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Comic Book / Stray Bullets

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An award-winning crime drama comic book series by David Lapham and published on El Capitan Books, his own company. Forty issues were published irregularly between 1995 and 2005 before going on a long, seemingly indefinite hiatus. The series resumed publication under Image Comics in March 2014.

Featuring a nonlinear narrative and a rotating cast of Loads and Loads of Characters, the series jumps between Film Noir, ensemble drama, and a loose drawn out Coming of Age story. Each chapter feels self contained, with a beginning, middle, and end, yet it also fits into a larger tapestry. A chapter would either advance a major Story Arc, or focus solely on a minor character. While nearly all characters appear in only a few of the issues, there are a few mainstays, including:

  • Virginia Applejack: The central character, an imaginative teenage girl who unfortunately receives hostile attention from bullies at school, and her abusive mother and sister. After several traumatic events (resulting in, among other things, a permanent scar on her left cheek), she runs away from home and becomes entangled with the darkest elements of American society. A talented writer, she copes with the hardships of her own life by crafting adventure stories starring Amy Racecar, a fictionalized version of herself. Her defining trait is her refusal to succumb to the unending horror she is exposed to. As of the writing of this article, Virginia has yet to lose sight of her courage or beliefs, troubled and cynical as they may be.

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  • Beth Kozlonowski: A dangerously impulsive and aggressive young woman, Beth initially is a close friend of several prominent Baltimore gangsters. Intelligent, manipulative, and extremely stubborn, Beth is an expert at psychological manipulation and tends to get whatever she wants, since she hardly ever compromises on anything (whether regarding trivial matters like money or drugs, or more serious matters like the continued survival of herself and her friends). Early in the series she steals an important suitcase full of money and cocaine, and spends the majority of her arc on the run from the mob. She serves as an mother/older sister figure to Virginia for a time.

  • Amy Racecar: A fictional character created by Virginia, Amy is a "world famous gangster". Further characterization is hard to pin down, since Amy's adventures exist as a cathartic reflection of painful events in Virginia's real life. Therefore, her chapters are generally devoid of any logic, continuity, or discernible patterns. Amy is wanted on "over ten-thousand planets", and will normally triumph over every horror that she encounters. Amy's adventures are inspired by events in Virginia's real life, but since these chapters appear chronologically before the events they are based off of, they serve as a Foreshadowing device, as well offering a deeper look into Virginia's psyche.

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  • Harry: A very powerful Baltimore-based crime boss. Harry has never had an in-person appearance in the series, yet he lies at the center of all criminal activity in the story.

  • Spanish Scott: One of Harry's henchmen who tends to murder or deal drugs on his behalf. Very mysterious, and an overall Jerkass.

  • Monster: Another one of Harry's henchmen. A huge hulking giant capable of extreme physical strength and brutality. Tends to act as muscle for Harry or Scott, for obvious reasons.

  • Bobby: A classmate of Virginia who is also aspiring comic book artist who helps work on Amy Racecar. He ends up the victim of a sexual predator along with Virginia in one arc.

  • Eli: A sometimes boyfriend of Virginia who is a bit preoccupied with sex. He got his father killed by Scott as a boy by Saying Too Much.

  • Leon: A nerdy African-American teen and Virginia's only real friend at school.

  • Rose: Spanish Scott's sex-crazed sister. She's hopelessly in love with Orson, and believes that they're destined to get married one day. Understandably, she hates Beth and views her as her rival.

  • Joey: Spanish Scott's nephew who grows up to be another of Harry's Mooks in The '90s. He's also secretly Harry's illegitimate son.

  • Nina: Beth's close friend who helps her rob Harry (who she was once the abused mistress of).

  • Orson: Beth and Nina's partner. Originally an Innocent Bystander who witnessed a car crash related to Scott. This brought him to the attention of some of the wrong people, and since Beth developed a crush on him, got him roped in further.

  • Dez Finger: A Loan Shark known for deliberately inflicting fear upon those who offend him through.

  • Kretchmeyer: A sociopathic Wild Card gunman and Self-Made Orphan who invites himself into some of Beth's plans and later becomes involved in a Mob War with Dez.

