep on a bench.
Stray Bullets #15: "Sex and Violence, Part 1" finds Beth and Virginia living together in Los Angeles. It's March, 1984 (the big Seaside climax took place in October, 1983). Virginia is the main focus. She runs away from home, disgusted by Beth's relationship with a business associate named Ricky Fish. She winds up hiding in a basement in a house owned by a couple with a rough, S&M-tinged relationship. Beth swoops in and rescues her, having been tipped off by Virginia's friend Bobby (a cartoonist who draws Virginia's character Amy Racecar).
Stray Bullets #16: "Two-Week Vacation" is also set in L.A. It's February,1983, and a new character named Hank gets a new beginning after accidentally killing a man in self-defense (and getting away with it). In renouncing his former cowardly ways he indulges himself with prostitutes and affairs. Just as he's about to leave his wife his mistress breaks up with him, which seems to cause a personality reset. An odd little character study. I don't remember if we see Hank again, but it seems likely, given how Stray Bullets rolls.
Another thing: I think Issue #13 marks the first appearance of Virginia's diary entries (they're presented in little handwritten excerpts on lined paper). Virginia's diary says she is 13 years old in the issue, and that she's been on the road for 5 months when she arrives in Seaside. Issue #15 also has extensive diary entries, which give a lot of insight into the interior life that gave rise to the Amy Racecar character. It's big time wish-fulfillment for a young women who has had a rough life, and hasn't felt like she had any control over her own destiny.
Hey, Mark. Just wanted to let you know I’m still with you. I had been getting a bit ahead of you so I slowed down, but then I didn’t see your entries on #9-12 until last Friday. The last one I read was #17, so I’m only one ahead of you now.
Thanks for posing that timeline! I really appreciate it, but here’s a caveat: don’t read it too closely. I’m really not reading it at all (not the plot summaries, anyway), just checking it for accuracy as I move from issue to issue. Someone really put a lot of work into it… and I’m glad I don’t have to! Given the most recent arc of stories, the tapestry of the overall big picture is starting to fall into place (but I don’t want to say anything about it until you get to that point yourself). It sure looks to me as if Spanish Scott and Orson dies in #14, too. I guess I didn’t realize that the last time I read it (or didn’t remember).
I had pretty much forgotten #16 until I re-read it, then the details came flooding back to me. The thing about Stray Bullets is, every issue can be read on its own, so even if you lose the over-arching plot thread over a series of issues (as I tend to do, reading any series in monthly installments), it doesn’t matter because you can still enjoy that issue’s story. That exactly what I do, with the intention of piecing together the big picture at a later date.
Here’s what I think’s going on with #16. It’s not Hank that’s important to the “big picture”: it’s the guy he killed. According to the timeline, #16 takes place before #11-14, and issues #27 and #21 (in that order) take place between #14 and #15.
Interesting theory about Hank. That same Wiki site with the timeline does have breakdowns on the individual issues as well, which is why I've taken to mentioning the dates. Most of those include the story date and a synopsis, which does not spoil anything about the grand timeline.
I was sorting through my "Dave Lapham" box last night.
Amy Racecar Color Special #1 was released circa Stray Bullets #14; #2 circa #21. I'll try to read them both this coming weekend.
Did you read Murder Me Dead and/or Young Liars? Me, I stopped reading Murder Me Dead about half way through, but I continued to buy it with the intention of reading it in a single sitting at a later date (which hasn't yet arrived). Young Liars I dropped with issue #9. It ended up lasting a total of 18 issues and has been collected in three tpbs.
Yes, I read Young Liars in TPB form as the collections came out. I remember being a bit disappointed in it, but it might make sense to re-read it after finishing this. I should pass the halfway point this weekend, so the end is in sight. I picked up a copy of the reissued Murder Me Dead last summer at HeroesCon and finally read it. I liked it a lot, and it definitely shares DNA with Stray Bullets.
Stray Bullets #17: "While Ricky Fish Was Sleeping..." is set in L.A. in January 1982. Ricky Fish is the lowlife previously seen in #17 (which was set in 1984). As the title says, he spends most of this issue passed out in a drunken stupor, leaving his wife Kathy to deal with a bunch of drunks trying to collect a debt. Kathy kicks him out after he sobers up, and later he nearly gets killed in a barroom brawl with a cop named Roger. The issue closes with Roger (who met Kathy on the night that opens the issue) calling on her, flowers in hand. Amazing how interesting Lapham can make an extended drunken conversation play out on a comic book page..
Stray Bullets #18: "Sex and Violence, Part 2" is an Amy Racecar story, which I now realize means it's a Virginia Applejack fantasy. In this story Amy is trying out life as a private eye. She gets involved in an impossibly complicated series of cases, with marital infidelity, shifting sexual identity, and murder all figuring in somehow. Amy figures it out--mostly--but winds up on trial for murder in the end.
Stray Bullets #19: "Live Nude Girls!" is set in June 1982, Los Angeles. It's mainly about Amelia, who loses all faith in male fidelity over the course of the story. So much that she goes after married men, over and over, just to prove the point. Roger the cop turns her down (from Issue #17), which finally leads her to become a stripper.
Stray Bullets #20: "Motel" is set in August 1986, San Jose. This is another issue dealing with infidelity. Stray Bullets issues read well as standalones, but it's notable how frequently they are grouped together thematically. Monster reappears, basically trying to blackmail the cheating husband, a mathematics professor with skills he needs. As usual things go south, leaving the cheating husband and one of the criminals with deadly wounds.
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.