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Stray Bullets Volume 6: Killers (Stray Bullets Tp (Image)) Paperback – January 27, 2015
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That being said, one of the best parts of SB is that each issue tells a self-contained story, and each arc can be read on its own. Having just re-read Killers to write this review, I can confidently say that while it may have "Volume 6" on the cover, it can be read and enjoyed by itself. Of course the reader will benefit from reading the larger narrative, but don't let that stop you from diving into this Eisner award winning series.
Killers introduces us to Eli Goldburg, and much like other innocent characters in the series, Eli sees something he shouldn't have and the consequences are disastrous. Stray Bullets as a whole is the story of Virginia Applejack, but the narrative arc of Killers follows Eli and his exposure to the violence that has been surrounding Virginia since she was a child. It isn't all dark and moody though; Eli and Virginia become friends and lovers, we get to meet Boogerman and Virginia's (non-crazy) aunt, the Finger Man returns, and Virginia's psycho-galactic criminal alter-ego Amy Racecar comes back in issue #5.
The extras in the back of the book contain notes and rough sketches/page layouts and we get to see how the character of Eli evolved, with some nice insights into Lapham's creative process with his editor/producer/wife Maria.
Stray Bullets: Killers was a long time coming. I am extremely envious of anyone coming to these stories for the first time. A new reader has nearly 50 issues of stellar material to enjoy, with more to come.
Then in 2014, after a 9 year break, Lapham returned with a new sixth arc: Killers. In his afterword to this book, Lapham aptly makes the analogy that it’s like a band you loved breaking up and then reforming years later - will the magic still be there? For him the answer was simple: yes. But it’s an apt analogy because reformed bands NEVER surpass their earlier glory days and, sadly, the same goes for Stray Bullets.
Killers opens with a new character, Eli, who’ll become central to this arc. He sees something he shouldn’t at a strip club after he secretly follows his dad there followed by bad things involving the vicious enforcer, Spanish Scott (the guy on the cover). The second chapter picks up 8 years later with Virginia Applejack/Ginny/Amy and she and Eli have a teen romance while gangsters pop in and out of the story. More bad things happen and that’s about it.
Part of why Killers didn’t do as much for me as the other books is because Lapham’s seemingly given up juggling storylines. He used to have one issue which was Amy, another issue which was someone else, another issue with someone else, and so on, meshing the various characters’ stories effortlessly with one another. Besides being really impressive and exciting to read, the variety kept each storyline fresh and vibrant.
Here, it’s just Amy and Eli the whole time for eight issues. They have fun discovering sex, they smoke cigarettes and drink booze, hide out from adults, fight, argue, screw, break up, make up; in other words, they’re your average teen couple. Stray Bullets’ stories - regardless of who they were about - always used to be interesting but here, seeing Amy and Eli’s courtship… not so much. An issue or two maybe but eight? That’s too many. Also Eli isn’t nearly as fun a character as Amy - he’s a buzzkill throughout.
I still enjoyed parts of it - going back to the band analogy, there’s usually a song or two on the new record that has the same old magic - like the intense action, when there was some. Lapham knows how to choreograph a comic book gunfight like no one else. And I like that he’s as enigmatic a storyteller as ever. We never really find out the reasons behind Eli’s dad’s demise - there’s hints at a couple of answers but it’s left wide open, and I like that kind of approach. Amy too remains a delight and the sequence where she has to babysit the mobster’s kids and find his stolen loot before he comes back and takes her fingers was the highlight of the book.
Unfortunately for the first time I found myself bored while reading a Stray Bullets book. A couple of storylines don’t feel like they go anywhere or have any real purpose in the arc. Amy’s uncle and aunt are catatonic and falling apart because their son died, and the ending is as bleak as you’d expect. Then later Amy and Eli visit Eli’s high school art teacher whom Amy’s convinced abducted and killed a young boy years ago. There’s no payoff to these storylines nor do they enrich the Stray Bullets world, they’re just there seemingly to fill space.
It’s really disappointing to say this because I really love Stray Bullets but, at eight issues, Killers feels overlong by half without much of an interesting arc to it. Of the six books in the series it’s definitely the weakest one yet and the only volume in the series that I’d say felt mediocre. I’m still glad Lapham’s back and I’m hoping the next book will be better - Killers perhaps being a means of shaking off the cobwebs - though even if Stray Bullets remains just ok from here on out, at least we still have those first five books.