  • Annie: Beth's spiteful and youth-obsessed mother who secretly runs a drug ring in her small Florida community.

Stray Bullets provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Several examples. Especially notable is Beth's mom Annie, who actually knocked Beth into a coma on her fifth birthday.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Virginia runs away from home multiple times and regularly ends up in highly dangerous situations (including attempted sexual assault) despite her young age. Case in point, Beth has a complete meltdown after Virginia is abducted in Dark Days, and goes to increasingly desperate lengths to find her. Bobby's parents also go to pieces after he disappears.
    • The world being a dangerous place for kids is something of a running theme, also showing up in the chapters focused on Joey.
  • Adults Are Useless
  • Adventures In Coma Land: The ending of The Spawn of Amy Racecar reveals that the entire story (and, by extension, The Treasure of the Hacienda Los Creepers) was a dream 5-year-old Beth was having while comatose.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The seeds of Virginia and Leon's future friendship are first planted by their mutual outcast status: Virginia is considered a freak due to her violent and antisocial behavior, while Leon is picked on for being black.
  • All Just a Dream:
    • The ending to Little Love Tragedy.
    • The ending of The Treasure of the Hacienda Los Creepers reveals that the entire story was a dream Lil' B was having after being knocked unconscious by her mother.
  • Always a Bigger Fish:
    • Mike's reign of terror is ultimately ended with the help of Dez, who is far more experienced at violence and murder.
    • Beth and Nina are saved from Kretchmeyer when Monster arrives and gives him a vicious No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Joey ain't quite right in the head, even at the latest time we've seen him chronologically. One can't blame him much considering his upbringing with a prostitute mother who is constantly having johns over to her apartment and drug dealers coming and going all the time.
  • An Aesop: Every issue in the Other People story arc is centered on unfaithful wives or husbands. In the final story, Beth plays mind games with a married man who tries to sleep with her, and upon leaving says to her distraught victim (and possibly to the reader:)
    Beth: Aww, Duke, pull yourself together. Learn a lesson. The risk is so much higher than the reward... Treat your wife a little better. You never know what you're gonna bring home.
  • Anachronism Stew: Hatukaraki!!! is set in Meiji Restoration-era Japan...but includes cars from the 1980s and even gas stations.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: While issues will often spotlight minor characters or introduce new players into the cast, Motel is unique for starring a calculus professor named Philip and his mistress Rachel, two characters who so far have yet to reappear. It turns out that Harry has targeted Philip to force him to decipher a mysterious ledger written in a mathematical code.
  • And You Were There: The Amy Racecar stories usually parallel whatever Virginia is going through at the time, with the supporting cast often consisting of thinly-veiled Captain Ersatzes of real people she knows. For instance, Amy's hapless sidekick William is Bobby, Gil is Eli, Jack Rum is Spanish Scott, Smiley Robert is Ron, the victimized couple in Hatukaraki!!! are Tony and Stephanie, Lil' B and Boris are Beth and Monster, the Cosmic Princess is Nina, Hairy Creepers is Harry, Nerduffery is Kretchmeyer, and so on.
  • Anyone Can Die: The series has a very high body count, and not even major characters are exempt from it. Orson, Nina and Spanish Scott are all killed off by the end of Somewhere Out West, while Ron and Ian bite it during Dark Days. The disjointed nature of the narrative means that some of these characters later reappear in subsequent issues set before the arcs where they died.
  • Arch-Enemy: Nearly ten years after Kevin cuts Virginia's face, she returns to high school in her hometown and their bitter feud is resumed.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Mike is implied to be a closeted homosexual (or possibly a Depraved Bisexual) who frequently calls people anti-gay slurs. He's also clearly in denial about his own sexuality, as it's implied that he freaked out and murdered his best friend after receiving oral sex from him. This is possibly best exemplified by the scene where he calls Jesse a faggot while forcing him to get naked at gunpoint.
  • Attempted Rape:
    • Happens to Virginia several times.
    • Eli is almost raped by one of Spanish Scott's associates, but Scott himself puts a stop to it.
    • Beth was nearly raped by her mom's boyfriend when she was a kid. The fact that her mom did nothing to stop it is just one of many reasons their relationship is so terrible.
