100 Bullets starts with a simple premise – what if you could kill the person responsible for ruining your life and suffer no consequences? This is the offer made by the mysterious Agent Graves to the recently paroled Dizzy Cordova. He offers her a briefcase containing a gun, one hundred bullets and irrefutable proof that two dirty cops are the men who killed her husband and infant son in a drive-by shooting while she was in jail. He gives her the choice to accept his “gift” and get her revenge, and face no consequences, or to walk away.
Of course, things are not as simple as that as Dizzy initially resists but is pulled into a web of crime and police corruption, leaving her little choice but to use the gun and its magic bullets. I use the term "magic" as the gun and bullets carry no legal repercussions, but that is a function of the political power that Agent Graves wields and not some mystical element.
The first three issues of this collected series follow Dizzy as she tries to stay on the straight and narrow and honour her dead husband and child. She resists using the gun and looks to pick up the pieces of her broken life. Events conspire against her as her brother is a big deal in the neighbourhood, much admired for his criminal skill. Her friends, all former gang members, are now mothers trying to survive on a mix of minimum wage jobs and social welfare. Dizzy is confronted by the men who killed her husband and son forcing her to confront them and the person who put a target on her husband’s back resulting in his, and their baby’s, death.
The second story follows a washed-up bartender in a dive bar who is given the same choice by Agent Graves. This time he can confront the spoiled socialite who planted child [censored] on his computer, costing him his successful restaurant, marriage and children. Again, Lee Dolan has the case with the gun, the bullets and proof that he was setup. Again, he has a choice, one that he eagerly accepts as he believes that he can use the information as leverage to get back his life, or at least money. This arc illustrates that people, while innocent of more heinous crimes, are susceptible to temptation.
Writer Brian Azzarello weaves a complex story in both arcs of ordinary people screwed by the system in some way, seeking to live their lives, but offered a chance at revenge. One resists and the other accepts readily, both end up using the information and the weapons. The writing is taut and at times pure pulp seemingly ripped from a bygone era of not quite good guys and bad guys operating in the shades of grey that we must all navigate as we try and live our lives.
The protagonists for each arc, have believable motivations for their actions and the situations they find themselves due to the choices they make, or the circumstances of their lives will resonate. Dizzy’s life as a gang member sounds all too familiar and just like the story of thousands of others living in poverty with little opportunities. Lee’s story taps into our fear of being hacked and finding ourselves on the wrong end of a horrible accusation. The opportunity for revenge taps into the reader’s innate belief in justice and that the wrong doer will eventually get his comeuppance. None of us may actually engage in such an extreme form of revenge, but we all would love to live out this fantasy. In fact, many of us, given the dossier proving beyond any doubt our innocence, would likely take a copy to the police and press. This choice does not appear to be an option for Lee and Dizzy and in the latter’s case that makes sense, but not in Lee’s especially when his son rejects his attempts at conversation.
Eduardo Rizzo’s art is suitably nuanced and, aided by the dark tones of colourist Grant Goleash, evoke the images of classic film noir and crime thrillers. Each panel is detailed and time spent soaking in the atmosphere is rewarded with a sense of foreboding and danger as the story unfolds before you.
Book 1 of 100 Bullets is a master class in character and story setup as the simple premise of revenge for wrongs committed against the innocent unfolds. The tension is never undercut, and the characters never feel as if they are acting outside of the narrative rules setup by Azzarello. Each action and reaction feels natural and reasonable given the circumstances the characters find themselves in. The underlying mystery is suitably left in the background like that uneasy feeling we have when travelling down an unfamiliar path, you know it is there but don’t think about it too much.
Grumpy Old Man who still collects toys (THEY. ARE. NOT. DOLLS), PC Gamer lured to the Dark Side of console gaming, comic book reader and fan of all things pop culture.
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12 March 2018
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