One of the many things I appreciate about “Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses” #2 is that you can come to David Lapham’s crime comic completely cold and still understand and enjoy everything that happens here. No idea who Orson or Beth are? Don’t worry; Lapham’s got you covered in a fast-moving little adventure.
It helps that Lapham’s story — opening with Orson waking up with bruises on his head, a bad case of crabs and vague memories of trying to hold up a convenience store — has Orson as much in the dark as a new reader might be. Nonetheless, Lapham uses that to his (and our) advantage; we’re figuring out events right alongside Orson, and his descent into the dark world that is “Stray Bullets” is fun to watch even as he quickly learns that Beth is not quite like any other person he’s met before.
What makes the issue work so well is the balance between straight-laced Orson and slightly seedier Beth. The latter has her hands fully immersed in the underworld of Baltimore but, at the same time, you can see why she’s attracted to Orson’s almost-charming naivety. He’s so different than the world in which Beth surrounds herself that Orson is almost refreshing; at the same time, there’s got to be a certain thrill in Orson’s slow corruption from one end of the spectrum towards the other.
Lapham is also careful to never make this something as simple (or cliched) as Orson sliding downhill because of a woman. He constructs the story here very carefully in that regard; when Orson wakes up and takes a full assessment of his situation, he has a moment early on where he can stay on the straight and narrow path that most of his life has been on. Even before he sees Beth again, though, he’s already ditching his scheduled college interview and diving into this new world that he’s caught a glimpse of. Lapham might be showing Beth as someone offering up corruption, but Orson is an equally willing participant in that process who sees an escape from his own boring life. At the same time, though, Orson doesn’t lose his core values. His treatment of the goofy Joey (aka Sunshine) shows a strong moral compass when it matters the most and is, in many ways, the heart of the comic.
The art in “Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses” #2 is as solid as ever. Lapham understands when to zoom in on a face or a feature and when to pull out and give us a wider view of what’s going on. I’ve always felt like Lapham’s page layouts could work quite well as storyboards for a film version; they’re very cinematic, guiding the reader’s eye through the scene and proving smooth transitions from one moment to the next. “Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses” #2 also shows a side that you might not be as familiar with for Lapham, and that’s his ability to tackle comedic elements. There’s something wonderfully goofy about Joey holding up Beth’s lipstick and giggling as he prepares to start drawing with it; it’s easy to focus on the darker elements of Lapham’s comics, but he can be awfully funny when he wants to, too.
“Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses” #2 is another excellent outing from Lapham in his signature series. It’s a great jumping on point — don’t let the #2 scare you away — and it is a reminder of what a strong storyteller Lapham is. In Lapham’s hands, a life of crime and danger seems enticing.