  • Author Avatar: Amy Racecar is one for Virginia, while Ronecles is one for Ron.
  • Awful Wedded Life:
    • Several of the characters in the Other People arc are trapped in unhappy marriages. Benny and Janet's relationship is so strained that Janet cheats on him with multiple other guys, while Benny fantasizes about her dying so he can be with Kathy, his friend Roger's wife. It's implied they eventually divorce, or at least separate, as Bobby later mentions his dad now living at a new house in Arcadia.
    • Dez also doesn't really like his wife or kids, and admits he only stays with them to spite his dad (who predicted he would get divorced).
  • Bait-and-Switch: In an early issue, Virginia runs away from home and gets a ride from an older man who displays a creepy interest in her. The entire story has a foreboding atmosphere that makes it seem like he has sinister intentions for her, only for the ending to reveal that he's an aspiring politician who wanted to return Virginia to her parents to garner some good publicity for his campaign.
  • Becoming the Mask: During the gang's time in Florida, Orson briefly poses as a mustachioed playboy named Derek. He soon becomes obsessed with the role (which is exasperated by his drinking and drug use) and even begins referring to himself as Derek in the third person, usually when doing something badass or similarly Out of Character for the usual Orson.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Bullying someone in front of Virginia or insulting her father's memory will not end well for you.
    • Insinuating Mike is gay will drive him into a near-homicidal rage.
  • Big Damn Villains:
    • While back in his hometown, Kretchmeyer is discovered and surrounded by a gun-toting posse who are after him for killing his parents. Just when it looks like Kretchmeyer is done for, Annie (literally) crashes onto the scene in a stolen bus and saves him.
    • Later, Kretchmeyer saves Beth and the others from the hitman Scott sent after them.
  • Bigger Bad: Harry, who never appears in person but is the indirect cause of many of the horrors that unfold.
  • Bigot with a Crush: Ralphie hates Asians because of his experiences in the Vietnam War, but is paradoxically only attracted to Asian women.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
    • Ron initially appears to be an affable dude who lends Virginia money when she's broke and offers her a place to stay when she runs away from Beth's apartment. Too bad he turns out to be a batshit insane child predator.
    • Adam is beloved by his family and thought of as a good boy, but he's secretly an unpleasant asshole who verbally and emotionally abuses his girlfriend.
  • Black Comedy: Common throughout the series, but especially the Amy Racecar stories.
  • Break Her Heart to Save Her: Nina purposefully alienates Beth to keep her safe from Harry's goons.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Virginia is repeatedly traumatized throughout the course of the series. The circumstances around Nina's death shake her so bad that she threatens to kill Bobby when he offers to sell some of his uncle's cocaine to get her some extra cash. It only gets worse during the Dark Days arc, where she and Bobby are kidnapped and abused by a deranged pedophile. After weeks of this, Virginia manages to escape the house, only to then be kidnapped by Monster, who holds her hostage so that Beth will marry him. By the time the police finally rescue her, the only expression she can muster is a distant, empty stare.
    • Also during Dark Days, Joey ends up locked in the trunk of a car with the corpse of his babysitter Janice after she gets shot in the head by some gangsters who are after Scott. And it's implied he was in there for hours at least. No wonder the poor kid grows up to be Ax-Crazy...
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Motel ends with Rachel and Philip fleeing the scene after Philip has been shot by Frank. It's unknown if Philip survives his injuries, especially with the amount of blood on his clothes.
  • Brick Joke: A very creepy example occurs in Dark Days. Early on, Scott tells Joey about his first sexual experience, and how he panicked because he didn't realize some virgins bleed when their hymen is popped. Joey, being a child, misunderstands this and takes it to mean any girl who bleeds at all is a virgin. Later, when Joey finds Virginia tied up and gagged inside his mom's closet, he notices the blood coming from her head wound and says she must be a virgin.
  • The Bully: Kevin, and all of the jocks from Hi-Jinks and Derring-Do.
  • Bully Hunter: Virginia gets some payback against the kids who stole Bobby's dad's gun, and clearly loves every moment of it. She later turns into this when she goes back to school.
