Page 45 Review by Stephen
"A happy ending is knowing where to put those two words: THE END."
They usually come way too late in STRAY BULLETS, which can be summarised thus:
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 broken lives careening in horrifying directions.
Everything is connected.
This is the best crime comic in the business, right up there with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' CRIMINAL, and we had missed it terribly.
STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES edition at £45 contains all 41 issues of the series prior to STRAY BULLETS VOL 6: KILLERS, while this contains the second 7 chapters of STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES edition - which shows you just how good value for money STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES edition really is! However, you may not be comfortable with reading such a big book, so here is the alternative. They're coming out at roughly two a year.
With more compelling individuals and more convincing characterisation in a single story than most people manage in a whole graphic novel, there is an 8-panel-per-page density and intensity to these tales broken by moments of golden sunshine that make what follows all the more devastating.
Here what seemed like disparate strands in STRAY BULLETS VOL 1 converge in a small town called Seaside, way out in the middle of the desert. Naturally. The mayor is waiting for an earthquake to swallow California whole, bringing Seaside to the coast.
Young runaway Virginia Applejack who had it unbelievably tough in book one tries her best to protect vulnerable, drug-addled Nina from the advances of Seaside's revoltingly seedy old-age pensioners, one of whom looks just like a toad, another of whom has drugs of his own to further blur Nina's brains out. Nina is far from her own best friend.
Come to think of it she's no one's best friend in this state, not even towards the ever-loyal if ever-volatile Beth and Beth's far more orthodox boyfriend, Orson. Their relationship's been struggling in this back end of nowhere. Beth craves conflict like smokers crave their next cigarette and she grows jittery and fractious without it. It's good news / bad news, then 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 because, remember, this series goes backwards as well as forwards in time!
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 to the art, 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 local behemoth Nick having the burly, hunched-up and sweaty same physicality as the protagonist of Jeff Smith's RASL. In fact most of these townsfolk are drawn as grotesques. 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.
Lastly, if you haven't yet clocked who Amy Racecar really is, all will finally be revealed.