There’s a certain kind of mythology behind Stray Bullets. The story of ‘regarded indie series comes back after long hiatus’ or ‘long-rumored project appears after (insert number of years)’ is one we’re hearing more and more, but there was an excitement you could feel in the room when Image posted the SB logo with the Image ‘i’ at its side. This wasn’t just a regarded indie book: this was the return of the book that put David Lapham on the map and won near-universal critical acclaim during its run (and lots of grumblings during its too-long hiatus).
There were a couple other questions. Chief among them: can do he it again? and which David Lapham will we be getting?
Make no mistake: David Lapham came into Stray Bullets: Killers the same way he went into the first issues of Stray Bullets — to make a statement. The initial issues of Stray Bullets invite you down the long dark hallway that is the mind of David Lapham and the world of the characters that inhabit his stories. Stray Bullets: Killers is David Lapham letting us know that they’ve been busy. That hallway hasn’t long its depth or its darkness. If you asked yourself if Lapham could do what he did in the first run again, the answer is a resounding yes. These issues match up with what he gave us years ago pound for pound.
One of the great joys of reading Stray Bullets from top to bottom is seeing Lapham grow as a cartoonist. Everything from the linework to the lettering morphs with the story. Killers is a chance for Lapham to show, without question, what devout readers have always known and tourists have probably been able to guess: he will go down someday as a master of his form. Very few artists can portray action, suspense, and stark quiet with Lapham’s aplomb. You can trace some influences: there’s a lot of Los Bros Hernandez in there, some Chester Brown, but what Lapham does belongs to him and him alone and becomes inimitable.
Which David Lapham are we getting? The one that doesn’t mess around.
Killers (and the standalone nature of SB at-large) was marketed as something of an entry-point to the world of Stray Bullets, and that holds true here but with a large asterisk: you will be missing things. Lapham does a solid job of bringing you up to speed, but only inasmuch as you can bring a reader up to speed on 41 issues worth of dense content without the aid of recap pages or long-winded dialog. You get the news, but he doesn’t spoon-feed you — there’s story to be told, and that appears to be Lapham’s intention, first and foremost. Stray Bullets has never been a story to hold the reader’s hand, and it doesn’t start here. You can start reading here, and you should read Stray Bullets however it comes to you, but you will lose out on a further richness to the story.
All that said, this isn’t a warning, but a celebration. Spanish Scott and Amy Racecar and Ginny Applejack and the Finger are back, and they’ve been doing things.
It’s bold to call any story the best in its genre, but, spanning all media, Stray Bullets is among the finest crime stories ever told, especially considering how long it’s been going. Killers picks up steam and never seems to stop, the same way the first run grabbed readers and never let go. We’re lucky for its existence. Tell your retailer you want it, and then do what Stray Bullets readers have been doing for years: tell your friends you just read one of the best comics ever.