  • Cain and Abel: Kretchmeyer's brother Vic has been trying to avoid him since they were kids, with Kretchmeyer showing up back into his life to kill people around him and threaten him at times. Arguably downplayed given how Kretchmeyer doesn't want to kill his brother, but make him part of his life again.
  • Chick Magnet: Orson is dragged into the story as a direct result of a few female characters (namely Rose and Beth) finding him attractive.
  • Cool Aunt: Aunt Jane, who is the nicest and most supportive member of Virginia's family by far.
  • Cool Big Bro:
    • Orson confides in his younger sister Becca and talks with her, although he's initially more strait-laced than her.
    • Eli's little sister Dawn clearly thinks the world of him, and the two have a very warm relationship.
  • Cool Big Sis:
    • Nina serves as this to Virginia until her drug addiction causes her to become cruel and verbally abusive.
    • Beth is arguably a Deconstruction. While she loves Virginia and tries to protect her, Dark Days goes to great lengths to illustrate that she's not really fit to take care of a child.
    • Marisol, who Virginia even calls her soul sister. Virginia is so badly devastated by Marisol's death that it's implied that she kills Kretchmeyer's brother in retaliation, presuming that he was behind it.
  • Creepy Child: Joey.
  • Daddy's Girl: Despite hating her mom, Virginia was extremely close to her dad. His death is what motivates her to run away in Somewhere Out West.
  • Death by Irony: Led is presented as the more stable and calculating member of the criminal duo of himself and Sonny. Yet he proceeds to get killed due to impulsively falling in love with Nina before finding out that she's Harry's girlfriend, at a party that he'd invited Harry and his men to. This gets him a quick death.
  • Death by Racism: Some racist cops pull Jimmy the hitman over while he's in Arkansas, and are promptly slaughtered by him.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The first issue focuses on a young man name Joey in 1997. After that the story jumps back roughly 10 years to when he was still a kid, but largely focuses on two different characters, namely Virginia and Beth. Joey still appears from time to time, but more as a minor character.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • The casual homophobia of The '80s is evident in some of the dialogue. A flashback to 1980 also has one of Spanish Scott's pals display anti-Arab racism, complete with a call for Ronald Reagan to nuke them.
    • Monster seems to dislike Orson due to his judaism.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Shenanigans! is about Kevin's little brother Lorry, who taunts a man in a supermarket parking lot. The man turns out to be Dez, who responds by stalking and terrorizing Lorry, even standing outside his bedroom window in the middle of the night. He eventually ambushes Lorry in the woods and states that he has to teach the boy a lesson, and the issue ends with Lorry receiving a box containing his father's severed pinky finger.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: For unexplained reasons, Vic has nightmares about his apparent future death, staring down a gun barrel at Virginia.
  • Distant Prologue: In an inversion, the first issue takes place in 1997 and focuses on a now-adult Joey. Most of the subsequent issues take place in the 70s or 80s.
  • Distressed Dude: Leon is kidnapped by Mike near the end of Hi-Jinks and Derring-Do to lure Virginia into a trap.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • After the death of his son drives him into a near catatonic state, Uncle Jack kills himself to stop being a burden to his wife.
    • Eli tries to shoot himself after Virginia breaks up with him to appease his mother. Luckily, Virginia stops him.
  • Dysfunction Junction
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: The author insert in Ron's pedophiliac play "Ronecles Unbound" is a Greek hero who castrates himself to "resist temptation" (the implied "temptation" being his attraction to Bobby).
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Jimmy "Wiggly" Wiggins is a brutal hitman who has works for Harry, but he also takes care of his elderly and infirm mother.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Despite being a vicious, murderous sociopath, Monster genuinely loves Beth.
    • Annie is a manipulative sociopath who abused Beth and has no problem with betraying her supposed friends, but she truly loves Liz, her second daughter. In fact, the realization that Annie genuinely cares so much about Liz devastates Beth and further underlines just how little she means to her mom.
