Stray Bullets 37 (March 2005)

Stray Bullets #37

Okay, so the high school arc is apparently all about Virginia going up against that kid who went insane because he had a gay encounter. Actually, it’s rather homophobic. Not just that event and the outcome, but the series overall. This issue has the guy raping another kid (another guy).

Lapham’s nothing if he isn’t cheap. And vaguely homophobic. And really lazy on the art. It’s the worst art in the series ever.

But he’s also got Virginia stirring the pot and investigating and it’s hard not to appreciate having her around. Even if all the high school stuff is idiotic and somehow getting worse. This Bullets arc is set in the early eighties so maybe you didn’t go to jail as a teenager if you murdered someone, which is the implication with the villain.

And why does the comic now have (another) shallow villain? Because Lapham’s given up entirely.

C 

CREDITS

Fiddlesticks; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editors, Renee Miller and Maria Lapham; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 36 (January 2005)

Stray Bullets #36

Some of Lapham’s problem is the lack of restraint. He’s let Bullets go all over the place, he’s let his art go to pot and he’s gone too far. Maybe he hyper-extended his narrative muscles too many times and they’re just damaged.

This issue has Virginia bonding with her awful mother’s new boyfriend, who’s not a good boyfriend but isn’t a terrible guy. And there’s some stuff with her sister. If it had been the first in the “Virginia goes home” arc, it might have been a little better because some of it wouldn’t seem so forced, like the Leon references.

Oh, right–Lapham does it all from Virginia’s diary. Just like he used to do when the comic was frequently fantastic. It hasn’t even been good lately and the return to the device seems a tad desperate.

At least this time, Virginia carries the issue to moderate success.

B- 

CREDITS

Monkey Business; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editors, Renee Miller and Maria Lapham; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 35 (October 2004)

Stray Bullets #35

Lapham is really enjoying his high school arc. It’s not as violent anymore because of Virginia getting the cops involved with the brawl. Or so Leon, who’s around to explain everything to Virginia because she’s become a caricature, says.

Leon and Virginia sit around and comment on the events in the issue, a jock-related love triangle. Because everyone reading Stray Bullets wants to read a misanthropic, X-rated version of “Friday Night Lights.” It should be better, for Lapham to take the traditional lionizing of high school athletes and show the realistic side of it but… it’s not. It’s terrible. It’s a dumb idea for a story and Lapham is incompetent at executing it.

From the first couple pages, I could tell he was slacking on the art and I kept hoping he wouldn’t slack on the writing too. I kept waiting for a point. There isn’t any point.

D- 

CREDITS

Bamboozled; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editors, Renee Miller and Maria Lapham; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 34 (June 2004)

Stray Bullets #34

And here we have the issue where a couple drunk male friends fool around and it doesn’t just ruin their friendship, one of them goes insane and kills the other one.

Guess Lapham liked American Beauty too. The trope wasn’t original in that movie either.

There’s no context for the story. The guys are a couple jerks, so it’s not like Lapham creates much sympathy for their psychological distress. In some ways, Bullets is at its best with the done-in-ones, even the terrible ones like this issue. Because then Lapham’s failings are disposable. It’s a bad issue, not a bad arc.

The art is a little bit better than it has been lately. A little. Lapham is still dragging out his action scenes and his attempt at a haunting finale is a joke. But the art’s a little better.

The comic reads fast. At least it reads fast.

D 

CREDITS

Higily-Pigily; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Renee Miller; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 33 (May 2004)

Stray Bullets #33

Here’s another example of Lapham slacking off. And it’s on a Virginia issue too, which is upsetting because he usually treats her better.

It’s in high school, with Virginia setting off the jocks against the greasers. Because Grease, right? I don’t know what else to say about it, actually. I mean, aside from the fighting, there are a lot of lengthy action montages–who knew throwing rocks at a window was worth a page–and not much else. Lapham is back to treating the comic like a parody of itself. Virginia is the superhero.

