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Stray Bullets Uber Alles Edition Paperback – March 25, 2014
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My irritation stemmed, of course, from the fact that Lapham could let such amazing work languish in a publishing limbo; and by not finishing the final storyline, it appeared he was willing to negate all that had come before. While I can't condemn Lapham for trading the hardships of self-publishing for the better income and stability of work as a writer for various comic imprints, I still resented the fact that someone so talented was squandering his abilities on crappy video game adaptations and D-list superheroes. While he did create some excellent work for Vertigo, most notably the graphic novel Silverfish, and some other projects that benefited from his uniquely stylized art (only Guy Davis and Paul Pope possess vaguely similar styles, easily adapting to whatever genre and mood is appropriate, be it crime, horror, or parody), his writing jobs varied wildly in terms of quality. It was obvious that supporting his family meant that cynical hack work was an unfortunate necessity, and that was that. It seemed assured that Stray Bullets would be forgotten.
I was more than surprised, obviously, to learn that Lapham had finished the final storyline, and would release the last issue through Image. Even better, he was going to resuscitate Stray Bullets, beginning with a new mini-series sub-titled 'Killers', which would focus on one of the series' most charismatic and mysterious characters, Spanish Scott. Lastly, of course, Image published this massive omnibus containing the entire 1300+ page series (as opposed to the 1194 pages listed in the product details), weighing 8 pounds; the product description on Amazon lists the dimensions of the book as 11" x 14"...It is actually a standard-size, 7" wide x 10" tall, roughly the same as the original comics. 11" x 14" would have made this book unwieldy anyway (still, you've gotta love ridiculous KE7/Little Nemo-type formats, however unpractical). One thing I was pleasantly surprised by was the paper -- a thin, yet glossy, high-quality stock that allows for darker, crisper blacks that contrast brilliantly with the arctic-white tone. The only downside is that this book is a direct market limited edition, and might not be reprinted, so grab it while you can (not a single copy was being sold on amazon.ca, I ended up paying 85$ after S & H). Hopefully, Image will decide on a 2nd edition, or finish and publish the five-volume deluxe hardcover set that will collect the entire series.
Make no mistake, this is one of the best comics of the quarter-century, and it deserves to be read and appreciated. Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Lapham for returning to Stray Bullets. And thanks to Image, which, under the direction of Robert 'The Walking Dead' Kirkman, is finally living up to its potential - ejecting 90% of the crappiest superhero drivel, in favor of creator-owned titles by some of the most talented writers and artists around, known and unknown. It has undergone a drastic transformation; it was only a few years ago that I would mostly ignore Image comics on principle. Now, it publishes Fatale, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Black Science, by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera, The Manhattan Projects, by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pittara, and Jupiter's Legacy, by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely. When it comes to mainstream publishers of creator-owned 'mature reader' titles, Image is probably surpassing Vertigo (DC), the long-running imprint that 'The Sandman' built. Image is taking more chances and reaping the rewards. If Stray Bullets finds a permanent new home at Image, it will be in excellent company.
I've been waiting for Stray Bullets a long time. I read Stray Bullets in the mid 90's. But after a few moves (in the pre internet store era) I fell out of touch with Stray Bullets. I later tried to track down the graphic novels, but certain ones have always been hard to find and expensive.
Enter the Uber Alles edition. You get every single Stray Bullets comic ever made, in one book. (I should also mention that according to the press releases, while the Uber Alles edition is limited to one printing, Image has dedicated itself to keeping the series in print, but with a set of smaller graphic novels.)
Now, to the content. The first Stray Bullets was released in 1995, a year after Pulp Fiction was released. I mention that because one of the most interesting aspects of this book is the interweaving of stories among the characters, a bit like Pulp Fiction. There is not one story in Stray Bullets, per se, but a number of stories coming together to create a tapestry. Also, the stories in Stray Bullets are often told out of chronological order. A character who has a small role in one issue may become a central character in a later issue--or may not. And, to keep you guessing, there are some stories that work purely as stand-alone comics, which leaves you wondering throughout if and when the character will make another appearance. David Lapham executes the stories with a wonderfully subtle touch. When a character's motive or state of mind are particularly important to the plot, you will get that info, but you won't be hit over the head with it. Throughout the story that happens--something that was seemingly a non-essential detail in a story later turns out to be a key point, in understanding a character.
The "Amy Racecar" stories in Stray Bullets illustrate that point. Those stories initially seem to be out of place, but as you read the main character's back story, those stories fully integrate into the character arc.
One thing to keep in mind about this amazing graphic novel is that it was a fully DIY affair. In the early 90's there were a number of comic luminaries drawing and writing their own work. But to have a DIY, self-published, written and drawn comic of this quality was, and still is, exceptional.
As for the art, it's quite good. If you ask me, Lapham is a stronger writer than he is an artist. But he is a very good artist too, and, in my opinion the quality of his drawings improves as you get deeper into the book.
The main character of the book is Virginia. Without putting out any spoilers, this is a teenage girl that's had a very difficult life. Despite some of the extremely serious and graphic subject matter in the book, there are also plenty of injections of levity, at the right moments. The second biggest character is Beth. Both Virginia and Beth make fascinating character studies. I think one criticism that can rightfully be levied at the book, in terms of content, is that Beth's story line, even after these 1000 + pages, is left hanging, as the book focuses towards the end on Virginia solely. (David Lapham has said that he plans on continuing Stray Bullets, so perhaps he will pick up the Beth storyline again.)
I really don't want to give too much more away of this book in terms of content. There is an interesting meta interlude in one of the issues, where Lapham has two characters debating whether comics or books are better "art", with the clearly more naive character in the story advocating for comics.
Now on to the negatives. They're just a few. First, as happy as I am to see the Uber Alles edition, I really wish Image had released an oversized hardcover version of this. Most of Stray Bullets has 6 panels on a page, and the extra space for the art would have been really nice. Also, one of the great things about the Stray Bullet comics was the full-color front page. The front pages of Stray Bullets were always exceptional, even if the full color work was just a sliver of the cover. I really wish that Image had included a full-color photo gallery with enlarged images of all of the covers.
All-in-all, this is a great graphic novel, and should be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys the artform.