    • Kevin extorts Stephanie into dating him (only publicly though, nothing in private and definitely nothing sexual) by blackmailing Tommy, her real boyfriend, but even he is uncomfortable with Mike attempting to force Stephanie to have sex with him, Kevin, and Mike's threats to kill Tommy if Stephanie even looks at him. Kevin clearly realizes things are going wrong when Mike pulls out a gun.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Throughout Dark Days, Monster and Beth gradually grow closer, with Monster eventually admitting he can't bring himself to kill her despite her having stolen from Harry. He agrees to help find Virginia after she goes missing... only to then kidnap her himself so that he can Blackmail Beth into marrying him. Then, when Ian tries to rescue Virginia, Monster flat-out kills him.
  • Fingore: Dez's trademark move is tearing off his some of his victims' fingers.
  • First Love: Eli had a crush on Jane when they were younger, and still carries a torch for her years later.
  • Foreshadowing: The Twist Ending of The Spawn of Amy Racecar is hinted at several times throughout the story, such as the constant headaches Lil' B seems to be experiencing for no apparent reason.
    • In one chapter, Joey shows off his mother's revolver to a kid he is trying to become friends with. The friend takes the bullets out of the revolver, but after Joey runs off he notices there are only 5 bullets. Throughout the story, Joey pulls the trigger on the "empty" revolver multiple times largely as a joke until the end when he threatens Kretchmeyer with it, he pulls the trigger for the 6th time, shooting Kretchmeyer in the shoulder.
  • Formerly Fat: It's mentioned a few times that Monster was quite fat as a child; he presumably gained his incredibly ripped physique after going through puberty.
  • Friend to All Children: Virginia has a soft spot for kids and usually gets along well with them.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: When Jane gets pregnant by Adam, she's reluctant to get an abortion when he brings it up.
  • Good Parents: Virginia's dad was a genuinely good man and positive presence in Virginia's life. Her mother...not so much. When he eventually died of cancer, Virginia ran away from home.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Virginia has some minor scarring from an incident where a childhood bully slashed her face.
  • Happily Ever Before: The final issue featuring Bobby takes place a few months before he and Virginia got kidnapped and molested for weeks on end by Ron. He's clearly traumatized by it and Virginia (aside from being convinced that Bobby must hate her considering that he suffered the worst of Ron's abuse while she "just" had to watch) is returned to her family that she ran away from after being rescued by the police, essentially ending their relationship. The contents of the final issue with him largely involves Virginia helping him out with a bully that stole his father's gun and ends with him drawing a comic that expresses his love for her. Considering the above spoiler, it doesn't end up going well.
  • He Knows Too Much:
    • After Virginia accidentally witnesses the kinky sex acts Bobby's mom Janet is performing on the guy she's cheating on her husband with, Janet actually suggests they kill her to keep her mouth shut. Keep in mind Virginia was 13 at the time.
    • Spanish Scott runs Eli and his father off the road (although Eli survives) after Eli innocently talks with him about a recent murder victim and mentions how his dad knew something about her that scared him.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Amy Racecar claims "Janey Sunshine" sounds like a fake, made-up name.
  • It's All My Fault: Virginia blames herself for Uncle Jack's death. Stuck in a catatonic state after the death of his son, Virginia saw how much his state was hurting his wife, her aunt Jane, and tried to snap him out of it by reminding him of how much Jane missed him by showing him pictures of a previous time when they were happy. She is successful in rousing him out of his mental state, but only long enough for him to down all of his pills and cut his wrists out of guilt for weighing Jane down so much. Eli tells her that Jane doesn't blame her at all for it, but she can't quite forgive herself over it.
  • Jewish Mother: Both Orson and Eli's moms are worrisome and overbearing Jewish women.
  • Karmic Death: Ron's mangled corpse is found in his apartment after Monster goes there looking for Virginia.
  • Kill the Cutie:
    • Ian, a genuinely Nice Guy who wanted to help Beth, gets brutally beaten and killed while trying to rescue Virginia.
    • Sonny, the goodnatured comic relief weed dealer in Sunshine & Roses, gets gunned down while trying to avenge his murdered friend.
  • The Lad-ette: Beth. She's beautiful, but is loud, foul-mouthed, violent and generally unladylike. This is Played for Laughs when she has to pretend to be her own mother and is clearly uncomfortable with having to act traditionally feminine.
  • Last-Name Basis: Kretchmeyer is almost exclusively called by that name. His first name, Alec, doesn't even get revealed until late into Sunshine & Roses.
