Sometimes it's frustrating reading David Lapham's "Stray Bullets" comics. You want his characters to do well, even as they careen towards disaster. That's the case in "Stray Bullets: Killers" #8, where Lapham wraps up the storyline from the previous seven issues, and you find yourself hoping that somehow Virginia and Eli can squeak out a happy ending.
The frustrating thing (in a good way) about "Stray Bullets: Killers" #8 is that up until the end of the previous issue, it looked like poor Virginia Applejack was going to finally get the happy ending that she deserves. While people who have only read "Stray Bullets: Killers" have been given more than enough material to understand the character, those who remember the original "Stray Bullets" #2 and beyond know just how many awful things she's gone through over the years. So a good future with Eli? Well, it seemed to be almost too much to hope for. That's one of the things that Lapham is quite good at; he builds up our expectations and then brings them crashing down by knocking out just the smallest of pieces, positioned in just the right (or wrong) spot. It's meticulous writing, building up the personalities of all of these characters in such a way that when those weaknesses are exploited, the reader completely understands why this is such a bad thing and how it's almost impossible to stop the collapse.
It's also great to see all of the pieces of the previous seven issues click together just so. Everything from the babysitting and the missing leg to the gun in the toilet tank and the shoot out in the previous issue plays an important part; even Eli's awful cousin makes an appearance just at the worst possible moment. This eight-issue storyline holds together quite well, and there's a lot to reward readers who sit back down and go through all 234 pages of this story arc.
Lapham's art is good as ever, with its small tight panels that aren't afraid to occasionally burst into something larger when the moment is required. When Lapham breaks away from his normal 2x4 panel grid, it's always for a good reason, the extra space being used to draw attention to a moment that has particular impact on the reader. And while he's great with character expressions and reactions, it's worth noting that when action sequences explode across the page Lapham handles them quite well too. Eli diving off the couch with Jane has so much energy, with the window shattering as the bullets burst into the room. It never feels stiff or frozen, but instead you can almost feel them tumbling off and down towards the floor in that single panel.
While I'm sad to see "Stray Bullets: Killers" come to a close, knowing that "Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses" hits stores in January 2015 brings a smile to my face. This eight-issue story arc has reminded me how great Lapham's signature creation is, and what a big deal it is to have it back on a regular basis once more. Here's to the next story arc and beyond.