Sunday, April 1, 2012

Comics You Should Read: 100 Bullets

I'm just going to be up front about this: 100 Bullets is probably my favorite series of all time. If I ever write something half as masterfully put together as 100 Bullets, I will die happy.

Said to be in development by Showtime as a TV series, 100 Bullets is available in 13 volumes and tells a self contained story (originally over 100 individual issues). I actually started reading it in trades just a couple of months before it ended, when issue 100 was solicited in Previews as being the final issue. I knew the basic concept: Agent Graves appears to people with a briefcase filled with a gun, 100 completely untraceable bullets, the identity of the person that had ruined Graves' target's life and irrefutable evidence of that. Then, he would leave it all in their hands.

A very interesting premise, to be sure, but we quickly find out that it's only the tip of the iceberg. Boasting an amazing cast of characters (Agent Graves, Mr. Shepard, Cole Burns, Lono, Wiley Times, Dizzy Cordova, Loop, Milo Garrett, Jack Daw, Megan Dietrich, Benito Medici, Mr. Branch...I could go on) and a plot just grows increasingly layered as it goes.

I'll do a quick breakdown, relatively spoiler free, of the thirteen volumes:

First Shot, Last Call: The beginning of the saga, with two stories told over five issues. While it feels very "episodic", the first bricks for the finale - 100 issues later - are laid in that very first issue. This series WILL take you off guard if you head into it not paying attention.

Split Second Chance: In this volume the supporting cast grows and you start realizing there's a lot more going on here than just a series of rotating stories. Cole Burns, Lono, Mr. Branch...and by the end it becomes apparent that even the first story was important.

Hang Up on the Hang Low: In volume 3 we get introduced to Curtis and Louis Hughes, and get a taste of the trickery Graves is capable of, as he's clearly playing a much larger game that it looks like from the beginning.

A Foregone Tomorrow: Wiley Times and Milo Garrett get properly introduced to the field in this volume, which also includes an intriguing story tying Graves' game to the JFK assassination.

The Counterfifth Detective: The fifth volume is the story of Milo Garrett and probably my favorite single volume of the book. Just a complete hardboiled gritty noir tale if there ever was one in 100 Bullets.

Six Feet Under The Gun: By this point, most of the players are on the field and we start getting shorter stories focusing on different characters. The battle lines are getting hazier here.

Samurai: This volume focuses on a pair of the cast, now in prison, forging an alliance...as well as Jack's trek across country, with a bizarre stop at a tiger farm.

The Hard Way: A close runner up for best in the series, kicking off with issue 50 (with lays out a lot of the relevant backstory as to just WHO the main characters are and why they are doing what they are doing, dating all the way back to the founding of this country) before launching into a Wiley Times centric tale in New Orleans that is pretty much heart breaking...and ends with the shocking removal of a major player.

Strychnine Lives: The tone of the story shifts here, in the first of the final five volumes. Graves is painted in an increasingly unflattering light and new partnerships are formed as the players try to figure out who is playing who.

Decayed: A colossal brawl between Jack and Lono, the final Minuteman being reactivated, and flashbacks to a young Agent Graves, where we start to really understand his motivation.

Once Upon A Crime: More flashbacks, another stunning death and the endgame begins.

Dirty: One major player starts to go rogue, and the final pieces are set for an epic conclusion in...

Wilt: I was nervous that the finale wouldn't live up to the promise...but MAN did it.

Brian Azzarello crafts a spell-binding tale over 100 issues with twists and turns and laughs and heartache. There are very few characters who appear for more than an issue and are one dimensional...this is a very noir tale, told in shades of grey.

Eduardo Risso's storytelling is a beautiful compliment to the story, conveying so much more - panel to panel - than what the dialogue alone does. For my money, possibly the best combination of art and writing I have ever seen.

Right before I got to the final volume, I reread the whole thing from the beginning...and I've reread it all the way through once, since. I got partway through ANOTHER re-read before I loaned the books to a friend. Thus far, there are only two other series' that I have re-read in anything resembling that manner - Preacher and The Walking Dead. My friend Ronald called it a "dirty, sexy book" and it really is...and one of the finest comic works I have ever read.