  • Leave No Witnesses: After Frank shoots a cook in self-defense, Joey coldly guns down the diner patrons who witnessed the act.
  • Lonely Bachelor Pad: Monster's apartment is almost comically undecorated; Beth likens it to the inside of a coffin.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Eli has an uncle named Les who was disowned by the family for marrying a black woman.
  • Manipulative Bitch:
    • In the proud hardboiled crime fiction tradition, Beth knows how to wrap men around her finger with ease. In addition to the aforementioned story where she nearly drives an unfaithful husband to madness or suicide, her ability to manipulate Monster is what ultimately saves Virginia and Bobby from Ron.
    • Sunshine & Roses later reveals that she got this from her mother Annie, who is just as manipulative and ruthless. She became a major drug dealer in her Florida community by screwing over her partner and having him sent to prison after using him to get rid of her blackmailing ex. She later pretends to reconcile with Beth just to con her out of Harry's stolen money and cocaine.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: After pulling off the heist at Harry's club, Beth, Orson, Nina and Kretchmeyer hide out at a small town motel. However, unbeknownst to Beth and Orson, Kretchmeyer had earlier kidnapped Joey as part of a backup plan in case Harry finds them. When the motel manager (who is implied to be a childhood sex abuse survivor) finds Joey in their trunk, he freaks out and thinks they plan to molest the boy. He winds up barging into their room with a baseball bat and knocks Kretchmeyer unconscious, which allows the other three to escape.
  • Mutual Kill: Scott and Orson shoot each other.
  • Never Found the Body: Though it's implied Mike killed Brian, Leon says Brian's body was never recovered and that he's still considered missing.
  • Never My Fault: Ron blames Virginia for his sexual abuse of Bobby, which is written into the play in the form of the Bitch Queen, an evil sorceress who bewitches Ronecles and forces him to rape his own son.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Scott has the look (hair well past his shoulders and some t-shirts with flower patterns) but not the manner.
  • New Season, New Title: When the series finally returned after a nine-year hiatus, it was officially retitled Stray Bullets: Killers, and given a new numbering that started over with #1. The same thing happened with the next arc, Stray Bullets: Sunshine & Roses. David Lapham has said this trend will likely continue, with subsequent arcs being given a new subtitle and treated as stand-alone maxi-series.
  • No Continuity: The Amy Racecar stories, which can feature the Earth exploding in one installment and have everything back to normal in the next.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: Virginia and Leon sleep together at the end of Hi-Jinks and Derring-Do, but Virginia leaves before he wakes up, not wanting to endanger him any further.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: When Annie gets knocked unconscious, Orson gets the idea to kidnap her cohort Dr. Blumstein and make him treat her. During the car ride over, Blumstein is quick to point out that he's a reconstructive surgeon who specializes in cosmetic procedures; he knows absolutely nothing about treating brain injuries.
  • One Steve Limit:
    • Averted. Adam's girlfriend and Virginia's aunt are both named Jane.
    • Beth's real name is Elizabeth, which Annie ended up reusing for her second daughter after Beth left home. However, the younger girl is mostly called "Liz," which keeps things from getting too confusing.
    Annie: It's my favorite name. Seemed a shame t' just waste it.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Monster is known almost exclusively by that name. His real name, Stanley, is only known to a select few characters like Beth and her mom.
  • Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality: Monster is a complete misogynist and made extremely uncomfortable by any hint of female sexuality or nudity. Naturally, Beth is able to use this to manipulate him.
  • Porn Stache: Orson's "Derek" disguise involves one of these. He becomes quite fond of it.
  • Prefers Rocks to Pillows: In Killers, Virginia has taken to sleeping under beds rather than on them, likely as a result of her traumatic experiences as a runaway.
  • Prosthetic Limb Reveal: During their first time at the boardwalk together, Virginia comments that Eli has a limp, prompting him to show her his prosthetic leg. He lost his real leg in the car wreck Scott caused.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Ron.
  • Put on a Bus: Virginia doesn't appear during Sunshine and Roses, as it is a prequel to the main series. Beth takes over as the main character.
