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.
- 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.
- 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.
Stray Bullets provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents
- Adults Are Useless
- 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... Threat your wife a little better. You never know what you're gonna bring home.
- All Just a Dream: The ending to "Little Love Tragedy".
- 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.
- Bigger Bad
- Break the Cutie
- The Bully: Kevin, and all of the jocks from Hi-Jinks and Derring-Do.
- Bully Hunter: Virginia turns into this when she goes back to school.
- Chick Magnet: Orson is dragged into the story as a direct result of a few female characters finding him attractive.
- Dysfunction Junction
- Karmic Death: Rob's mangled corpse is found in his apartment after Monster goes there looking for Virginia.
- Manipulative Bastard
- Psychopathic Manchild: Rob.
- Rape as Drama
- Second-Hand Storytelling: Rob 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.
- Took a Level in Badass
- 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.
- "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.