Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"You sure this is okay?"
"No, it's not okay. That's why it's called breaking in."
"You do this a lot?"
"Yeah, well, I've been on my own..."
"You must have some crazy stories."
"I hung out for a while with a guy who pulls fingers off for a living."
"For a living?"
"Technically, he mostly kills them, but pulling fingers off is his "signature move"."
For those of you new to STRAY BULLETS, just take a moment to study this cover closely. Very, very closely... because, it actually sums up the complete and utter mayhem you will find within to perfection. And, to get the party started, on the pages inside just like on the cover, is that most cool of cool bad-ass motherfuckers, Spanish Scott, solitary finger raised to lips, instructing us, politely (for that is his way), to quieten ourselves before we read on.
Our story opens in 1978 with young Eli playing peeping tom at his local strip club, peering at the cavorting ladies and sleazy johns. He's more than a little surprised to see his dad in there, which leads to his first encounter with Spanish Scott. Then follows a two-page driving sequence, Spanish Scott at the wheel with an unsuspecting Eli in the passenger seat, that is pure Grand Theft Auto in its execution. At its conclusion, dropping Eli back off at his house, our superfly bad guy is behoved to dispense a few words of wisdom, to complement the (terminal) life lesson he's just dispensed to a couple of not-so-wise guys.
"Sorry about that, kid. You have to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Your loser father probably won't tell you that."
Yes... Eli might not get too many more chances to either... not if Spanish Scott has anything to do with it...
Fast forward to 1986, when everyone's favourite teenage hellraiser - Virginia Applejack a.k.a. Amy Racecar - suddenly reappears, and where Virginia goes, well, trouble is certainly sure to follow. Eli would do well to heed his mother's warnings about Ms. Applejack. For Eli though, missing a limb as well as a father, Virginia seems like an angel sent down from heaven to save him. She could well be responsible for getting him there rather quicker than he'd like but somehow these two misfits fall madly in love and before too long it's them against what feels like the entire world, or at least Eli's mom.
So when Virginia is hired by Mr. Finger, yes that Mr. Finger, to babysit his kids whilst ostensibly he takes his wife out for a romantic meal, you just know there's going to be more to it than that. There is, obviously, as in reality Mr. Finger wants Virginia to find his wife's stash of emergency cash for a 'business opportunity' that's just arisen, and so she gets herself and Eli dragged into some heavy drama that just going to escalate further and further with very serious consequences for all concerned. Just another chaotic episode in the crazy life of Virginia Applejack...
Ah, some people are just made to create a particular comic, and so it is with David Lapham. He is STRAY BULLETS and STRAY BULLETS is him. The snappy dialogue, so street, so witty and so on the money, is beyond even Bendis at his finest. The plot - pure convoluted, gritty, brutal contemporary-fiction unpleasantness - made real for our guilty and salacious enjoyment. Is he the best at what he does, to borrow a well used phrase? I think so, I think so, he is certainly right up there. To give this material some context, there are a handful of other comics of this ilk over the last twenty years that have had as much impact on me. Some of SCALPED and 100 BULLETS probably, much of CRIMINAL certainly, but then STRAY BULLETS is that good, it always was.
There are some artists - and this is the only way I can describe it - about whom you get the sense they are drawing it entirely for themselves, not for anyone else, just for them. I get the strongest sense that Lapham is precisely like that. This is his comic, written just how he wants, then drawn just how he likes: tough, uncompromising, exactly how a contemporary crime comic should be. The psychotic flashes of Amy Racecar fantasy - there is a hilarious issue included in this arc - only serve to heighten the sense of deranged tension you feel reading STRAY BULLETS. With every turn of a page, you're expecting it all to go pear-shaped, and when it eventually does, it is as spectacular as it is devastating...
Volumes 2 to 5 will be republished shortly, although you can read their entirety now as STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES collecting volumes 1-5.