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The Best Comic Book You’ve Never Read

01/26/2012

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It’s too big for a movie, too real for an HBO series. Stray Bullets by David Lapham. When i was just a young lad at the tender young age of 15 or so, i was a comic book nerd. Yeah, that’s right, 10 years before it was cool to like geeky stuff. I was geeky stuff. However, i had loving parents who loved to shelter me. I had to be careful what comic books i brought into the house. Not to mention, i was too young to drive and there was nary a comic book store nearby. Reading something like Stray Bullets would not be tolerated. I’d have to hide them under my mattress like a porno and that would depreciate the value.

I wanted to read Stray Bullets so badly. Preacher too. It wasn’t until i was an adult that i went on a quest to track down all the shit i didn’t get to see when i was a teenager. This is how i finally read Stray Bullets, the single best crime comic ever written. In fact, it’s one of the best American stories ever written. It’s right up there.

The story starts off simply enough. It’s the modern day (most of the series takes place in the 80s) and Joey and Frank are disposing of a body. We’re never really told who the body is, and in true Stray Bullets fashion, things go from shitty to fucked-off in no time. By the end of the issue, everything looks like this:

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It's Susan Smith all over again!

Yes, like any great 90s indie comic, Stray Bullets is in glorious B&W. You know what? It wouldn’t have worked in color.

Issue 2 starts 20 years earlier, with Joey as a child somewhere in the background. We’re at a Star Wars showing with two obviously bad guys who murder a back stabber in an alley. Then one of the murderers himself gets offed. Typical Jersey night, right? Except little 7 year old Virginia was peering around the corner and saw the whole thing. Something happens inside her and just like Joey in issue 1, things get fucked off.

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The signature cover.

Virginia (aka Ginny) freaks out in school and stabs a boy. Then she gets in a fight in the woods on Halloween and ends up left for dead. Ginny becomes the muse of Stray Bullets, the driving force. Nearly every plotline (and there are TONS of plotlines) involves little Ginny somehow. David Lapham is a master storyteller in that regard.

Stray Bullets is an epic tale, spanning a decade or so and damn, if it’s not uber-realistic. Anyone who grew up even remotely poor will recognize these people. It’s a big big cast of people caught up in shit lives amongst awful and hidden criminals, the mysterious Harry pulling the strings somewhere.

There are just a few major story arcs and myriad subplots that all add up into this brilliant piece of American literature, Pulp Fiction style. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen on the big screen, like nothing you’ve ever read.

There’s drugs, sex, murder, pedophilia, spaceships (you’ll see), infidelity, theft, a magical cow, more drugs, more murder. It’s 40 issues of gut-wrenchingly real people and situations. Even space cadet Amy Racecar is explained beautifully. Not one character in underdeveloped, no matter how reprehensible they seem on the surface. Even the enigmatic hitman Monster is sympathetic. Barely a word is uttered by him until he won’t help someone unless she marries him.

It’s a heartbreaking practice in a kind of noir not seen many places. It’s at points poignant and terrifying and funny and incredibly sad and manic. It was left on hiatus way back in 2005 and there are no current plans to continue the cliffhanger. Lapham has since moved onto things like Deadpool for Marvel or his own Young Liars for Vertigo. Both are brilliant in their own way but neither comes close to Stray Bullets. Lapham will return to his baby someday, i’m sure. Even one issue would be enough to finish the whole series, Lapham is that good. Pleeeeeeeease.

So where can you find this modern crime masterpiece? It’s not so easy, no. Most issues are out of print, although if you had enough gusto, you could probably track them down on Ebay or Amazon but they’re pricey. How did i read all 40 issues and the Amy Racecar specials? Well i definitely didn’t download either a program called Comical or a program called CD Display and then download the entire series via a torrent program. That would be illegal and i’m not savvy enough to do that kind of thing, you know? I’m no criminal. SOPA for life!!

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