  • Rape as Drama: Main characters suffer from sexual abuse and don't get over it easily.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Despite her perpetually optimistic demeanor, it's clear that the endless stream of horrors Virginia has had to endure since childhood have left her with a host of mental and emotional issues. The most obvious sign of this is her habit of responding to problems with extreme violence, something that began shortly after she saw Spanish Scott murder someone back when she was a little girl. At one point, she almost pulls a knife on Adam after he insults her, and has to be stopped by Eli.
    • While Beth loves Virginia a lot and even saves her life a few times, she's too much of a mess to be any kind of an effective Parental Substitute. It's this lax parenting style that kicks off the child abduction plot in Dark Days, as Virginia panics and flees their apartment after the police show up to ask why she hasn't been enrolled in school.
    • During Dark Days, Virginia fights tooth and nail to save Bobby from Ron, but is eventually overpowered and knocked unconscious. She may be a Little Miss Badass, but she's also still just a kid trying to beat up a grown man.
    • Also during Dark Days, Beth shoots a cop while trying to find Virginia. Even though the cop expresses sympathy for her plight, Killers later reveals that Beth still went to prison.
    • A group of kids steal a gun and decide to fire it, only to immediately injure themselves when they don't properly prepare for the recoil.
    • When Eli finally finds out more about Virginia's past and meets Marisol, he's absolutely horrified to discover that Virginia has been hanging out with drug traffickers and murderers. This puts a serious strain on their relationship, and is a major factor in Eli's later decision to cheat on Virginia.
    • Orson tries to sell his dad's car to pay off Beth's debt, only to be told that won't work because he has no paperwork proving it's his. When he then suggests they sell it to a chop shop, Beth points out that illegal car rings generally steal the cars themselves rather than buy them.
    • When Annie is hit over the head with a pot, the injury is severe enough that she loses consciousness and shows signs of a serious concussion. A combination of the brain injury and the mounting stress from her criminal dealings being discovered eventually causes her to have a stroke.
    • Played for Laughs (the dark kind) when Orson accidentally kills the abusive ex-boyfriend of a burlesque dancer he'd befriended:
    Orson: Wow. Who freakin' dies falling one story?
  • Really Gets Around: Rose. She has multiple partners (even when she sets her sights on Orson and deludedly believes they're soulmates), and once claimed that the longest she's ever gone without sex was the week her son Joey was born.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Roger. He even expresses the desire to drop the charges against Beth (who shot him, mind you) once he realizes she was trying to save Virginia.
  • The Runaway:
    • Virginia runs away from home multiple times, falling in with people like Beth as a result.
    • Vic Kretchmeyer ran away from home as a child. When Kretchmeyer decided to do the same a few years later, his father hit him with a a baseball bat and told him to never come back, causing him to get a rifle after leaving and kill his parents.
  • Running Gag: The use of the phrase "Cool beans."
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: Ron sodomizing Bobby in Dark Days is never explicitly shown. The details of those three weeks are all revealed through implications by the corresponding Amy Racecar story and the subsequent police investigation, which shows excerpts from both Ron's play and Virginia's diary.
  • Seen It All: Hanging around Harry's groups of lowlifes has so thoroughly jaded Rose that when Monster shows up at her apartment with Virginia Bound and Gagged inside a duffle bag, one of her first reactions is to ask if she has rich parents.
  • Self-Deprecating Humor: Virginia mocks Bobby's aspiration to one day work as an artist for Marvel, dismissing comics as a sub literate medium for morons. Also doubles as a Take That, Audience! moment.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Kretchmeyer killed both of his parents after they threw him out of the house.
  • Sexual Extortion: Variant with Stephanie. Kevin blackmails her into being his girlfriend by claiming Tony, her real boyfriend, owes him money. However, Stephanie states that their arrangement only includes public activities like dates and school dances, and shuts Kevin down when he tries to get her to have sex with him.
  • Shipper on Deck: It's clear that Aunt Jane is pulling for Virginia and Eli to get together from the beginning.
    Aunt Jane: Doesn't he have a great butt?