The most annoying part has to be the appearance from her mother. Lapham’s totally ignored Virginia’s home life. At this point it seems like he’s too cowardly to do it. Instead he just has the high school where kids are allowed to castrate each other.

But seriously, his lame handling of Virginia post-kidnapping is unforgivable.

D 

CREDITS

Donnybrook; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Renee Miller; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 32 (May 2003)

Stray Bullets #32

Lapham hasn’t just run out of ideas, he’s now doing reruns. This issue of Stray Bullets reminds of a few others, but in bits and pieces. So less a rerun, I guess, and more a remix.

Some classmates of Virginia–who also remember her before she ran away (in a school district with so much assault going on, wouldn’t there be a lot of runaways and not just one)–are goofing off while waiting in a parking lot and they piss off the wrong guy.

This wrong guy works for the unseen criminal boss Harry.

The guy spends the rest of the issue torturing the kid who heckled him from the car window. There’s actually a chance for Lapham to do something with it at the end and he doesn’t. He goes the safe route, the Stray Bullets route. The comic’s practically a parody of itself.

Loose art too.

D 

CREDITS

Shenanigans; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Karen Hoyt; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 31 (April 2003)

Stray Bullets #31

Lapham does some really tight art this issue. I don’t think his figures have ever been so precise. It’s a shame the story’s not there.

This issue has Virginia returning home and, once home, she runs into some kid she had a conversation with during her first issue. Is it too much synergy? Yes, it is too much synergy. But given the comic also has her at a high school where the kids attempt murder on two or three times a day and there’s no accountability–these are incidents where police reports would definitely be filed–too much synergy is the least of the problems.

It’s like Lapham is trying to do a high school story with that “Stray Bullets flavor” and it comes off like a cheap imitation.

As usual, he doesn’t cheap out on Virginia the character and she can hold the comic, regardless of its problems. Not ideal, but….

B- 

CREDITS

Derring-Do; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Karen Hoyt; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 30 (March 2003)

Stray Bullets #30

Here’s the thing I love about Stray Bullets–and it’s been kind of hard to love the comic lately, due to Lapham’s scurry into exploitation (intentionally or not)–even when he’s being cheap, Lapham has created a number of such excellent characters the cheapness can’t hurt the comic.

For instance, this issue is a prequel to the pointless (and exploitative) “kidnapped by a pedophile” arc Lapham is wrapping up. So his last chapter to the arc is a prequel to the arc. It’s a cheap move, because he’s showing the reader who wonderful Bobby and Virginia’s lives were before the bad choices she made to get Bobby kidnapped and abused.

But it doesn’t matter because Bobby and Virginia are both fantastic characters. There’s a whole subplot to the issue involving Bobby working on Amy Racecar comic spin-offs. The issue’s got a fantastic pace, then an amazing, touching finish.

Even if it’s cheap.

B+ 

CREDITS

Happy Ending; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Deborah Purcell; publisher, El Capitán Books.

Stray Bullets 29 (January 2003)

Stray Bullets #29

Ugh. Really, there’s no other word for it. Ugh. Lapham’s colliding of all his story lines and characters continues with Roger the detective–the one who had such a cool dating issue–hunting down Monster to find Virginia. Only Lapham has always used Monster as a force of nature, so having him go up against very real cops is kind of like a horror movie.

There’s also a bunch of lengthy jail interviews between Roger and Beth. Not to mention all the journals from Virginia while she was being held captive.

Lapham is bad with all of it. Why read Stray Bullets for a cop story? Lapham established the series as startling stories about people who experience violence. Roger’s just doing his job.

Worst is how Lapham just apes his plotting for the Beth investigation comic. It’s painfully uninspired. While not as bad as it could be, it’s still terrible.

D 

CREDITS

The Notebook; writer, artist, and letterer, David Lapham; editor, Deborah Purcell; publisher, El Capitán Books.

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