Three issues into “Stray Bullets: Killers,” and David Lapham’s still got it. “Stray Bullets: Killers” #3 is actually set a couple of months before the previous issue, even as it continues to follow Virginia Applejack. While telling her story out of order might seem odd at first, the situation presented is what she was in the middle of before she finally broke down and went back to her family. In typical “Stray Bullets” fashion, now that you know where Virginia was, it makes the potential specter hovering over her head that much creepier.
“Stray Bullets: Killers” #3 starts off simply enough, with Virginia being asked to babysit Dez Finger’s three children for the night while he takes his wife out for a belated anniversary dinner. Of course, Finger is also Virginia’s roommate’s sugar daddy, and what Finger really wants is for Virginia to find the hidden stash of cash inside the house so that he can finance a shady deal. And if Virginia doesn’t find the money before they get back — well, let’s just say that most people think Finger’s surname is just a nickname for what he pulls off of people’s hands.
Lapham’s pacing in “Stray Bullets: Killers” #3 works like a charm. Bits and pieces are slowly doled out, giving just enough to not only understand what’s going on, but also to let the menace and tension build. Watching Virginia looking for the money even as she starts to learn that she’s in for more than initially bargained for is the sort of ramping up that gradually lets you get more and more nervous for her. You can tell this isn’t going to end well — and to be fair a “Stray Bullets” story rarely does — but in this case it’s not even so much worrying about Virginia, but rather everyone else who could easily become collateral damage. And in many ways, that’s one of the core values of the series. Just like real-world altercations involving a literal stray bullet, the situation often spills over into the innocents all around the central characters. Watching Virginia deal with the Finger’s children is nothing short of nailbiting.
Once again, I’m also pleased at how friendly this series is to new readers. If “Stray Bullets: Killers” #3 was the first issue from Lapham that you ever read, everything you need to know is contained within it. You almost instantly understand who Virginia is (or at least enough for the purposes of this plot), as well as her connection to Finger and Marisol. But at the same time, for those who have read other issues, there’s a connectivity that works well. The path through “Stray Bullets: Killers” #1-2 intersects this issue, and for those who read the original series, they’ll recognize Finger from there, too. It wasn’t until the second reading of “Stray Bullets: Killers” #3 that I belatedly remembered that he wasn’t a new character — I haven’t started my re-read of the original series just yet — but treating him as a brand-new face made the comic still work just fine.
The art from Lapham is solid as ever. His eight-panel grid tells the story well, forcing him to control the “zoom” as it pulls back and narrows in on the scene as the story requires. The most visually entertaining part of the comic, though, is one that under other artists might have been either ignored or over the top. Watching Finger transform himself into a sweaty alcoholic home from a rehab clinic is fascinating, as he deliberately undoes his appearance and shifts himself into a look that his wife would recognize. It’s subtle, with just enough of a change that the reader can’t miss it, but at the same time it’s believable and not too exaggerated.
“Stray Bullets: Killers” #3 is another great installment from a fun series that was gone for far too long. If you like suspense, crime noir, or thrillers — or heck, just good storytelling, period — you need to read “Stray Bullets.” Trust me.