Page 45 Review by Stephen
Terrible things happen to terrified young people, turning them into terrifyingly out-of-control car wrecks. They get caught in the cross-fire of other people's greed, grief or beef, and it sends their lives careening in completely unintended directions.
Joey's a car wreck. You just won't find out why for hundreds of pages and then it all makes such appalling sense. But almost immediately it will dawn on you that a main protagonist in one chapter plays another role in someone else's story as the narrative flips backwards and forwards in time.
Everything is connected.
This is the best crime comic in the business, right up there with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' CRIMINAL, and we have missed it terribly. The new series kicks off with STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #1 at £2-75: that's the perfect place to start and the best single comic I have read all year.
This dangerously heavily tome collects all forty-one issues of the previous series including STRAY BULLETS #41, finally published a decade after #40, making this little more than a quid a comic. Forty-five pounds is a big ask, but once you've read STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #1 you will have no doubts whatsoever.
With more compelling individuals and more convincing characterisation in a single story than most people manage in a whole graphic novel, there is a density and intensity to these tales broken by moments of golden sunshine that make what follows all the more devastating.
In a way we are in Lynchian territory, for these suburban families seem perfectly normal from without, but wait until you see what simmers within. Also, I remember wondering what the fuck was up with the early, action-packed episode starring Amy Racecar and set in outer space. All I will say is that David Lapham isn't the only one with a vivid imagination.
At one point these lives converge in a small town called Seaside, way out in the middle of the desert. Naturally. Young Virginia Applejack tries her best to protect vulnerable, drug-addled Nina from the advances of Seaside's revoltingly seedy old-age pensioners, while Nina's own friends, the ever-volatile Beth and Orson, land in trouble of their own when Spanish Scott turns up in search of his missing coke. And with Scott comes Rose, and of course little Joey. I told you everything was connected.
What follows is an accelerating climax of desperate, tangled gambits and frankly wince-worthy violence as these impossibly complicated relationships finally play themselves out. It's an immensely satisfying pay-off for all your hard concentration that point, but we have only just begun. It's followed by a new set of domestic freaks, and a short story which shows Lapham at his most manipulative:
After Kathy drags her boozed-up man into the house and out of the rain, she hears a knock at the door and finds two guys and a gal, pissed out of their skulls, insisting that Ricky owes them money. Kathy tries to shut the door on them, but the big guy - who insists he's a cop - wedges his foot in the door, and the rest of that chapter grows increasingly worrying. Anything could happen. Anything.
Lapham's command of the way dialogue can shift from confrontational to conciliatory to threatening - within breaths - will keep you on the edge of your anxious seat, but you'll never guess from the lead-in how this story will end. To kick up the contrast, the next issue sees the return of the inimitable Amy Racecar in a private-eye spoof as ridiculously convoluted and funny as the opening credits to American television's satirical SOAP. Amy's on top, world-of-her-own form, and possibly Lapham's most clever creation; I'm constantly forgetting that she's actually [redacted].
Just when you think you've witnessed the worst atrocities this series of victims, survivors, chancers, bullies, losers and lowlifes has to offer, Lapham delivers a story of fatally misplaced trust which will have you turning the pages so tentatively with the words "No... no..." quietly riding your breath. You'll start to worry ten pages in. It's always the quiet ones to watch out for, but as soon as that photograph is surreptitiously slipped into the pile that the man is showing the boy, you'll begin sweating. Child abduction and abuse are not subjects to be treated lightly or sensationally. Lapham does neither; you'll soon wish he had.
The main differences between this and, say, 100 BULLETS which we all love to wit-riddled death is that this is all so intimate, so personal, and that the individuals - the victims in this series - are so young. That's what made Lapham's SILVERFISH such a nail-biter too.
As they reach their mid-to-late-teens with sex high on the agenda they make more mistakes. And because they're older and capable of doing so much more with much greater strength, those mistakes have greater consequences. Brian and Mikey
now that's one friendship which will never be the same.
As to the art, extraordinarily Lapham starts off knowing immediately how he wants to present these tales: all 1,200 pages are completely consistent whereas during STRANGERS IN PARADISE you can see Terry Moore develop in front of you. The paper used here has a satin sheen so that the shadows shine on the page. And it is pure black and white with no grey tone at all. It's incredibly clean but supple as well. The figure work is immaculate, the forms soft are soft and yielding, and the hair falls just-so. As to the expressions, they communicate so much going on behind the eyes whether you like what you see or you don't. Everyone here lives and breathes. For a while, anyway.