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Orson is (at least at first) a very quiet, mild-mannered nerd who is always very deferential to others, while his little sister Becca is extremely firey, outgoing and rebellious, often cursing at her mother.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Led only appears in one issue proper, but his death is what motivates Nina and the others to steal Harry's money, which has massive consequences throughout the entirety of the series.
  • The Starscream: Kretchmeyer starts off as one of Harry's hitmen, but from outset it's clear that he has much grander ambitions for himself and his role in the organization, and ultimately plans to dispose of Harry and take his place. By the time of "Killers," he's now running his own rival crime syndicate and engaged in a brutal gang war with Baltimore's other criminal factions.
  • Stripper With A Heart Of Gold: Chandra, who is one of the nicest and most goodhearted characters in the series by far.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Beth's mother Annie looks almost exactly like her, just shorter and with more wrinkles. Even Nina points out just how uncanny the resemblance is. They look enough alike that Annie is able to successfully impersonate Beth and trick a drugged up Orson into telling her about Harry's stolen money. Beth later returns the favor by successfully posing as Annie when Kretchmeyer shows up in town.
  • Stylistic Suck: The Amy Racecar stories are generally devoid of any discernible logic or continuity, and are chockfull of cliches and absurd plot twists. In other words, the exact kind of writing you'd expect from an imaginative 13-year-old who hasn't yet refined her skills.
  • Took a Level in Badass
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior:
    • Virginia can be quite violent and sadistic at times. It's implied some of this stems from the mental trauma she suffered after witnessing Spanish Scott murder someone as a child.
    • Joey curses like a sailor (something he picked up from Scott) and has an unhealthy fixation on his dead babysitter, right down to calling other women by her name. It's also implied this may have given him some odd sexual hangups.
  • Uncertain Doom: Recurring character Nick is last seen asking for a doctor after apparently having a heart attack at the end of Somewhere Out West. He hasn't appeared in the series since then, so it's unclear if he survived or not.
  • Victim Blaming: Beth was almost raped by her mother's boyfriend when she was nine. Her mother blamed her for the incident and accused her of intentionally trying to seduce him. It's no wonder Beth hates her.
  • We Used to Be Friends:
    • Beth and Spanish Scott used to be close and almost started dating. Their friendship fell apart when Beth learned that Scott did nothing to stop Harry from beating Nina. Her subsequent theft of Harry's money and drugs turned them into bitter enemies.
    • She was also friends with Kretchmeyer. Upon learning that Beth plans to leave him behind and split town with Orson and Nina after the heist, Kretchmeyer becomes infuriated and decides to kill all three of them.
  • Wham Episode: The Dark Days storyline reveals its title to be a horrifying euphemism when Virginia and Bobby are kidnapped by a psychotic rapist and are abused emotionally, physically, and sexually for weeks.
  • Whole Plot Reference:
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: Amy Racecar delivers one after nearly being brainwashed:
    Amy: Most people are pretty wishy-washy about themselves. Ready to believe almost anything you tell 'em. Look at the Home Shopping Network. Not me. They can put me in a straightjacket. They can zap me with a zillion volts. I know who I am. I know what's real. I cling to it like a life raft. You have to in this crazy world.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child:
    • Shockingly played straight for Monster, who admits he probably couldn't kill Virginia despite having kidnapped her. He even refrains from killing Roger after Roger says he just wants to find Virginia.
    • Dez also draws the line at killing kids, but has no problem brutalizing or traumatizing them to teach them a "lesson."
    Virginia: I thought you weren't into killing kids.
    Dez: Yeah. No...never fun. But hearing your middle finger jokes when you don't have fingers? ...That would be hysterical.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Nina was the girlfriend of another criminal who was killed by Harry's men, after which Harry made Nina his mistress against her will.
  • Younger Than They Look: Largely because she aggressively works to make it so (and lies about her age), but everyone in her life at present day believes that Annie is only 28 years old even though she is really 40. When Beth shows up on her doorstep, she is able to be passed off as Annie's sister rather than her daughter (the cop Annie is having an affair with even believes Beth to be Annie's older sister).


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