Sunday, 30 September 2012

100 Bullets

100 Bullets starts off by indirectly presenting its audience with a question: if you were offered a gun with one hundred untraceable bullets and absolute proof that one person was responsible for everything wrong in your life, what would you do?

For the first several arcs of the series this question appears to be the title’s focus, as we see different characters from different walks of life offered the chance to write wrongs. Some take it, some don’t. We follow their stories regardless. Some of those we meet, such as Dizzy who appears in the first three issues, return to the series and become important later. Others never appear again. It’s almost like they’re red herrings introduced to mislead us as to the series’ overall direction.

That opening question becomes the backdrop to the series but it gradually becomes clear that it is not the sole focus. The title introduces mysteries and factions and conspiracies, which all flesh out to become the true plot. By the end of the second collected volume you’ll be wondering who the next Minuteman will be revealed as, as well as who that group answers to. You’ll be wondering about the significance of Ms Dietrich’s golden badge, the true nature of the man with the attaches, and what exactly happened in Atlantic City. Answers are a long time coming in 100 Bullets but when they arrive they always prove well worth the wait.

The level of plotting and planning that has gone into the series is astonishing. Writer Brian Azzarello did a phenomenal job crafting the densely layered history of his characters and their fictitious world and does a great job of transferring his thoughts to the page in a compelling and entertaining way. 100 Bullets has a huge cast coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, and all of them are written believably. The central characters all have their own distinctive voices. It’s all perfectly judged form beginning to end.

Artist Eduardo Risso does a wonderful job of bringing this cast and their world to life. Each main character is instantly recognisable, with the Minutemen in particular being a wonderful collection of different looks that don’t look out of place as a unit. Whether it’s Lono in his Hawaiian shirts, the swaddled-in-bandages detective from The Counterfifth Detective, or the short and stumpy Mr Branch everyone is instantly recognisable and allows the artist to create a shorthand of silhouetted figures that are used sparingly but effectively throughout the series.

The arc titles and covers are worthy of praise too. Each cover is a sumptuous collection of images that bear a relevance to the story that occurs within. Fans of Marvel and DC superhero titles will be aware of how rarely that happens these days. The titles are all puns of one sort or another, with the collected volumes getting the treatment too. It’s something that helps to set the series apart, adding to its feeling of being special.

Interesting names aren’t just saved for titles. Many of the characters have a name that reflects their persona, grants them an equally intriguing nickname, or just sounds cool. Wylie Times, Cole Burns and Victor Ray are my personal favourites. I’ll always like the way Agent Graves’ name reflects his sombre personality too.

The end result of 100 Bullets is part crime noir, part conspiracy thriller, and part Reservoir Dogs. In fact it’s easy to imagine the series as a TV series directed by Tarantino. Whether that’s your cup of tea or not 100 Bullets is one of the most stylishly executed comic books ever. It’s a title that revels in its own creativity and ingenuity, examining the nature of secrets and the true nature of The American Way. Anybody, comics fan or not, will enjoy reading it.
Critical information:
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Risso

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